history of briefcase

The Evolution Of A Gentleman’s Classic Briefcase

The briefcase is synonymous with the business man. It represents business acumen, dedication and above all a classic style. And yet is was not until recent decades that this trusted men’s accessory became a mainstay of the working wardrobe.

In fact the briefcase has a long, transformative history which takes it through Roman times, to the sides of soldiers, before it finally came to rest in the hands of the most successful business men of the Twentieth Century…

briefcase history


The beginnings of the briefcase-like bag came in the form of the satchel carried by Roman soldiers. Named the Loculus, it was a bag with cross-shaped reinforcements that was often made from leather. It is believed that the satchel was around 30-45 cm and was used to store rations and personal effects.


Even in one of the most famous of Shakespeare quotes from the 1599 play As You Like It the briefcase-esque bag is mentioned:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.”

This shows a deep running theme of the briefcase being part of daily life. Perhaps it has not reached its quintessential home within the world of work, but it was a necessity already.

briefcase history
briefcase history
briefcase history

After a recession in popularity as pockets began to appear within clothing for the first time, the ‘briefcase’ returned in the shape of a military bag for the soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. At this point in time, it was referred to as the haversack and was a combination of a briefcase and backpack. This was then adopted during the Civil War and the briefcase became an inherent part of the soldier’s kit.

Not dissimilar to wearing the briefcase with a suit to work today, the briefcase deserved a well-dressed stage. It paired beautifully with the spectacle of ceremonial soldiers’ uniform. Nevertheless the military bag was practical, and was yet to have the thoughtful design and symbolism that the briefcase is honoured with nowadays.

briefcase history
briefcase history
briefcase history

As we enter into the Nineteenth Century, the briefcase begins to grow its powerful allure. In Britain, the red briefcase became synonymous with the economy and was held outside of Number 10 on Downing Street annually on Budget Day from 1860 until that particular briefcase was retired in 2010. 

For a world that was beginning to internationalise however the briefcase started to take its rightful place to side of the successful businessman. Think 1950s Mad Men – it was the accessory for the committed entrepreneur. This was the start of the briefcase becoming omnipresent in the boardroom as it is today.



In the most recent decades the briefcase has become more relaxed. Now, it is often worn with more casual attire than has previously been known. There is a style to match every occasion, with the increased variety also allowing this special bag to enter the daily lives of all professions.

Of course, there is still as classic look which mostly prevails. The pageantry of the briefcase continues within the workplace, whether it be everyday in the boardroom or to create the best impression at an interview. They will inevitably still always look best paired with a well-tailored suit and timeless accessories.

The briefcase is, most definitely, firmly established as a key part of the contemporary working wardrobe.

briefcase history

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