"Business" backpack for a feminine person
June 10, 2018 6:50 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for a neutral color "business" backpack to carry a 13-inch Macbook Pro, a paper notebook, pens, purse stuff, etc. I am a feminine cis-woman, 45 years old, plus-sized. For health reasons, I have to switch from a shoulder-carried briefcase bag to a light-as-possible backpack, but I don't want to look silly or sloppy. My work dress code is on the casual side of business casual. I usually wear skirts with a high-quality t-shirt or casual blouse. I never wear jeans. Hope me.

I am in the US and happy to shop online or brick-and-mortar. Bonus points if said backpack will look ok with a suit -- I wear one about once a year.
posted by OrangeDisk to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (37 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
I like the Donut Macaroon backpacks on Jet Pens. I don't have one myself, so I can't swear to quality, but I really want one of these! They're cute but not kiddie, and not boring and invisible either.
posted by Caravantea at 6:55 PM on June 10, 2018

Marc Jacobs Quilted Nylon Backpack
Do you have a price range in mind?
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:57 PM on June 10, 2018

Response by poster: I am willing to spend up to $300 on something durable that I like. I would prefer to spend no more than $100.
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:00 PM on June 10, 2018

Dagne Dover has a backpack. I do not have one, but i have one of their other bags and love it.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:02 PM on June 10, 2018

I have the Tumi Voyageur Halle and it fits your criteria. It's very light, has comfortable straps (without them looking like a college student's backpack), has a laptop sleeve - I keep my 13" Macbook Pro in it. The downsides are that it's kind of expensive and it's not waterproof (but mine's gotten rained on and it doesn't damage the bag). People tell me it looks sharp all the time.
posted by beyond_pink at 7:02 PM on June 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am a man, but I am a big fan of Everlane's backpacks and bags. They tend to be fairly minimally styled (so they don't look like hiking bags); come in business-y neutral colors of black, blue, gray; and are at the right price point.
posted by andrewesque at 7:03 PM on June 10, 2018

Check into Everlane. They have great backpack options but they sell out fairly quickly.
posted by functionequalsform at 7:04 PM on June 10, 2018

Two suggestions:
* Rains Mini Backpack (it's normal sized, their non-mini is huge) - Slim, waterproof, looks really nice. It's not great for heavy loads, though, as the straps are slim and unpadded. Also minimal organizational options. Reasonably-priced, available on Amazon
* Bellroy Slim Backpack - Spendier, but a bit more comfortable and versatile.
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:06 PM on June 10, 2018

I carry a Swiss Gear Alexa in black. I absolutely love it. It's very well structured (ie, doesn't collapse like a Jansport when empty), I like the minimalist exterior, it has both an interior laptop and tablet sleeve as well as some exterior pockets. It never seems to show dirt or wear at all. The zippers seem well constructed. The straps are comfortable (but are not adjustable, if that seems like it might be a problem). My only other complaint is that the outer pocket is a little hard to get my hand into when the backpack is full - but it carries everything I need it to without really using that pocket, so it hasn't been an issue. It's very lightweight.

+1, and I plan to buy again when/if this one ever wears out. I've been using it for almost a year, and bought it used on ebay but it still looks brand new, so I don't know when that will be.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:09 PM on June 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Most Matt and Nat backpacks will fit a 13" Mac. Because they're vegan, they're pretty light when empty. Despite being vegan, they look and wear as nicely as leather, except in the lighter colors (IMO).
posted by crush at 7:11 PM on June 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

I came in to say how much I love my Mat and Nat (and crush beat me to it!), it’s held up beautifully for 2+ years now and I get compliments on it all the time. I have the Fabi In a light purple they don’t seem to make anymore.
posted by girlalex at 7:25 PM on June 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think this one from Boarding Pass is attractive and respectable-looking. I don't have personal experience with it, though. Just been eyeing it. Waxed canvas will be waterproof as long as you renew the coating once a year or so.

I don't think backpacks ever look okay with suits (in an actual work setting, as opposed to on a commute), but not everyone agrees with me on that one, especially on the West Coast.
posted by praemunire at 7:36 PM on June 10, 2018

I just bought this baby and I’m in love. Removable insert, thing to go over a luggage handle, big with inside and outside side pockets, blaaa I just love it.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:37 PM on June 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've used an Ogio for more than three years as my everyday work bag and it looks brand new. Slim and stylish, and I get compliments all the time.
posted by zoetrope at 7:58 PM on June 10, 2018

I've found this Chrome backpack to be super lightweight and comfortable, and reasonably professional.
posted by ferret branca at 8:25 PM on June 10, 2018

My coworker has this one and I am in serious envy every time I see her.
posted by missjenny at 8:27 PM on June 10, 2018

LeSportsac has super-cute, waterproof backpacks in prints (of varying playfulness) and solids, too. To me, they straddle the hip/professional divide quite well.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:41 PM on June 10, 2018

I received this Tumi backpack as a gift and love it very much.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 9:09 PM on June 10, 2018

Ahh! I just got a backpack for work this week! I had been looking for the perfect one for 2 years! We have a lot of features in common. This was what I got. It looks very professional, even with the rolltop, due to the metal buckle. There’s also a back zipper, so you don’t have to go through the top. There’s a hidden front pocket, too.

(It’s available on Amazon, but I was having issues getting the link to paste properly.)

Good luck!
posted by greermahoney at 9:10 PM on June 10, 2018

When I was in this position last year (dress/skirt wearing plus size femme lady who had to stop carrying a big shoulder bag but who hates giant ugly backpacks that look like they're for elementary school students or hikers) I went with the Herschel Mid-Volume City Backpack. The satchel style looks classic and polished and it's quite slim (so it doesn't stick 18 inches off my back ), but it holds my Macbook, notebook, makeup bag, and wallet wristlet like a dream. I'm super happy with it, but if it's not perfect for you, the other Herschel bags are worth a look, too.
posted by mostlymartha at 9:30 PM on June 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

eBags is pretty much the Zappos model for backpack purchases, if you want to see/try options in the comfort of your own home. I used it to purchase my current backpack (an Osprey), and turns out how the straps hit on my shoulders/chest is super important to me as well as minimizing weight, so I ended up with a different model than I expected to get.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:49 PM on June 10, 2018

The North Face's Electra backpack in the black/rose gold colorway can be hard to find, but it's sleek and feminine bag from a brand that usually does functional-looking designs. The North Face website has other options, but I haven't seen those in real life, so it's a bit hard to judge the colors.
posted by neushoorn at 9:53 PM on June 10, 2018


That's out of stock, but you should be able to find it elsewhere. Great quality, and comes in neutra colours too if you like.
posted by twirlypen at 10:37 PM on June 10, 2018

The classic:

eBags laptop backpack
posted by kingdead at 12:22 AM on June 11, 2018

Seconding the North Face Electra or her larger sister the Isabella. I love mine so much, so many useful pockets, just exactly where you need them. I needed the Isabella to carry my 15" Dell, not sure if a MacBook will fit in the Electra. It's big enough for overnight stuff if I need it, but also looks fine with just my notebook and everyday bits and pieces. It also doesn't immediately scream "I am a solo woman traveller carrying a laptop and other expensive equipment".
posted by Helga-woo at 1:08 AM on June 11, 2018

Based on a recent AskMe thread, I just bought a Herchel Retreat. It fits my work laptop, and a pile of other stuff (including a change of clothes and a toiletries bad), is small enough for carryon and the straps are strong, padded and comfy. I love it! There are all sorts of colour options, so I'm sure you'd find something that would suit you. I lugged mine all around Melbourne on a recent work trip and it beat the pants off my old laptop bag and rolly luggage.
posted by ninazer0 at 1:11 AM on June 11, 2018

I should probably also point out that I am a plus-size woman, wore mine with a suit in a business casual setting, and thought it worked just fine. My link goes to the AU website but the company is based in Toronto. Shipping to me was free and it took 3 days to get to me (over a weekend) which is kind of mind-blowing given that Australia is literally the ass-end of the universe when it comes to online shopping.
posted by ninazer0 at 1:14 AM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I take my Herschel Settlement everywhere I go, including work. I am also plus sized. My workplace is more tolerant of quirk than many. That said, the Herschel looks fine in all settings except maybe some super corporate scenario but it sounds like your workplace is not super corporate.

I have to carry around so many things to work, I refuse to compromise my health by carrying things around on one shoulder. Backpacks for the win.

Just one thing!! I have found that the backpack can cause the back of your dresses or tops to sometimes hike up. Be aware of that and have a little 'adjust' after you put it on.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:42 AM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I use the beautiful Madewell leather rucksack for this purpose.
posted by nerdfish at 3:19 AM on June 11, 2018

I have the Tom Bihn Synapse in both sizes, one in grey and one in black, and use one for work every day. Usually the smaller one. They hold a ton and look tidy because of the design. I love these bags a lot.
posted by acanthous at 4:27 AM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I like this roundup from The Wirecutter. They do a great job of covering packs for different needs and styles. I wound up buying the pack they recommend to carry gym clothes plus laptop — not that I often have gym clothes, but I do often commute on foot and need to carry a change of shoes, an office sweater, and a packed lunch. It’s the North Face Pivoter. I wish it had a bit more in the way of “purse stuff” pockets, but it’s otherwise great.

I used to carry a Timbuk2 messenger bag, which I loved. Pockets everywhere! Indestructible construction! I consider them the gold standard for bags. Sadly, when I was looking, Timbuk2 didn’t have a backpack that had enough compartments for my needs. But do have a look at Timbuk2’s options. Your needs sound different from mine, plus they have updated their lineup quite a bit since I last looked.
posted by snowmentality at 5:26 AM on June 11, 2018

You're getting lots of great suggestions here! Let me echo the overall quality vote for stuff from Tom Bihn; they're spendy, but of VERY high quality.

What I haven't seen here is a reference to the Osprey Ozone packs, specifically the 24L day pack size. Osprey stuff might be a little outdoorsy for some folks, but they're REALLY well made and have a great warranty. As a plus over the Tom Bihn, the Ozone line is also super, super light, which I love.

I have one, and even though I'm a boy person I will share that my wife covets it. It's a good size and is highly "usable". I'm actually retiring mine, but only to upgrade to the next size up.

At BackCountry right now, it's only $70, which is a STEAL.
posted by uberchet at 6:25 AM on June 11, 2018

I don't own this backpack but I would like to. I have the opposite problem, which is that I can no longer use backpacks. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 7:59 AM on June 11, 2018

Thirding the eBags Professional.
It's truly one of my very favorite things in this world.
posted by hypersloth at 8:20 AM on June 11, 2018

On a recent trip with a friend I was introduced to the Tumi Orion and admired it greatly. Unfortunately, after a few years of abuse, there is still nothing wrong with my own Samsonite laptop rucksack so I didn’t feel I could justify the expense. My friend rates hers highly and had been introduced to it by a colleague who is also very happy with it. We all work in a professional environment on the formal side of business casual.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:58 AM on June 11, 2018

I carry a Bobby Compact theft-resistant backpack, which I like a lot. They also make the Bobby Bizz model, which may be more office-suitable.

Also, Carryology recently published their recommendation for best work backpack, in case any of those look interesting.
posted by Lexica at 11:25 AM on June 11, 2018

How about the Sherpani Camden? The backpack straps can be hidden away if needed.
posted by medusa at 12:12 AM on June 12, 2018

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