Style Sin #15 – Wearing a Backpack over a Suit

Soldiers wear backpacks to keep their hands free for combat.

Hikers wear backpacks to evenly distribute weight over long journeys.

Children wear backpacks to keep from losing their schoolwork.

Able-bodied, grown businessmen — without exception — should carry their belongings in a professional briefcase.

mens suit jacket backpack

men’s suit jacket backpack

Maintaining a professional image

Clothing, style and grooming are the three pillars of the professional image.

A man who wisely spends time, effort and money in classic menswear  and who abides by simple style guidelines and who takes pride in grooming himself will certainly convey an image of a man who will put forth greater effort in greater tasks in the professional world.

It is very important to maintain an image that displays professionalism. From the suits, the blazer jackets, the ties, the dress shirts, the trousers, to the shoes on your feet, careful attention to maintaining a professional image will help your career. And what you use to carry your work is no exception.

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Why a backpack undermines the professional image

Backpacks are associated with schoolchildren and mountaineers. Neither of those are seen around the office very much, making a backpack a surefire way to look out of place.

They ruin the lines of a good suit as well, with the straps draping awkwardly over the lapels and breaking up the smooth visual impression of the jacket. Their clunky, rounded shape lacks a clean design that compliments the streamline clothing you wear to work.

Backpacks damage your clothing

The straps stress the clothing fabric and overtime your clothing will start to wear and tear. If a man invests in well-made and well-tailored clothing, then consideration should be had to avoid anything that will damage a man’s costly clothes.

A backpack is no exception.  All of the weight of the backpack is carried on your shoulders.  As you naturally move about while wearing a backpack, the straps and clothing underneath shift and twist with every step you take.

The result is not immediately apparent, but you can count on the life of your clothing investments to be shortened by the wear and tear of weighted straps.

Delicate suit fabric

Suit fabric is delicate. A backpack will ruin your expensive investment

Briefcases are the best option for a professional man

Men use briefcases.  This is the grown-up version of a backpack.  A briefcase is a timeless accessory to any man’s professional image.  There are hundreds of different styles and many colors and materials to choose from.

There are thin briefcases for papers and files, there are briefcases large enough to fit a laptop or any other personal electronic device.

You do not have to spend hundreds of dollars on a handmade briefcase. Check your local second-hand shop to pick up a briefcase for cheap. Whatever kind of briefcase you get, it will save you money and will build your professional image.

How to use a briefcase to build your professional image

Using a briefcase is professional and mature.  The clean lines of the briefcase will compliment the clean lines of your professional clothing.  A leather briefcase is simple in design and will not be distracting as a backpack would be.

Use these three guidelines to help you build your professional image:

1) Briefcases are like any other leather accessory. It is best to coordinate with your dress shoes: black with black, brown with brown are expected. Burgundy shoes?

If you have a complimenting-colored briefcase, then use it. If not, then a dark brown briefcase with burgundy shoes looks better than a black briefcase.

2) Stick with simple, conservative leathers.  I know not many of you will run out and buy a snakeskin briefcase. You shouldn’t. A man’s briefcase will take a beating over its lifetime, it will be exposed to the elements, it will be scooted along the floor, it will be dropped.

The tougher the leather, the better. Calfskin is not suggested as it is too soft. Most manufacturers use cowhide because of the toughness of the leather.

3) Streamlined design is best. As mentioned before, a briefcase is an accessory tool. Your briefcase should not distract anyone’s attention. Avoid briefcases with straps, loops, and huge pockets. A firm and clean-lined briefcase will help you look professional.

Sharp-looking leather briefcases

An example of three sharp-looking briefcases. Remember to coordinate the leather of your briefcase with the leather of your dress shoe

Closing thoughts

A backpack ruins your clothing and damages your professional image. A man using a backpack while wearing a suit is a sad example of how one accessory tool can destroy an image of professionalism. We live in a judgmental world and we think with our eyes.

Do your best to minimize any flaws with which people can form opinions; save the backpack for when you go hiking or hunting. Instead use a briefcase — whether it is a handmade leather briefcase or a hand-me-down — you can count on feeling, looking and being professional.

Questions? Comments? We would love to hear from you. Share your opinions in the comment box below.

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About Antonio

Antonio Centeno is President of ATailoredSuit.com and the founder of RealMenRealStyle.com. He has created over 700 articles & videos on men's style, blogs over at the Art of Manliness, and is the creator of the internet's best selling personal presentation course - A Man's Guide To Timeless Style. Antonio has studied clothing design in London, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. He is a former US Marine with an MBA from UT Austin and a BA from Cornell College. He loves to hear from old friends and make new ones.

  • Michael

    I agree with you that backpacks and suits do not mix. What about professional looking satchels or carrier bags?

  • Michael

    I agree with you that backpacks and suits do not mix. What about professional looking satchels or carrier bags?

  • Michael

    I agree with you that backpacks and suits do not mix. What about professional looking satchels or carrier bags?

  • http://twitter.com/ATailoredSuit Antonio Centeno

    A case by case basis Michael, but the keyword as you said is professional looking. Very subjective as what is professional looking in Bend Oregon may make you look like a hick in NYC.

    I personally use a Saddleback Leather Briefcase – it’s very heavy leather and fits well with my preferred clothing of Levis and sport jackets with western boots. I’m a Texan and can pull it off – although I still wear it here in WI because I wear it will confidence.

    Just try not to ruin your jacket’s padded shoulders!

  • Julius

    Hello Michael. I hope all is well. Thank you for reading the article. To answer your question: satchels / carrier bags are better than backpacks. However, one of the points of the article is to avoid using any carrying device with straps. Satchels and carrier bags definitely look better than backpacks, but they too will stress the fabric of the suit jacket. If you carry a satchel or a carrier bag, then you might as well get a briefcase. All the best!

  • Rob

    Thanks Antonio – I had been wondering if my satchel strap was ruining jacket shoulders! Do you have any images of jacket shoulders that Have been ruined my weighted straps? Also, is there a way to repair them if this has been done?

  • Rob

    Thanks Antonio – I had been wondering if my satchel strap was ruining jacket shoulders! Do you have any images of jacket shoulders that Have been ruined my weighted straps? Also, is there a way to repair them if this has been done?

  • http://profiles.google.com/bleddyn.cadell Bleddyn Cadell

    While I agree with this on premise, what are your recommendation for the gentleman required to travel with the tools of modern trade (notebook, phones, ebook readers, etc.)?

  • Tman

    Hmm. My tobacco colored Saddleback briefcase breaks all of these rules. Wrong colored (I don’t own light colored shoes) heavy with a shoulder strap.
    How do I salvage this after investing so much in it?

  • Anonymous

    I agree completely. But I have one more concern. I have 11 pair of dress shoes. Apart from 3 black pairs, rest 8 are different shades of brown. I feel it would be extremely expensive to find a briefcase for each shoe pair. I could get away in watch department because I have one good brushed steel watch. But what about briefcases? Currently, I have 1 black briefcase.

  • http://twitter.com/ATailoredSuit Antonio Centeno

    Santino – just get close and I would argue you only need 2 – one black and one dark brownas close in color to your darkest shoes. Julius’ advice is a guide – not a hard and fast rule especially if you have as many pairs of shoes as you do.

    Best – Antonio

  • http://twitter.com/ATailoredSuit Antonio Centeno

    I own a Saddleback briefcase as well, although a darker color. I rarely if ever use the shoulder strap and instead carry it like a case. If you walk a lot – then practicality should override the above rules and consider taking off your jacket when you’re going to be carrying it a long distance.

    If it’s practical to use the strap as you commute in a large city, consider wearing a light coat over your jacket (weather permitting). The extra coat fabric will protect your jacket and worse case you eventually have to have the shoulders padding repacked ($50-$100 repair).

  • http://twitter.com/ATailoredSuit Antonio Centeno

    All of this can be packed in a stylish leather case sir — check out our friends at Saddleback Leather!

  • http://twitter.com/ATailoredSuit Antonio Centeno

    I don’t – it’s a small change, Basically on quality suits the shoulder have hand-packed cotton. Cheap suits use foam.

    The foam will eventually tear under this stress – the cotton will be overly pressed and spread out from it’s natural shape. Repairs are $50 to $100 – which for a $1000 suit is expected. However the hard part is find a tailor who understands how to do it.

    Personally I only repair my own clients jackets, mainly because I know there is quality material used and I do it for free.

  • Nycphotog

     How much I loved this article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Baruch.Robert.Richardson Robert Richardson

    Unfortunately my severe lower back pain eventually precluded me from utilizing a “slung”bag. So despite the image I represent, my medical priorities necessitated using a backpack.

  • Erikand

    This is a semi-related question that involves laundry day from a student trying to fix up his wardrobe.
    The only way I can access a washing and drying machine is to ride my bicycle and I store my clothes in a backpack for the trip. What would you recommend is the best way to pack professional clothes into a backpack without damaging them and hopefully without making massive creases or pinching the cotton like I know can happen for rolled t-shirts.
    I look forward to your advice.

  • Erikand

    This is a semi-related question that involves laundry day from a student trying to fix up his wardrobe.
    The only way I can access a washing and drying machine is to ride my bicycle and I store my clothes in a backpack for the trip. What would you recommend is the best way to pack professional clothes into a backpack without damaging them and hopefully without making massive creases or pinching the cotton like I know can happen for rolled t-shirts.
    I look forward to your advice.

  • Erikand

    This is a semi-related question that involves laundry day from a student trying to fix up his wardrobe.
    The only way I can access a washing and drying machine is to ride my bicycle and I store my clothes in a backpack for the trip. What would you recommend is the best way to pack professional clothes into a backpack without damaging them and hopefully without making massive creases or pinching the cotton like I know can happen for rolled t-shirts.
    I look forward to your advice.

  • yullz

    It better for your spine to distribute weight evenly… fyi. 

  • frankiedoubleyou

    Hey, I agree that a nice briefcase looks great with a suit.  I don’t presently wear a suit, but even if I did, I still imagine I’d use a (nice looking) backpack, probably with conservative styling and colors.  Why? Briefcases and other such backpack alternatives require you to either carry them with one hand, or strap them over one shoulder.
     
    As a cyclist, a briefcase would be impossible to ride with – and a one-strap bag would unevenly distribute the weight. In addition, there’s nothing more impractical than always having only one hand free.  I mean, come on – you want to be able to use both your hands at a moment’s notice, right? Not, “Oh, I can’t do that – I have a briefcase in my hand.”
     
    I’d say: Reserve the briefcase for occasions where a man is strictly taking motorized transit (car, subway, bus) strictly to an office where he’ll do no more physical activity than striding down a corridor or taking an elevator.  For anything else, the fact that a person is practical enough to use a backpack, enabling their hands to remain free, or allowing them to commute by bike, should be attractive in its own right.
     
    And the backpack in that picture is pretty unattractive – there are much nicer looking packs out there.
     
    Cheers!

  • KennethMoyle

     @frankiedoubleyou “As a cyclist, a briefcase would be impossible to ride with”
     
    I cycle with a briefcase every single day.  It’s easy: put in on a front or rear rack.  A backpack while biking is a sweaty nightmare.

  • KennethMoyle

     @frankiedoubleyou For example …
     
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/moylek/4491083601/

  • frankiedoubleyou

     @KennethMoyle Fair play.  I guess if your bike can accommodate one or more pieces of luggage, all the better! Actually, I hate sweaty-back(pack)-syndrome, and am looking to drastically reduce the weight and size of my pack. For my next bike I think I will make sure it can incorporate a rack or two.
     
    That being said, for the activities I do, a backpack still trumps other styles – but that picture you posted looks great.