A Mans Guide to Buying a Briefcase

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A Man's Guide to Buying a Briefcase

There was a time when all that a man in the City needed to carry around in his brown leather briefcase was his fountain pen, ink, perhaps an electronic calculator, and a notebook of feint ruled paper. However, times change. Although fountain pens are back in fashion, these days the notebook has become a laptop computer, and inside a briefcase you will most probably find a smartphone and maybe a tablet computer, too. It is not surprising therefore that briefcases have also changed, with the range of styles, materials, and colours on offer far exceeding the simple choices available fifty years ago.

Yet despite the variety of briefcases available, the importance of selecting the right one has not diminished. A good quality briefcase can be an expensive purchase. However, it is an essential investment. If it is chosen correctly, it should serve its owner for many years.

This guide will consider the range of briefcases available, the variety of uses to which they are frequently put, and the different types of materials from which they are generally made. It will then go on to consider where a prospective buyer may find a good quality briefcase at a reasonable price, including advice on how to find men’s briefcases on eBay.  

A Hard or Soft Briefcase?

The choice between a hard or soft briefcase is the first decision a prospective buyer faces. Whereas traditionally briefcases were soft-sided and needed to protect nothing more fragile than paper, nowadays there is the need to safeguard expensive electronic equipment. Briefcases of today are more robust and secure, and there are now several types of rigid, hard-sided briefcases. Properly speaking, many of these are not briefcases at all, but attaché cases, although the distinction between the two has become increasingly blurred.

The advantages of a rigid briefcase are obvious, in that they are more resistant to knocks and bangs, and they are more difficult to break into. The disadvantages may be less apparent, but are nonetheless very real. Rigid cases tend to be heavy, and so are less convenient to carry. This issue becomes painfully apparent when the user, already weighed down with luggage, has to thrust their briefcase under an already over-employed arm. 

A final point to consider in relation to rigid briefcases is that even the most impenetrable shell is rendered worthless if it is not matched by an equally thief-resistant lock. We shall consider locks later in the guide. 

There is actually a third and very common type of briefcase. It is neither rigid like an attaché case, nor soft sided. It can best be described as semi-rigid. These normally have a leather or synthetic outer skin, shaped over a strong cardboard frame. They are not as heavy as fully rigid cases, but offer much more protection than a soft-sided case. 

A Leather or Synthetic Briefcase?

Hard-shelled briefcases are usually made from tough plastic, or even aluminium in more substantial and expensive versions. It is possible however to find hard-shelled briefcases which are covered in leather.

Traditional, soft-sided briefcases can be made either of leather or a synthetic material, and this is where price becomes important. A beautifully crafted, fine grained traditional leather briefcase, with tightly stitched seams and brass fittings, can be a very expensive purchase indeed. On the other hand, given proper care and attention it should serve its owner for a lifetime. The owner should treat the leather with respect, feed it occasionally with a good quality leather cream. The leather will actually improve with age, developing a rich patina as it softens and mellows.

For those buyers who are looking for a more affordable briefcase, it is still possible to find real leather cases at reasonable prices. The leather may not be quite as soft, but it will be durable and attractive.

Synthetic materials fall into two categories. They can either be ‘faux’, or imitation, leather, or they can be a woven textile such as the lightweight black nylon used to make computer bags.

Leather

Aluminium

Plastic

Synthetic

Leather is attractive, long lasting, but expensive. The finest quality leather in particular can double or triple the cost of the briefcase. It will also need looking after, protection from excessive moisture, and very occasionally need feeding. But it will look the part, and last a lifetime.

Aluminium is very strong, and great for protecting laptops or other equipment. It is, however, heavy, and not always convenient to carry. Although aluminium can look stylish, it can also look rather industrial. And it stands out, which is not always a good thing for the security conscious.

Hard shells, such as ABS plastic, are also strong, and lighter weight than metal. They do not have the same visual appeal as leather, but tend to be much cheaper.

Imitation leather, or ‘leatherette’ varies in its visual appeal. The worst examples can look tacky. Woven nylon textiles are affordable and practical, but not always stylish.

Nylon textiles are hardwearing and unpretentious. They make no claim to be anything more than a down-to-earth and practical choice. Imitation leather varies greatly in its appearance, ranging from the attractive at one end of the spectrum to the cheap-looking and not so attractive at the other. Neither synthetic option has the stylish appeal of well-tooled leather. But nor do they have the price tag that leather commands.

What Is the Briefcase For?

Ultimately, as with most purchases, which type of briefcase is most suitable depends on what it is going to be used for. Is it going to double as a laptop case? Or just carry documents? If the former, is the laptop in question a slim, 1 kg job? Or a hefty 4 kg desktop replacement? Some briefcases have to endure nothing more arduous than the daily car ride to the office.While others are forced to fight their way through the rush hour scrum on the Underground. And travellers who often go on business trips will be familiar with the stresses and shocks endured by all their luggage as they fight their way through the airport, no matter their efforts to protect their luggage. 

For those briefcases which receive a lot of punishment, or regularly get crammed full of expensive equipment, it is important to ensure not only that the exterior is rugged but also that the interior is well-appointed, too

Pockets and Dividers

To keep everything in its place, and prevent the damage and chaos that can result if things are not properly stowed, it is essential for the briefcase to have a good selection of pockets, dividers, and adjustable spacers. A laptop which is thrown about is more likely to break. Hard copy notes or plans which are left loose are likely to become jumbled.

Zips, Locks, and Buckles

Soft-sided briefcases traditionally have a leather flap that folds over the front, and is secured with two metal buckles. However, not all men want to be seen carrying something which is reminiscent of an overgrown school satchel, which is perhaps why the design has evolved over the years. Nowadays many, perhaps most, briefcases have a single central lock. There are still old fashioned style briefcases about though, with two buckles and sometimes even a long shoulder strap, too. Some of these are exceptionally expensive, being made from the best quality tanned hide with impeccable tooling, and fall into the category of briefcases mentioned above that cost the earth but last a lifetime.

If the briefcase is to be used as a laptop bag, consider the lock. Does it look strong enough to deter a thief? Thieves vary in their lock-picking abilities, and no lock is secure against a determined expert. But most theft is opportunistic, executed on the spur of the moment, and a decent lock should put up enough of a fight to make the average thief think twice. A buyer should assess a lock to determine how hard it would be to open.

Zips are not traditionally part of the briefcase design, but some of the modern versions, especially those made from black nylon textile, do incorporate zips. Their presence is a matter of taste and convenience. If zips are incorporated into the design, it is important that they are strong, and that they are sewn in well.

Hinges

For rigid briefcases that open on a set of hinges, it is important that they are robust enough to stand the rough and tumble of everyday use. Soft-sided and semi-rigid briefcases normally use the natural pliability of the leather or other fabric as a hinge. For these cases, therefore, this consideration would not apply. 

Stitching

Of great importance for soft-sided and semi-rigid briefcases, however, is the quality of the stitching. The stitching needs to be tight and evenly spaced.

Buying a Briefcase on eBay

Although briefcases are ubiquitous, it tends to be the case that high street stores carry only a small selection. Even the large multiple chains who have specialist luggage departments, tend to have a frustratingly narrow range on offer. This may be because briefcases are generally long lived items and so rarely need to be replaced. If you are in the market for a new one, you will often have to visit a number of stores to gain an idea of the prices and the range available.

One of the advantages of the recent boom in Internet-based shopping, however, is that online marketplaces such as eBay are now able to provide a far wider choice than you would see at a high street store. By visiting the eBay homepage and entering a simple search term such as ‘briefcases’, you can browse a comprehensive selection of styles and price points, and make a choice at your leisure. The choice on offer is so wide you may actually find that you want to narrow your search parameters a little, for example, by searching for ‘leather briefcases’, ‘synthetic briefcases’, or ‘metal briefcases’.

By reading the descriptions, studying the photograph, and considering the price, you can gain a good impression of the quality and durability of the briefcase you are interested in. It also possible to buy well known brand name briefcases on eBay, both new and used, by typing the desired brand name into the search bar on any page on the eBay site. 

Conclusion

The briefcase has moved on from its original purpose of carrying paper documents and a few office essentials. With its change in purpose, has come a change in design. The modern briefcase has more interior dividers to hold and protect expensive electronic equipment.

Nevertheless, old fashioned briefcases are still surprisingly popular, and the most expensive cases available tend to adopt the classic design. Fine leather and top quality fittings are used to produce a briefcase that lasts a lifetime, and probably beyond.

For most men, the practical choice is between a more accessible grade of leather, a hard-shelled case such aluminium or plastic, or a synthetic covering. Hard cases are strong but heavy. Whereas synthetic coverings are lighter but still durable and affordable; although they tend to lack leather’s visual appeal.

When choosing a briefcase, it is important to assess the options available, and select the one which best matches the buyer’s needs. Since the range available in high street stores tends to be limited, online options such as eBay is ideal for the man wanting to browse a variety of briefcases.

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