So if you’re hoping to see me talk about messenger bags and won’t consider using a briefcase with a shoulder strap instead, then:
Your briefcase should:
- Look classy and timeless as hell – as always
- Be free of logos, contrast stitching, flourishes or patterns or needless shine – they’re tacky.
- Not be big enough for you to sleep in. – If you need that much stuff, it’s time to sit down and think about your choices in life, or go for a straight up utility item specifically built for this purpose. I’m thinking of those rolling briefcases that lawyers carry.
- Carry a 15” laptop easily plus a good amount of items/paperwork, etc.
- Have a removable shoulder strap and permanent handles.
What Material Should A Briefcase Be
In all my testing, the best looking and longest-lasting material is hands down leather. Any other material will stain or wear too easily. I’ve even tested some leather alternative briefcases and they just don’t compare.
What Color Should It Be
You want to stick with black or brown. I’ve looked into blues and gray briefcases and I can assure you that those colors will not age well, both from a style and durability perspective. So please, go conservative with your color choices here. You’ll thank me now and when you realize it’s been 10 years and you’re still carrying the same awesome briefcase.
You may have noticed in my weekender and backpack stories that I said to make sure they’re the same color because they will likely be carried together during trips. This rule can also apply to your briefcase if you’ll be using/carrying it more than a backpack.
When to use the shoulder strap
Just like I said in my backpack story – if you’re wearing a suit, blazer or sport coat, you should never use the shoulder strap. To do so will, at best, wrinkle the shoulder, possibly the lapel, and the back of your jacket. At worst, it’ll ruin the padding in the shoulder. If you’re wearing an unstructured jacket or more casual items, then that’s when to use the shoulder strap.
If you’re not using the shoulder strap, please take it off and keep it in the briefcase or at home.
The Best Leather Briefcases
Frank Clegg Zip Top Leather Briefcase
Just like his weekender bag, this is my hands-down favorite briefcase of the bunch. It’s the same, high-quality leather, awesome hardware and a basic but well-thought out design. LIke all his products, it comes with a lifetime guarantee against any defects.
One of the things I really love about this briefcase is the hidden shoulder strap hooks on the sides. So if you remove the strap, no one would even know that it can be carried over your shoulder. I also love the side pockets on the front and back for slipping things in and out of quickly. It’s just a perfect briefcase in every way.
I have the double gusset version in my video, but the single gusset is also incredibly nice and roomy. I love that there’s options for sizing between single to triple gusset that you usually don’t find with most other brands.
If you pick up this briefcase, please also make sure to get it monogrammed. It just adds that little extra touch of class.
Coach Metropolitan Slim Brief
For a more budget-friendly item, I really, really like this one by Coach. They always do a great job with their leather goods, but I have to say, they knocked it out of the park here. The leather feels great, the shoulder strap hooks aren’t hidden like with Frank Clegg’s bag, but they can be tucked into the front and back pockets to be a little more hidden, which is nice.
The interior pocket lining is very soft, almost like a microfiber. The side pockets are also lined with this material. It’s hard to not keep touching it. The shoulder strap could be all leather, but since it’s cheaper than the Frank Clegg briefcase, I’m fine with using some cloth in the strap.
Also, the logo is simply stamped into the leather, and it’s at the bottom of the bag, so major, major points for this. Normally, Coach (and a lot of other brands) would have it placed a little more prominently near the top, but I’m glad they chose the bottom, otherwise this briefcase might not have made the cut.
The one major knock I can give this briefcase is that it has metal feet on the bottom. If you saw my weekender story, then you know that they tend to get scuffed and pitted, which will scratch anything you set these feet on. But just like with the weekender bag, wrap some electrical tape around the feet and it shouldn’t be too much of an issue or be visible.
Over all, I was very impressed though.
Notes about the state of briefcases
So just like with leather backpacks, the pickings are extremely slim in this category, but these are honest-to-goodness the best picks out of the bunch. Everything else was either very cheap or tacky looking or ridiculously expensive for a reason that I couldn’t tell in my testing. Check the Honorable Mentions section below for details about the bags that just missed the cut in case these two don’t meet your requirements.
Shinola Slim Briefcase
Love their leather and I like this one a lot, but it’s not as structured as I normally prefer a briefcase to be. So that’s why it wasn’t included.
Uri Minkoff Fulton Brief
It looks good for the price, but I thought the quality of the leather was a little iffy. I’d spend a little extra and get the Coach bag, if my budget allowed.
Mulberry Heathcliffe Briefcase
I’m a huge fan of Mulberry, but honestly, they’re about the same price as the Frank Clegg briefcase and I would go for the Frank Clegg 100% of the time.
Jack Spade Barrow Leather Slim Briefcase
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the floppy handles and that extra zipper on the bottom is pretty non-sensical.