Reader Question

Reader Question: Can I wear a backpack with my suit?

Practical, or unprofessional?

By Megan Collins | Last Updated: Jan 4 2018

This week, Style Girlfriend plucks a letter out of her (super chic) reader mailbag.


“I work on-site at my client’s office, and wear a suit every day. I used to carry a messenger bag with me, but it got to be a pain to lug around. I wanted something easier to carry that could also hold a little more (laptop, files, water bottle, workout clothes, etc). So I got a North Face backpack. Now I show up to work every morning with a backpack on my back, a coffee in my hand and a smile on my face.

My client, however, doesn’t share my enthusiasm for the look. In fact, he makes fun of me whenever he sees me carrying my backpack. I maintain that wearing a backpack with a suit is totally work- and fashion-appropriate, especially in large cities when you have to take a train or walk a long distance to get where you’re going (neither of which I do by the way. I live outside of DC, but drive my car to work and park across the street. But let’s not get into that). 

Today when I was leaving, he shook his head yet again. I responded by saying “You need to brush up on your men’s fashion.” He then challenged me to find a “reputable” style source that would approve of my backpack/suit combo.

So here I am. Is it acceptable to pair a backpack with a suit?  My office cred depends on your answer, but no pressure.

Sincerely, Orthopedically Inclined in Alexandria

Oh the allure of a backpack, with its sweet-but-deadly siren song. While I sympathize with your position, I have to side with your client on this one. And not just because the customer’s always right.

I’ve addressed my love of a good backpack here before.

They’re durable, easy on your posture, and can hold all the contents of one’s life. More specifically, of a student’s life. And like many mementos from your school days, a backpack is best retired upon graduation, lovingly tucked away until nostalgia or a mid-life crisis hits. Look at it this way, you wouldn’t show up to work in the sweats you used to throw on for early morning lectures on the other side of campus, right? So why would you continue to tote a carry-all from the same era?

Plus, you admitted you don’t even have a metropolitan public transportation system as a decent excuse for your “I have so much stuff to carry” argument! You have a car! You can leave many of your things in there! That’s what the trunk is for. And the backseat. And the passenger seat. Anywhere but on your back. Honestly.

There are plenty of more professional options that go easy on a shoulder smarting from lopsided messenger bag abuse. Try a wax-coated canvas duffel, like this understated number from Fossil. You can carry it in your hand and won’t look like you’re on your way to Career Day at the student services center.

Still need more room and/or having knapsack separation anxiety? My suggestion: divide your day-to-day items into two bags – your beloved backpack for the gym that stays in the car and away from co-workers’ judging eyes, and a separate “grown-up” bag for the office. You’ll thank me at review time, when you make your case for a promotion with the persuasive argument that your client no longer openly mocks you in the workplace.

Just looking out for you.

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