Large, Professional, Lightweight Handbag/Briefcase
January 29, 2013 8:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm starting a new professional job, and I need a new, professional bag. I need something large, very lightweight, and preferably with a cross-body shoulder strap.

I'm a woman in my 30s, pretty tall, with a generally conservative style. I've been carrying a knockoff Longchamp LePliage tote, but it's not ideal, mostly because it doesn't have a messenger-style cross-body strap, so it's sort of awkward to carry. I sometimes also use a huge Jansport backpack, but that doesn't look at all professional, so I'd prefer not to do that, even when I have a lot to carry.

Here are my requirements:
  • Conservative: I'll be going to court and to a lot of professional meetings. The bag needs to look good with a full suit. This somewhat rules out the Timbuk2-style true messenger bags, unless I can find one that is a lot less casual than their normal styles and from what I've seen, the more professional styles also seem to be a lot heavier. Prefer black or grey so that it will go with all of my clothes, but I'm not wedded to that.
  • Lightweight: I have back problems, so I want to keep my load as light as I can (considering that I also have to carry a lot of paper). The LePliage is great because it weighs nothing empty, so I'd love something equally light. Ergonomic bags welcome.
  • Large: I have to carry a ton of fat books and papers, most of which are legal size. I need them all to fit.
  • Weatherproof: I walk outside a lot. I'd like a bag that zips or has a full flap over the top and is relatively waterproof.
  • Messenger style: Shoulder bags are nice, but the straps are often too short to be comfortable because I'm tall and broad-shouldered. I really prefer something I can wear cross-body while I'm walking so that I have my hands free.
  • No roller bags: I do have another bag with wheels for my truly ridiculous heavy load days. I want an everyday bag that I can carry, not roll.
  • Durable: I've bought a lot of cheap bags that have fallen apart. I want to invest now in something where the fabric won't tear and the zipper won't break when I overstuff it. At the very least, I'd like a good warranty so that I can get it replaced if I destroy it.
Things I don't much care about:
  • Pockets: I'm just as happy with one big open compartment as with divided compartments, just as long as all my stuff will fit and it doesn't weigh too much. It would be nice if there were an outside zippered pocket to keep my wallet and keys handy, but it's not required.
  • Fancy designer labels: I don't care where it comes from. I also don't really want visible logos on the outside of the bag.
  • Laptop storage: I carry a laptop, but I have a good sleeve, so I don't need a dedicated laptop bag.
I'm willing to spend a few hundred dollars on this if it meets all of my requirements exactly. I'm hoping to keep this bag for a long time, so I can invest in it. Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by decathecting to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I can vouch that this bag is quality, durable and lightweight and holds a lot, but I'm on the fence about "professional" where it is concerned. No labels, which is a huge plus, and it's unobtrusive.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:40 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

My go-to for bags is Tom Bihn: I used the ID when I was carrying a laptop regularly (it has a water bottle holder on the side, but if you cinch the straps tight, it's not noticeable). Some of their other models are more streamlined. (The Zephyr and the Empire Builder are the other two that spring to mind.)

They come in a wide variety of colours, but the black+black or black+steel combos look as professional as nylon's ever going to look. (And the design itself helps with that.)

I've found every bag of theirs I've had more waterproof than expected. I'd recommend an Absolute strap with either of them for extra comfort (it helps a lot with weight) but their bags are extremely well balanced in general. There is a visible logo, but on a black base, it's very low key.

(I have and regularly use the Synapse backpack, the ID, the Cafe bag, and the Aeronaut. Along with various accessories. All of them have held up extremely well.)
posted by modernhypatia at 9:14 AM on January 29, 2013

Can you wear a satchel? Search for 'satchel' on ASOS - Cambridge Satchel Company and The Leather Satchel Company do nice ones, and you can get one in a plain brown or black leather. CSC don't have the topstitching or the top handle that LSC have (I got a LSC in the Christmas sale at a big discount, as my current bag didn't fit purse, tablet, Kindle plus anythign else I might happen to need) which might look more conservative for you. There are no logos on the bag, either (which is also a big plus for me) and they stand up to British rain if nothing else.

The straps IME are very long - I'm 5ft 10 and have to shorten mine to the shortest setting. I *believe* they are guaranteed, but I'm not sure.
posted by mippy at 9:15 AM on January 29, 2013

Best answer: Moop. I have their #1 messenger bag, it's like the '90s of understated, indestructible and weather resistant canvas messenger bags never ended.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:19 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Longchamp have a new line (Le Pliage Cuir) that have a couple of styles with a detachable shoulder strap. I've treated my bag with Collonil Waterstop, which works pretty well in the occasional rain shower, but can't speak for how well it does under daily conditions. There's also offerings from Lo & Sons and Tumi, and you might also consider baby bags from Marc by Marc Jacobs, Storksak, Rebecca Minkoff, or LeSportsac.

As for durability, if you find that you're regularly straining a bag's capacity, you might want to consider splitting up the load; I keep a run run run reusable bag stashed away for that purpose.
posted by evoque at 9:27 AM on January 29, 2013

I can't vouch for a bag I use myself, but I'd check out Levenger (a "messenger bag" search turned up a range of nice options) -- they make high-quality stuff, and there are many reviews there.
posted by acm at 10:42 AM on January 29, 2013

Is this messenger too casual for you? I just got a smaller one and love it. They let you pick the max strap length and with the slide you can roughly halve the length so that it can also be a shoulder bag. You can probably also get it customized to some degree if you need to.
posted by oneear at 10:51 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've gotten a couple of bags from these guys, and they're pretty bulletproof. Kind of on the casual side though.
posted by dabug at 11:36 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I cannot vouch for this bag at all, but it seems to hit some of your requirements. This one isn't as large. Corporette recommends this bag (which I love, despite how huge and over-the-top is is)--it does not have a crossbody strap, but if you have a good shoe repair place nearby, they could probably add one. (Corporette also likes that Foley bag because it looks like a handbag when you fold it over)

When I was a briefcase-carrying lawyer, I carried a leather bag from Coach. It was lovely and a workhorse, but it was leather and heavy when it was empty.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:29 PM on January 29, 2013

MZ Wallace bags hit every one of your requirements. The Belle seems like a good fit for your needs.
posted by payoto at 1:31 PM on January 29, 2013

The Lo & Sons O.M.G. and its larger sibling O.G. can fit loads, are made of lightweight water-resistant nylon, and look pretty damn good.
posted by hellopanda at 9:11 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I realize that this thread is really old now, but I wanted to update you all and let you know that I just bought a Rickshaw Large Zero Messenger Bag in a dark grey tweed. If anyone else is looking for something similar, after surveying the market for such things, that's the best one I found. They were even willing to slightly change the shape for me so that my legal size papers would fit better, and since every bag is custom-made anyway, it didn't cost any extra to make that change. Great customer service. Thanks again for all of your suggestions!
posted by decathecting at 8:46 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

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