In the legal world, we confront the same sartorial dilemma at the start of each workday. Will we prioritize fashion or function? The most obvious examples of this problem reside in the domain of footwear. We must choose between muscle-straining high heels and comfortable flats, or between heel-chafing dress shoes and sneakers. But the fashion-versus-function predicament also arises when we decide how to carry our stuff around. I’m talking, of course, about the great backpack debate.
Most of us have a nostalgic relationship with the backpack. In elementary school, we used one to transport our lunchboxes and homework. As young adults, we might have hauled ourselves around Europe as our legs buckled under the weight of an overstuffed backpack. And, perhaps recently, you bought an extra-sturdy one after you resolved to become a “hiking person” (it may still have its tags on). But we seldom bring a backpack to the office. Why not?
Backpacks, after all, are efficient and comfortable. They feature straps that evenly distribute the weight of the bag across your back, so you don’t damage your spine on the way to work. They’re covered in pockets, sleeves and deep storage spaces, allowing you to pack away all of your belongings — a laptop, files, food for lunch, wallet and cosmetics — with ease.
But none of these advantages negate the biggest problem with the backpack: it can make the person wearing it look juvenile. With a backpack slung over your suit jacket, you’re more likely to resemble a university-aged intern than a sophisticated professional. In an industry that prizes experience, this is not ideal.
Fortunately, it is possible to find a professional backpack that won’t cramp your lawyerly style. No, don’t wear your daughter’s Fortnite bag to court. But if you want to be treated with deference without throwing out your back, here’s my advice on choosing the right work-appropriate backpack.
Keep it simple
You aren’t hiking Grouse Mountain, so you don’t need 50 pockets and carabiners hanging off the sides. You should be looking for clean lines, few adornments and either a solid colour or a subtle pattern. Tumi, a favourite of mine for leather goods, makes uncomplicated backpacks for men and women in a range of colours, including black and camel.
Tumi’s Tori Flap Backpack $600
Available online at ca.tumi.com
Buy a backpack with structure
Backpacks can be bulky and ill-shapen. To avoid this problem, purchase a structured backpack that will keep its shape and maintain a clean, streamlined look. Head over to ISM, which sells a well-structured (gender-neutral) bag that goes with everything.
ISM’s “The Backpack” $235 USD
Available online at ism-sf.com
It’s all about the material
Backpacks made out of cotton canvas or leather have an air of sophistication. I’m partial to Herschel, which makes excellent (and affordable) bags with a gender-neutral look. Pairing the company’s grey crosshatch backpack with a grey suit would, in my opinion, look terribly chic.
Herschel’s Little America Backpack $119.99
Available online at herschel.ca
Now, to be sure, backpack-haters are gonna hate. But the times are changing. The structured briefcase that my father carried in the ’90s, which I coveted at the time, is passé. Streetwear has influenced everyone, including lawyers. On the point of backpacks, I say go for it, but keep in mind these simple rules to avoid their pitfalls.
Cameron Bryant is a lawyer and lease negotiator with Cirrus Consulting Group in Toronto. He writes about fashion and style for Precedent.
This story is from our Winter 2019 Issue.