How much of a faux pas is it to wear a backpack in business casual?
February 28, 2013 9:00 AM   Subscribe

I am attending a two day long event at a graduate program in International Affairs in my local area. It is for students who have made it through the first round of admissions. Interviews and some other assessments will be conducted at this event, but there will be many opportunities for them to try to sell their graduate program to us. The event is this Friday and Saturday, and the dress code called for is simply business casual. For what it's worth, this program is in the South. The problem is that since I am a local candidate, I will be biking to the event. I don't fancy biking in my dress shoes, and somehow carrying my leather portfolio along the way. I imagine I'll be bringing my backpack in order to switch out my shoes and carry my portfolio. How much of a faux pas do you imagine this might be?
posted by SollosQ to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total)
Do you have a bike bag (pannier) that you can bring things in? If not, there are tons of instructions on the web for making bucket panniers. I suppose that assumes you have a bike rack, in which case you could also just strap your things to the rack. Congrats!
posted by aniola at 9:09 AM on February 28, 2013

Wear backpack while on bike. Change into nice things. Leave backpack in corner. You'll be fine.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:09 AM on February 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

What else are you planning on wearing? A backpack could look perfectly fine in a business casual setting for students, especially a nicer, sleeker, dark-colored backpack.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:21 AM on February 28, 2013

I feel like something to be brought up is: what does your backpack look like? Are we talking the JanSport you've had since ninth grade, or is this a slightly more professional-looking black tailored backpack, or something sporty and North-Face-y?

If it's dirty or falling to rags, it's going to look horribly out of place with your trying to look professional. If it's clean and in good shape, I bet no one will even notice it.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:21 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

In my opinion, a backpack would never be considered appropriate for 'business casual', regardless of condition.

If public transportation, borrowing a car, or bumming a ride from a friend are off the table, I'd consider buying a messenger bag that looks a little more professional, like this one. It's not like it won't get used.
posted by Flamingo at 9:28 AM on February 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

It is a sporty backpack. I think I won't bother bringing it given the responses so far. I've found an old track and field bag from high school which I'd feel comfortable leaving out on the bike rack with my old shoes inside. (I'll still try try to lock it up with my bike, just in case someone comes by and decides that a free bag is a free bag.) It's a small, safe city anyways, with the program located away from anything else and away from practically all unrelated traffic so I imagine I would have been safe anyways with leaving my backpack out, but I feel more comfortable this way in any case.

posted by SollosQ at 9:36 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Find out if there's a coat check at the event; if so leave the bag there.
posted by brujita at 9:57 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'd say there's a difference between showing-up-with-a-backpack-which-you-promptly-stash-somewhere and toting one around on your back for the whole event. One is "okay, whatever, you do what you've gotta do," the other is "nope, this guy doesn't know how to present like an adult."
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 10:16 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don’t walk around with your backpack if you want to make a good impression. In the future, keep an eye out for leather messenger bags (read: suitcases of the 21st century).
posted by oceanjesse at 10:51 AM on February 28, 2013

I second what Now there are two. and oceanjesse said.
posted by puritycontrol at 10:52 AM on February 28, 2013

I don't think having a backpack at an event for students is going to be a dealbreaker on the level of "nope, this guy doesn't know how to present like an adult." I see adults wearing backpacks all the time in business casual settings. I also see adults wearing ill-fitting clothing or ugly shoes. Perhaps the level of formality is higher in the south than the upper midwest, but I can't imagine an admissions officer rejecting you on that basis alone.

I also can't imagine there won't be somewhere to stash your backpack, should the need arise.
posted by MetalFingerz at 11:16 AM on February 28, 2013

FWIW, I work at a Fortune 500 company in the Midwest where people mostly dress "business casual" and I've been seeing backpacks here more and more over the past five years. But they're decidedly clean, professional-looking and in good shape (i.e., not your typical college backpack). And worn over both shoulders, not just hanging off of one.

Partly because everyone who has a company laptop (pretty much all of the white-collar workers, these days) also gets either a company roller-bag or a backpack. The roller-bag is "standard issue" and our Ergonomics group would rather we use roller-bags than backpacks, but people who are resistant to roller-bags can get the backpacks instead if they push.

Our Ergonomics group has also made it clear that traditional (non-roller) computer bags, messenger bags, etc., are decidely disfavored compared to either roller-bags or backpacks, and the company will not provide these.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:16 AM on February 28, 2013

I am in the earth sciences so meetings are not as formal as other fields. I am always in this situation and have found it impossible to bring what I need for a day out without a backpack. I would be sure to try out a messenger bag for a day before getting an expensive one since I have really regretted trying to stuff a computer, water bottle, and a few odd bits for a long day or few days during meetings when by back is all tweaked for days afterwords from the pressure on one shoulder. Plus if you might need a rain jacket or an extra layer of clothes it ends up being a lot of stuff.

I would look into the facilities at the event ahead of time to see if you can stash a bag during the day at the front desk or whatever. Hotels will almost always do this for you.
posted by JayNolan at 11:17 AM on February 28, 2013

For what it's worth, at conferences I see people wearing backpacks with business casual clothing all the time. Academia tends to be more lenient about these things.
posted by schroedinger at 11:42 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know what International Affairs is like, but I'm a professor and I wouldn't care if a candidate had a backback. I myself wear a backpack at conferences sometimes.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:04 PM on February 28, 2013

Plenty of professional people who commute by public transport use a business type backpack all the time. I work at a Big 4 accounting firm and when I got the job six years ago in the UK I was handed my laptop with a laptop backpack. They were standard issue, if you want something else you have to buy it yourself. When I transferred within that firm to one of our Swiss offices I was handed a hideous laptop briefcase contraption with my laptop which I replaced with a backpack just as soon as my stuff finally arrived from the UK.

I am female, I cart this around with me wherever I go, including client meetings, if they entail travel on public transport, I work on the train, or if there is even a remote chance that I will need my computer.

But the bag itself lives under the table during these meetings. If it was a meet and greet type event I'd not carry it around with me. In your situation I might take a large shoulder bag if I thought I had to carry certain items with me or else find a way of storing said bag at the venue.

So, allowing for cultural differences of course, business casual does not mean no smart backpacks for transporting various items you need but you do want a different solution for your meet and greet and mingling type events.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:08 PM on February 28, 2013

I think you be FAR from the only person with a backpack. Especially in an academic setting.
posted by magnetsphere at 1:10 PM on February 28, 2013

Another thing you can do is pack a lightweight, nondescript tote bag inside the backpack and use the tote bag to carry the backpack.
posted by mskyle at 2:14 PM on February 28, 2013

It depends on the people. The youngish department head at my old job used a backpack, not a briefcase. It was in Georgia. He was in charge of about 500 people, give or take.
posted by Michele in California at 3:30 PM on February 28, 2013

I guess it would help to state our official dress code was "business casual" for most things.
posted by Michele in California at 3:32 PM on February 28, 2013

It's possible to get reasonably good-looking bags with backpack straps you can carry around without feeling too out of place. This is an expensive one of this sort, but as my husband owns it, it's the one I know of offhand.
posted by telophase at 6:43 PM on February 28, 2013

If this is at a university, there are almost certainly lockers at the gym or at the library that you can use. Show up early and put your stuff in one of those. You may need to bring your own padlock, or it might be coin operated. Since you are within biking distance, I assume you can wander along a few days in advance to scope this out. The gym might be an extra good choice because there are showers you can use after your bicycle commute to be extra fresh and polished.
posted by lollusc at 12:58 AM on March 1, 2013

Update: There were a few people with backpacks (okay, I only recall one at the moment). It was preferable to not use a backpack, but had I, I don't think it would have been particularly offensive. My worry was that given the more professional nature of the program that perhaps it would have looked skewed, but I think because it is still a graduate program with graduate students (and those there were still undergraduate students) it didn't matter a whole bunch. (Disclaimer: I'm not sensitive to people under-dressing, so for all I know a lot of others found the backpack offensive. Who knows.)
posted by SollosQ at 7:16 PM on March 2, 2013

« Older Car Buying 101   |   London Charging Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.