February 4th, 2009, 09:03 PM #1
Whatever happened to the HARD CASE briefcases?
The briefcase loses its handle on public
By Maria Puente, USA TODAY
Whatever happened to briefcases?
Once, the classic handgrip briefcase or hard-side attaché case was the accouterment of choice for America's armies of white-collar workers — bankers and bureaucrats, lawyers and accountants, stockbrokers and businessmen. Even women carried these things.
Now briefcases have gone the way of tie clasps and cufflinks — that is, tucked away and forgotten in closets and dresser drawers.
"I definitely believe that fewer Americans are buying the classic briefcase," says Phyllis Dooney, creative director at Dooney & Bourke, a leading American leather-goods line that offers dozens of other kinds of bags but only nine kinds of briefcases. "The reason is fairly simple: Briefcases were designed for the paper society that has since for the most part disappeared."
To be sure, some people are still buying briefcases, especially older men who work in professions in which formal attire is expected, such as Wall Street types, lawyers, professors and corporate executives.
Tommy Wells, a trial lawyer in Birmingham, Ala., and an officer of the American Bar Association, says his is a classic accordion-style briefcase that opens from the top and is roomy enough to handle both his files and a very skinny computer. He used a computer bag for about six months and hated it.
"You have to have a briefcase that looks like it's been around the block 400 times, that's lovingly scuffed and worn, or you'll stick out like a sore thumb" in a courtroom, says Wells, 52, who mostly handles tort cases involving environmental litigation. "It's an unwritten rule. ... Juries expect certain things of lawyers."
But the number of briefcase toters is declining: The Travel Goods Association, which represents makers and retailers of luggage and periodically surveys sales of attaché cases and briefcases, found that in 1992 attachés accounted for 57% of sales in the "business case" category; by 1994, attachés had dropped to 38%. By 1997 the survey included computer cases, which accounted for 19% of sales, while attachés had dropped to 13% and "unstructured briefcases" had moved up to 40%.
Instead, on the commuter trains and in commuter lanes, you see computer bags, messenger bags, backpacks and lots and lots of totes. And no wonder: Just try to fit all this into a briefcase: laptop, files, cell phone, PalmPilot, newspapers, magazines, a lunch bag and maybe gym clothes and makeup. Millions of working men and women gave up on old-fashioned briefcases when they became impractical; few people wanted to carry a briefcase and a handbag, or a briefcase and a gym bag, or a briefcase and a computer bag.
"Mobile phones, PDAs and computers are the driving forces behind worldwide bag and briefcase needs," Dooney says.
Women especially have gravitated to totes, a catchall name for catchall bags, the indispensable business bag for most women these days. Bloomingdale's, for instance, hasn't sold briefcases for women in at least seven years; instead it sells totes. They come in a variety of silhouettes, materials and price points, from a $1,000 number made of stingray skin by designer Debra McGuire to a $69 tartan plaid bag by Nine West. But their common characteristic is that they are commodious enough to accommodate a working woman's multi-tasking lifestyle.
"(Totes) are a way of life now, and it's all about the sundry things we bring with us for the day," says Sheila Block, executive director of the Accessories Council, the trade association that represents manufacturers and retailers.
Just look at the Coach catalog: Perhaps the best-known American purveyor of fine leather goods, with $719 million in sales annually, Coach has sold millions of briefcases for men and women since 1941. But in the past five years, totes, messenger bags, computer bags, satchel bags, even diaper bags have steadily taken the dominant position in the company's lineup of products; Coach's latest catalog offers only six kinds of briefcases. "It's another sign of the 'casualization' of the workplace," says Reed Krakoff, creative director of Coach.
In 1992, when health care executive Robin Mack, 32, of Denver first made the transition from college to the working world, she carried a traditional, narrow briefcase by Bally. Today she carries "hip but functional" totes designed by her sister, Neely Mack of San Francisco. The Bally "just wasn't versatile; it didn't look good anymore and it didn't fit all the stuff I put in my bag."
Are most totes as elegant as, say, a Gucci leather attaché case? Well, no, but you can't fit a pair of shoes in the Gucci, which costs as much ($1,315) as a down payment on a car.
"When you go through an airport and see a businessman with a soft briefcase on his shoulder, it might not look that great, but it's a workhorse, and as we all know it's so much more comfortable to be casual," says Donna Strilich, a senior U.S. manager for Longchamp, the French handbag company whose catalog still features 20 kinds of traditional briefcases.
There are few statistics to back up the demise of the briefcase. But anecdotal reports confirm the shift away from traditional briefcases:
Since 1997, sales have more than doubled at Louis Vuitton for roomy tote bags that work as laptop-compatible briefcases during the day and as sophisticated evening bags for dinner, says Heather Vandenberghe, a marketing vice president for the 148-year-old French company. "We're doing focus groups right now that validate what our numbers tell us — that women want to be feminine and stylish and they don't want a man's briefcase," she says.
Levenger, the catalog and online company based in Delray Beach, Fla., that sells fountain pens and briefcases, reports a 20% increase in the second quarter this year of sales in its business case category. "And we know that totes are what is skewing that number higher," company spokeswoman Tracy Lamb says.
Kenneth Cole, the 20-year-old accessories firm, has never sold old-fashioned briefcases and attachés, but its soft-side bags with laptop inserts are the top sellers.
Tumi, the high-end luggage company, says its casual soft business briefs and computer bags are best sellers among men; now the company is introducing a nylon "wheeled office" tote that accommodates everything a woman would have in her purse and her briefcase, plus room for a laptop.
George Abbott, 31, a marketing executive for HealthONE, a major group of hospitals in metropolitan Denver, used to carry a Coach Beekman briefcase when he worked in New York, and he remembers well his father's leather attaché case. But the strap on his briefcase was uncomfortable, and he shudders just thinking of trying to juggle a Starbucks in the subway while gripping an attaché case. Now he carries a backpack.
"I liked walking into meetings with the Beekman because it looked good," he says. "But if it hurts, why do it?"
February 5th, 2009, 05:23 AM #2
Re: Whatever happened to the HARD CASE briefcases?
Archie, that is an interesting article, thanks for posting!
The article is right in saying that the Trad. briefcase is very out of mode now!
February 5th, 2009, 02:32 PM #3
Re: Whatever happened to the HARD CASE briefcases?
Thanks for posting this article!
It's totally true...I guess people need bags that are a good size for carrying laptops, and briefcases aren't really for that purpose. And they can't fit all the stuff we bring around with us all day!Now on a BAN!
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