can I wear a backpack with a suit?

A reader writes:

I’m a woman in her 30’s and I work in an office setting for a nonprofit. I commute via train and walking, and am often carrying quite a bit with me (lunch, a book, sometimes shoes, etc.). Last year I started having some minor pain on one side of my back, and I determined carrying all that stuff on one shoulder in a big purse was the cause, so I’ve switched to a backpack. Now I find myself wondering: does a backpack make me look unprofessional?

I got the most professional-looking backpack I could find — grey leather, not huge, no patches or writing on it, etc. I don’t really care whether it looks professional while I’m commuting, but there are occasions when I have out-of-the-office meetings. If I’m dressed up for such a meeting in a suit (or equivalent), I feel weird wearing the backpack. Sometimes I just carry what I absolutely need in my hands to avoid bringing it. Am I overthinking? Or should I bring a purse to keep at work for these occasions?

If your organization is business casual, I think you’re absolutely fine with a backpack when you’re not leaving your office.

But yeah, for outside meetings, if you’re in a field where some degree of professional appearance is expected, you’ll be better off with a laptop bag, a purse, a briefcase, or a professional-looking messenger bag. And definitely if you’re dressing with suit-level formality for those meetings, a backpack will look out of place / less polished. (For the record, this is silly, given how much better backpacks can be for your back. But lots of our standards about professional dress are rooted in things other than logic.)

{ 292 comments… read them below }

  1. Aleta*

    Could you keep a separate, more professional bag at your office and just use that whenever you have an out-of-office meeting? Presumably you don’t need your lunch, book, shoes, etc then, just a handful of things. It shouldn’t be as much wear on your back for a short time, with much fewer/lighter things.

    1. Jean*

      I agree with this comment. As an auditor, I use a backpack mostly since carrying records and a laptop to customers make the traditional auditor bag cumbersome and hard to carry everywhere. My challenge is been able to lock the bag for security reasons.

      If you cannot leave a work bag for out of office trips, look for a backpack with all black color and some locks if possible. Just make sure it is a single dark tone instead of flashy or different tones like a hickerson backpack. There are backpacks which are pretty clean design when worn.

      1. Captain Raymond Holt*

        If it’s of interest pacsafe have a range of bags with built it lock and safety features. I’ve used them travelling and they’re very good

    2. OP*

      I agree, I think this is my solution – it will work for most cases, just not the meetings that I go to first thing in the morning if I don’t stop at the office first. But I should think ahead for those anyway – I’m not carrying my lunch in that case.

      Sometimes when I do the backpack anyway I tell myself ‘Josh Lyman always wore a backpack, and he was Deputy Chief of Staff to President Bartlett!’ But he’s probably not the exemplar of style or professionalism I think he is…

      1. Juli G.*

        I’m okay with the backpack but don’t take cues on appropriate relationships with your assistant from him.

      2. TurquoiseCow*

        My husband carries a backpack when he commutes into the office via public transportation. But he’s a guy, and he’s in tech, and *very* rarely needs to wear a suit, so there’s those caveats. I’m not sure he’s any more of an exemplar of style than Josh!

        (He also tends to bring a backpack just about everywhere (leaving it in the car most times) in case of a work emergency; he found that the occasions such emergencies occurred were the occasions he didn’t bring a laptop.)

        1. Aveline*

          My husband was a global CIO based in LA. He wore a backpack with his $$$$ Italian suits. No one ever batted an eye.

          Caveat: At the time, he was (1) male (2) older and (3) pretty high up in the company.

          I think that this is one thing older established (white and Asian) men can get away with that might be viewed differently if someone else did it.

          1. FTW*

            I am a woman in my 30’s and I use a backpack when I wear suits. No one bats an eye and my back doesn’t care if they do.

            Caveats: I’m close to the executive level in professional services, I have a nicer Tumi backpack.

        2. yasmara*

          Pretty much every single guy in tech I have run into lately has had a backpack, dressed up or not.

          1. EM*

            I use a satchel, but my partner has recently started carrying a backpack with his laptop & papers in it. He bought a plain black Herschel one, and carries it to client meetings as well as casually. I wonder if it’s differebt for men, but he has quite a formal workplace.

              1. Wendy Darling*

                Also a woman in tech. Agonized over whether to carry a backpack for client trips because my back is terribad and schlepping my massive brick of a laptop to client offices in a shoulder bag would suck a big one. I ended up with the sleekest, fanciest, obscure-Swiss-boutique-brand backpack you ever saw… and you can pack away the shoulder straps and turn it into a briefcase in a pinch.

                Anyone who would object to it is mad (it is BEAUTIFUL) but for particularly stuffy clients I can take it off my back at their door.

                1. Nonny nonny*

                  Link to your bag, please! I’m looking for a good laptop bag for client visits.

                2. Michaela Westen*

                  Another option is a wheeled bag or trolley. I saw farther down the comments there are some professional-looking wheeled bags.
                  I work in a casual office and I’ve used a trolley for a few years. Much better for my back and it’s big enough to go grocery shopping after work. :)

                3. Optimistic Prime*

                  Please, share this! I’ve been looking for a good convertible backpack/shoulder bag for a while!

          2. Optimistic Prime*

            I work in tech – both women and men wear backpacks here. They’re great for your back, but they’re also functional and we often have a bunch of doodads and bits that we have to carry to and fro.

        1. Trillion*

          I noticed that too. I thought they were doing it to make him appear a bit younger.
          Have you seen Bradley Whitford lately? Age did him well.

          1. OP*

            In fact I saw him at a live taping of the West Wing Weekly podcast where he did the splits on stage! So yes, he’s doing pretty well.

            1. [insert witty username here]*

              OMG how did I not know this was a thing?? I JUST finished watching TWW last night – first time I’d watched it and I would have totally listened to this podcast for the last few months!! D’oh!!!!

            2. Teapot librarian*

              So jelly. I love the podcast but didn’t make it to the local live taping.

      3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I never stopped thinking of him as twelve. And I carry a purple messenger bag.

      4. Secretly awkward lawyer*

        I think a backpack is fine – it’s now so common for me to see lawyers and bankers carrying backpacks (and casual ones to boot!) with their suits, I don’t think it would be seen as unprofessional.

        1. Specialk9*

          I’m East Coast and trend more formal. As a professional woman, I was NOT comfortable with a backpack either. But I think there are backpacks, and polished bags that have two straps and sit on one’s back (ie a nicer backpack). I think your grey leather backpack sounds like it may be more in the latter group, and so ok.

              1. Susan Sto Helit*

                They are ridiculously expensive, and not really designed for ergonomics, but you’ll see plenty of people using Cambridge Satchel Company backpacks in London. This one, for example, you could easily carry by the top handle and no one’s going to bat an eye:


                Even better would be if they made the straps clip-on, of course – then you could remove them whenever you wanted.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            When I lived on the East Coast, I saw professionals in suits commuting to work with backpacks all the time. Now, perhaps they had nicer bags at work – and this was New York; we were all commuting on the subway.

        2. Zarabeth*

          OP must not wear a backpack with a suit. It looks very tacky and unprofessional. Just because some TV character did it does NOT mean it is OK in real life. What is next, wearing sweatsuits or pajamas at the office? Show some self-respect and dress appropriately, not like a slob.

          1. Mananana*

            This is inappropriately harsh, Zarabeth. There is no reason to assume that people who wear backpacks to an office are lacking self-respect. Or are slovenly.

          2. Someone else*

            There are plenty of very professional laptop backpacks. Backpack does not automatically equal slob. This is overly harsh. My company gives most traveling consultants backpacks for their laptop cases. It COULD be tacky but is not by definition unprofessional.

          3. Wendy Darling*

            I ruptured a disc (don’t try to move a piano by yourself, kids!) and carrying a bag on one shoulder literally causes me pain and could land me back in physical therapy. And I won’t do one of those rolly bags because 1. I think they are way tackier than a backpack and 2. they’re heavy as shit so I wreck myself any time I have reason to lift them.

            So I have a backpack. It is similar to this. It is not tacky. It is not my purple Jansport from middle school. You would not wear it hiking. It is a gorgeous leather-trimmed chrome-zippered gear-moving unit. I will put it down when its straps break off or, apparently. when someone elects you God-King of the Universe.

          4. Daisy Steiner*

            I think you must be new here Zarabeth – welcome! We actually don’t tend to insult letter writers like that in the comments. Why don’t you have a look at the commenting guidelines? You’ll see we try to keep things very civil and supportive, even when we disagree with each other.

          5. Bagpuss*

            I strongly disagree. There is nothing tacky or unprofessional in using a back pack.
            I think the style of the backpack is relevant – the grey leather OP refers to sounds find – day-glo yellow or purple, not so much.

            OP, if you are concerned, then you could simply take the bag off and carry it in your hand when you reach the meeting venue.

          6. BethRA*

            Zarabeth – what Wendy Darling said, welcome aboard but note that insulting letter-writers isn’t what we’re hear for. The commenting rules she mentions are here:

            And I also disagree with the basic premise that a backpack-style bag automatically looks tacky and unprofessional. If I were OP, I might opt to carry the pack by its handle when going to the meetings she mentioned, but she certainly is not “wearing sweatpants and pajamas” or anything like it.

          7. Anxa*

            I’m pretty sure that working to balance protecting your health with managing a professional appearance is a lot more respectful to oneself than taking backpacks off the table.

      5. Raine*

        I used to have a backpack that converted into a roller bag. It was great in college, and if you are having some back issues very defensible. And it looks enough like a luggage to be unobtrusive.

        1. Blue Anne*

          When I worked in audit, we were actually issued with these on some jobs in order to carry all the files we would need.

        2. GlitsyGus*

          The only thing I would offer with this is if you are going to use the roller option, which can be really great if your bag is especially heavy, be aware of what is happening with it as it follows behind you!

          A lot of folks in my downtown area use these and seem to completely forget that there is something attached to them extending two or three feet behind. I regularly have to jump aside from or have my feet run over by rolley-bags when their owners try to weave quickly through dense foot traffic or take corners too sharply. It happened this past Monday, in fact. A woman decided she NEEDED to cross the street before I did when the light changed and as she pushed to the head of the crowd her bag hit me in the shin. When I said “Ow! Watch the bag!” She looked at me with complete shock.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I saw a woman forget about her roller bag behind her, and she completely tripped a woman in the crosswalk in the middle of the street. Like, literally the other woman went flying.

            Especially a backpack of suitcase, because they’re smaller and harder for other people to see.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            I use a trolley and I push it in front of me because pulling it strains my neck.

      6. J.*

        YMMV based on your workplace, but about half my department has the eBags Professional Slim. It has a way to unclip the back straps and hide them away, and you can carry it with a handle on its side so it looks like a soft cover briefcase or messenger bag. It’s very versatile (and has so many pockets)! Mine is navy, but it also comes in grey and black.

      7. Jess*

        I carry a backpack, and keep a small leather bag inside – the kind that is a clutch with a long removable strap. If I have a meeting I don’t feel right using the backpack for, I either use pockets or the small bag.

        And I also use Josh Lyman as my reason for a backpack being professional!

      8. Czhorat*

        I wear a jacket and tie pretty often, and usually use a backpack. I have more “professional” looking bags, but none that would fit a laptop, tablet, lunch, diabolo plus handsticks, adapter cables, kendama, phone charger, yo-yo, juggling balls, cap, etc.

        When you get to your meeting, you’ll always set whatever bag you use aside someplace and nobody will think anything of it.

        1. Penny Lane*

          I agree. Unless you are walking in to present a case in front of the Supreme Court or something, a nice backpack seems like it’s the new briefcase these days — appropriate. Everyone understands that it’s often better ergonomically to use a backpack, and in my experience no one thinks twice, even at fancy-schmancy client meetings. As long as it’s professional looking and not kid-like!

      9. memyselfandi*

        Our agency head uses a backpack. I love watching her head over to the state capitol in her suit with backpack strapped on.

      10. GlitsyGus*

        I have a pretty classy looking backpack I commute with and it has a handle on the top. When I’m walking in to a client meeting or something else that’s a bit more formal than the every day I carry it by that top handle. Since it’s a pretty streamlined shape it just looks sort of like a messenger bag on it’s side so it doesn’t seem odd and isn’t uncomfortable to carry it that way

      11. Notwithstanding the Foregoing*

        Reading the post, my first thoughts were to the West Wing and Josh Lyman!!!

      12. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        OP, have you considered a rolling briefcase/carrier? I’ve found that it looks more professional than a backpack, and people are often willing to forgive its use at meetings. I do think it’s helpful to also have a smaller bag for other meetings, but this might help split the difference.

        As someone who has thrown out her shoulder and later her low back, I so empathize. I had to wear a fanny pack for 3 months, and it was deeply humiliating. I switched to a messenger bag when I was allowed to bear weight, again, and it was a huge help. But as I began to work at more formal workplaces, I switched to the rolling bag/small bag combo.

        1. Persephoneunderground*

          This is what I was thinking- according to my mother the rolling briefcase basically was invented when women started to show up in the legal profession. She says they thought it was painful and silly to carry everything in a normal briefcase considering how much dang paper law “briefs” can actually be! So they started using actual rolling luggage for their papers since it was practical, and the men started doing it too because it was so much better, and eventually manufacturers caught up and made all kinds of rolling briefcases. So yeah, backpacks are also great but if you’re stuck for another option for more formal setups try what lawyers do all the time!

      13. Empty Sky*

        I think most people will cut you a bit more slack if the meeting is first thing in the morning and people might be coming straight from public transport, for example. In my city most of the attendees would be covered in heavy duty rain gear and probably half a gallon of water on top of it. A backpack in that setting is hardly going to attract any attention.

      14. SignalLost*

        One thing to look at is whether you can find a convertible bag. My mother switched from a purse to a backpack for the same reason and she found a leather bag where the straps slide depending on your grip. Hers is too small for a laptop, but there might be an option like that for getting to the meeting.

    3. animaniactoo*

      This is what I was coming to say. Store the smaller bag with the “necessaries” in the bigger bag with the “everything” for the commute and then just take the smaller bag with you when you’re doing an out of office meeting. Might have to transfer something like a wallet to the smaller bag when leaving the office if it’s too inconvenient to keep it there all the time and dig through the big bag to get to it. But otherwise, I think the two-prong approach is the only sensible solution here.

      1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        This is what I do. I commute by bike and have a giant pannier bag that unclips from my bike and converts to a backpack. But if I have any meetings where I’d need to tote things, I bring a smaller professional tote and put it in my big pannier.

    4. envirolady*

      Yes! This is what I do. Or, if your backpack is big like mine, I bring it with me on important days!

    5. Kelsi*

      I actually keep a purse *inside* my backpack, empty and folded flat (not because I need to look more professional, in my case, but because sometimes I need to travel lighter). It works great because it doesn’t take up much space when empty, but when I need to switch I can just pull it out and throw in the essentials (and leave my backpack at home/the office/wherever I’m departing from).

    6. Jolie*

      That’s what I did when I had to take a one-day trip from the UK to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Pack everything’s in backpack, including small professional looking purse. Stuff backpack in host MEPs office, put phone /ID /bank card in purse, go meet all the MEPs.

    7. OldJules*

      This is exactly how I do it. I have an appointment/external meeting bag and my daily backpack. I keep the fancy bag at work so I can grab and go. It has a set of everything I will need so I don’t even need to do a bag transfer.

  2. KellyAF*

    Maybe keep a small purse or messenger bag at your desk, then transfer essential items to that when meeting out of the office?

    1. Green Goose*

      This is a good idea. And also, what about leaving the office shoes at work? That’s what I did when I was working in a city that had extreme seasons (I just keep them in a bottom drawer and changed into them when I got to work).

    2. Mananana*

      +1. This is exactly what I do. I have a “grown-up purse” in a file cabinet in my office. It’s a beautiful, Italian leather, deep burgundy purse I picked up at Goodwill. And usually the only thing in it are some mints, my phones, a pen and a Dr Pepper Lipsmacker. But it’s more polished than my 3-day Army-issued backpack that I carry for daily use.

      1. Stinky Socks*

        Now I want to go purse-shopping at the thrift stores in high-end neighborhoods…

        1. Star Nursery*

          Also, check thrift stores near private colleges. Students toss a lot of things near the end of the school semester!

  3. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    This is probably very industry dependent, but my office bought backpacks for everyone to carry their stuff. All black, with our logo embroidered on there. Several times, I’ve seen my boss leave in a suit with a backpack slung over his shoulder. From what I’ve seen, they keep them kind of tucked down to the side around clients. Although, there’s rarely a time when there isn’t a small-ish group going to a meeting so it might be less noticeable en masse.

    1. Opting for the Sidelines*

      Same here. I think backpacks have replaced computer bags.

      We show up at project interviews carrying backpacks. No one notices or cares.

      I myself practice what others have suggested: a big bag for commuting and a professional leather tote for going to meetings. This tote stays at my desk.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I hope this conversion to backpacks is because people have realized how hellish shoulder bags can be on your back. Because as a person with a factory defect back (send it back to the lot! Lemon law!) they are rough.

    2. Emily S.*

      I was going to say this. I know of large multinational firms in my town that provide branded backpacks for employees (e.g. as part of a Christmas gift box). I’m sure people carry those while wearing suits.

      Generally, it seems to be more accepted for men, even though that’s crappy.

    3. Mockingjay*

      My company does the same – provides backpacks emblazoned with the company logo. The company encourages us to use it as a ‘branding’ item with our current customers and potential clients. It’s a good quality brand of backpack which takes the strain off my shoulders and lower back. I take it everywhere, including large meetings and high-level briefs with professional dress required.

    4. Triplestep*

      Not only is it industry specific, it is geography-specific. If you work in a city most people commute to via public transportation, no one will bat an eye at a backpack. And no one would carry MORE items to a meeting from which they are catching the train in the name of looking professional.

    5. TootsNYC*

      And actually, you can wear the backpack w/ both straps until just before you get wherever, and then slip one strap off. Now you look jaunty!

  4. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    I work in a very client-facing role, and my boss carries a backpack every day. Not even a professional leather one like yours, but like a huge canvas one you’d see in any high school. It definitely gets noticed, and I know that his bosses have suggested (in a teasing way) that he try for something more professional. It doesn’t seem to be holding him back, but it certainly doesn’t help build his reputation.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yep. My boss, who is young for his job (and I look young) carries a canvas backpack and I don’t think it helps our image, although both of us commute great distances on public transportation so I understand the issue.

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        Same here – I’m quite young but do all I can to minimize the conspicuousness of my age. He’s also quite young for his role, and the backpack really doesn’t help. We do travel a lot for work and often have to walk from one meeting to another, but everyone else in our job (about 150 at our org) carries either a large leather purse, briefcase/laptop bag, or at least a leather messenger bag.

        Something about the backpack, especially a reflective canvas one, is really jarring when he’s wearing a suit or slacks and a sport coat. He’s also quite short, so combined with the backpack and baby face, I think he’s mistaken for much younger than he is and thus taken less seriously sometimes.

        1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          All that to say – do what you need to do for your commute, but I think having a bag that lives in your office for running to a client meeting is a good idea. Just like how some people commute in sneakers but slip into heels when they reach the office, and keep the heels on for whatever meetings they might have.

    2. Rat Racer*

      I am also in a client facing role, and carry my backpack to meetings. But so do many of my colleagues, some of whom are executives. The VP of sales once teased me saying that I look like an intern (I look young even without a backpack), but you know what? They’ll figure out that I’m not an intern once they hear me talk, and I’m not sacrificing the health of my spine for appearance’s sake.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah there are some things you may decide are worth cashing your chits in for (I like to wear whimsical skirts sometimes, even though I know it doesn’t send the most professional signal) and some things that you decide you don’t care about enough to lose anything on. Depends on your individual situation for sure.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        I think there’s also a lot of variation. I’m in the Pacific Northwest and basically every human here carries a backpack. I worked at a megacorp for a few years and everyone who wasn’t too important to carry things carried their stuff in a backpack (I’ve mentioned this before but our senior VP I never saw with anything in his hands except maybe a cup of coffee — apparently his laptop and papers just teleported to wherever they needed to be??? So no backpack for him…). This seems to be much less of a thing on the east coast.

    3. TootsNYC*

      the sad thing is, a leather backpack is going to be significantly heavier than a canvas one, so if our OP has back problems, it’s going to be a bit of a pain.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        You can find some really sleek nylon-ish material bags also, if you look around. Tumi has a range of very polished-looking but spendy backpacks. I’ve also found that canvas or nylon with leather trim, nice zips, and a sufficiently minimalist look comes off very professional.

  5. Meghan Trainer*

    I have a bag by Longchamp called le pliage that folds up really small. You could get something like that and keep it in your backpack. I’ll link it in my name.

    1. raktajino*

      I don’t know if this is what you were getting at, Meghan, but your suggestion made me think of it anyway: Keep a collapsible tote that can hold your backpack. Then as you’re running to a morning meeting, stuff the backpack in the tote. The trouble would be finding a tote that’s both collapsible and big enough for this to be practical, and professional enough for this to be an actual option.

    2. KMB213*

      I was going to suggest the same – they’re kind of pricey, but Le Pliage bags are practically part of the professional “uniform” for women in DC. (And many other cities, I’m sure, that’s just the one I have experience with.)

  6. Leslie J.*

    In my endless quest for the perfect bag, I have definitely seen “professional” backpacks that have an option to take off or tuck in the back straps and carry it by a side handle, so that it looks like a briefcase. I don’t know how comfortable they are as backpacks, though.

    1. Aleta*

      I’d definitely be worried about their ergonomic ability to carry a fair amount of weight, especially if the reason for switching to a backpack is back pain to begin with.

      1. ABK*

        This is what I’d look for! I have a canvas back back with tuckable straps that I really like. Probably you can find one in leather too. I also feel like carrying the bare minimum (phone, wallet, keys) without a bag is unpolished too and would opt for the leather back back instead of that option.

      2. TootsNYC*

        well, then you don’t carry it by the side handle until right before you get where someone might judge you.

    2. MeowThai*

      I have one of those! It’s a laptop + briefcase and it works perfectly fine as a backpack or briefcase or crossbody bag. I think it’s very comfortable as a backpack and it would probably be a good option for OP

      1. MeowThai*

        Oh, and I have chronic low back pain from an injury in my early 20s. It works just fine with my issues, but my flare-ups are infrequent these days.

    3. Xarcady*

      I’m looking to replace my tote bag for the same reason as the OP. I have my eye on a backback that can also be a messenger bag or a briefcase. The various straps hide away, and there are a couple of carry handles. It’s made of a nylon canvas, I think. It would not do for a very formal business environment, but for our business casual (emphasis on the casual) environment, it won’t attract any attention. Lots of people have backpacks here. I just want something a tiny bit nicer.

      There are several backpack/briefcase and backpack/messenger bag combinations out there.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I decided I couldn’t get away with the backpack but I did switch to a leather cross-shoulder messenger style bag, which has a more masculine, briefcase-style look. If I need to look professional for a morning or late afternoon meeting, I often just put it over one shoulder and shorten the straps, but for my long walking commute I wear it cross-body and I think it helps me rebalance the weight, at least better than my giant purse did.

        1. Aleta*

          Former bike messenger here: cross body is actually how they’re supposed to be worn, and so weight will be distributed best that way (though it could be different for not-bike brands just imitating the look without also incorporating the weight-bearing aspects). They’ll also handle weight best worn high-ish on your back, not down by your butt, as seen here: (again, assuming they’re designed like an actual messenger bag and not just the look of it). I’m a very slight, petite person and have carried a good 30 pounds reasonably comfortably for 5-ish mile rides this way.

          1. Snark*

            I had a Timbuk2 messenger bag with me for my first two days in Barcelona, and at least on foot, I found that it made my back hurt something fierce – it torqued me subtly, and correcting for that was no bueno. I ended up scoring myself a new backpack at a random North Face store and was so much more comfortable that I’m basically right off messenger bags for life.

            1. Meera*

              I do like messengers worn on the back; and they can be comfortable; but it was not flattering for me because of my bust – it was more of a cross-booby bag rather than an cross-body! So try it on in a shop before you buy; to see what it will really look like in motion; and on work clothes.

            2. Wendy Darling*

              I think also when you’re wearing one high on your back while riding a bike you’re leaned forward and more of the weight is resting on your back rather than all of it dragging down on the strap.

              I love messenger bags very much but my body has apparently decided we’re not doing them anymore. :(

      2. Pollygrammer*

        I have one of these, and I really like it. It isn’t as comfortable as a well-made, ergonomic backpack, but it isn’t bad either.

    4. voluptuousfire*

      I have an Ebags travel backpack like that. It can go from being a backpack to a crossbody/messenger back type bag. I had a similar bag last summer from Eagle Creek and it worked well with 20+ pounds of stuff.

      Ebags probably has similar for a professional bag.

    5. Tuxedo Cat*

      I bought a tote recently that does that. It’s from Fjallraven. Not the most professional looking tote but I think it does look better than a normal backpack.

      Henri Bendel “Jetsetter” bag looks promising but I haven’t seen it up close.

      I imagine you can’t fit a great deal in these bags- I can’t in mine but it’s big enough for me to fit what I need.

    6. Mad Baggins*

      I just bought a professional-looking laptop backpack for work. There were so many options, ranging from more unique/colorful, to standard black/leather, some bigger for travel, some smaller that are basically a laptop bag with backpack/handle straps. Many of them looked very professional and could easily switch between backpack mode-briefcase mode. Take a look online, this is definitely a thing now and you shouldn’t have to sacrifice comfort for professionalism anymore!

  7. KHB*

    For my money, I’d say that “not being in pain” beats “looking out of place/less polished” every time. But I rarely have to deal with suit-level formality in the first place, and I’m very glad of that.

    1. KR*

      This – our organization has a strong safety focus and it is much more in line with our values to do what’s comfortable and healthy than to look professional.

    2. Traveling Teacher*

      Yes; I spent way too many years schlepping 30-60 notebooks, piles of worksheets, and a projector on a daily basis in messenger/tote style bags that eventually ruined one of my shoulders (commuter without a car relying on public transport). After spending months and $$$ in physical therapy, I won’t do that to myself anymore!

      I’ve switched to heavily padded professional backpacks and/or rolling suitcases, and it works so much better for my back! I do a solid black, and I’ve never had any comments either way.

  8. huh?*

    I would argue this is very much a regional thing, but is becoming much more acceptable across the country. I’ve lived in the Midwest and East Coast(ish), but never saw a backpack on anyone outside of school. In Denver , where I live now,**EVERYONE** has backpacks. Client meetings, non-client meetings, it doesn’t matter. They are so much easier and no one cares! If it isn’t accepted in your area and everything else hurts your back, I would look for a rolling briefcase.

    1. Aleta*

      Interestingly, I live in Minneapolis and saw a lot of backpacks/”messenger” bags (proper bike messenger bags but worn incorrectly – down by their butt) on office workers downtown while working as a courier. No one in my office bats an eyelash at my backpacks or (correctly worn) messenger bags, but I also bike in.

    2. Emi.*

      I live near DC and see plenty of people in the metro wearing suits and backpacks (usually nylon laptop backpacks).

      1. BRR*

        I work in NYC and also see plenty of backpacks. They range from jansport to tumi. I think in NYC at least because so many people travel far and walking far, there’s not a lot of judgement about them.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          I see them a lot during the commute, but to walk into a formal meeting with a backpack does sends a subconscious signal that the wearer is young, I think. It may well be worth cashing your chits on if that’s what works for your life, but since I already have issues being perceived as young/inexperienced, I decided not to risk it, myself.

        2. RJ the Newbie*

          Ditto this. I work in the Financial District. Tons of commuters wear all types of backpacks, myself included.

        3. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

          Same here. I’m in NYC and in an industry that can be fairly formal. I had a faux leather backpack that I wore/carried to interviews – went over completely fine. I think at least two interviewers complimented me on it.

        4. Astrid*

          I’m also in NYC. I’m a litigation attorney and I’d say the majority of people I encounter (in court, in meetings, depositions, etc.) carry backpacks. I’ve been building up a collection since 2009 or so (starting with my wonderful Korchmar convertible backpack/computer case – the straps could be tucked away and then you carry the case by the top handle), some pricey and some not. No one bats an eye or makes any comment about it. Plus, you never know if someone has an underlying medical condition that necessitates or makes it easier to use a backpack.

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I am in Chicago and see mostly men but women as well wearing suits and backpacks. Most of the time people are commuting in but I do have colleagues that will sometimes have to go to a late afternoon meeting or early morning meeting in a suit and bring their backpacks with. They are nylon laptop bags in black or dark blue colors. For context we are a business casual office except for more formal meetings where suits are expected.

      3. Stephanie*

        Suit with a backpack was very much a DC thing when I lived there, but I attributed that to long public transit commutes. I always thought it looked a bit goofy tbh.

    3. Juli G.*

      I’m in the Midwest and my company started issuing branded laptop backpacks instead of the regular bags because of the back/side issues OP noted so most people here use them.

    4. TurquoiseCow*

      Oh, a lot of people at my last company used these for their laptops. My boss would take her laptop home every evening and back in every morning, and she always wheeled it along. I’m not sure about the optics of professionalism vs. a backpack, or their maneuverability on public transit (carrying them up and down the stairs or through narrow bus aisles doesn’t sound like fun) but if you have a lot of walking to do, this seems like a good compromise.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I actually find them worse than a backpack ergonomics-wise because the hardware required for the rolly stuff weighs a ton, so every time I have to lift the thing (in and out of the car, on or off the bus) I have to lean all the way over and pick it all the way up and it is NOT LIGHT.

        idk I’m like, I spent $800 (on sale!) on an ergonomic chair and way more than that on physical therapy from hurting my back, so I’ve chosen Yes To Backpacks as my hill to die on.

    5. Shalla*

      I’m in Denver too and I’ve seen men in full suits with backpacks. Well, I’ve also seen a dude in a suit and backpack on a bike, so I guess it really does depend on the area.

      1. Alienor*

        I recently saw a dude in a full business suit, with a backpack, riding a Razor kick scooter near my office. It was the end of the day and he was clearly on his way home (there are apartments nearby). It looked very odd, but I guess it must be working for him!

        1. only acting normal*

          I used to do part of my commute on a microscooter, complete with suit and backpack; it was a very long walk from the bus stop to the office otherwise. I ruined a pair of suit trousers in a spectacular wipe out hitting a loose paving stone, only a small tear in the knee but quite a lot of bloodstains from the damage underneath. 8-/

    6. Also Midwest*

      Yeah, we are a software company in the Midwest, and at least half of the people use backpacks. We also do a lot to try and minimize back pain and promote good posture so that’s some of why people use them.

    7. Bea*

      Also anywhere with high biking population uses backpacks I’ve noticed. So nobody notices around here. Except me because I am still learning to accept them as proper vessels. They remind me of teenage boys and travelers, so I would see them with a suit and cringe, then remind myself to stop being a judgemental jerk.

    8. sleepwakehopeandthen*

      Yeah my husband is in public accounting in the Midwest and has a professional looking backpack he takes to work/all his clients (almost never suit-formal, though). It’s a nice-ish black backpack but not super fancy.

    9. SFL*

      Ya, I live in LA and everyone uses backpacks here. Our clients, our consultants, my bosses…

      For the most part people use solid colored trendy backpacks. A lot of Fjallraven’s. I personally use a bag from Filson.

    10. ChelseaNH*

      When I was commuting into downtown Boston, I saw a lot of wheeled bags. Backpacks are also very common; I was issued one with my laptop. However, for ergonomic reasons, I chose a messenger bag worn cross-body to the front per the recommendation of my physical therapist; she told me that using a backpack would cause me to lock my knees. Messenger bags are easier to convert to a more traditional briefcase look by removing the shoulder strap, if appearances are important.

  9. Where's My Coffee?*

    My company skews very traditional, formal, and conservative, and plenty of people wear backpacks, even with suits. Usually it’s a subdued sort of backpack like you mentioned.

    I know big law and some other industries have more hang ups about this kind of stuff, or maybe even something very sales or client-driven, but it seems like not a big deal at most places.

  10. Christy*

    I’d wear the backpack until walking in the door of the meeting’s location, and then carry it from its top handle. That’s how I handle my work backpack. But I’m in DC, the land of suits-and-backpacks.

    1. Shelby Drink the Juice*

      I work for a defense contractor, though not in DC (or the east coast). It’s a large facility. You’ll see people in suits wearing a backpack walking to various buildings. I’ve walked into negotiations with the govt with a backpack. Nothing fancy either, it’s an Under Armour one.

  11. CR*

    Tons of people where I am in Canada use backpacks because there are a lot of bike commuters. I would probably bring a nicer, small purse with me to bring to meetings.

  12. OhNo*

    I wonder if a wheelie bag might be appropriate in this case? I know it might not be ideal for commuting, depending on how you travel, but they do look more professional than backpacks in my experience.

    I wish backpacks weren’t seen as unprofessional! I have one that I carry with me everywhere, and I know it can be seen as less than stellar, but I can’t go without it (literally – it’s firmly attached to my wheelchair).

    1. PizzaSquared*

      That’s what I was going to recommend. Briggs and Riley and Tumi have some nice, small-ish rolling bags that look very professional.

      I personally use a backpack, but my office is extremely casual. And I actually hate backpacks (for myself; I don’t care what others use), but I have to use one because anything else gives me back problems, and as I got older I had to choose my health over vanity and utility of the bag. When there are competing priorities, you have to prioritize yourself. Back problems can be with you for your whole life if you’re not careful. Side-eye from a co-worker only lasts a few seconds.

      1. PennyLane*

        I use a Briggs & Riley backpack (Briggs & Riley Kinzie Street, Small Wide Mouth Backpack, Grey, specifically). I love the functionality as well as the fact that it doesn’t scream “high school”. I’ve gotten compliments from coworkers on it, and it makes work travel a breeze. I personally wouldn’t feel weird walking into a business meeting with it, but up to you!

    2. Arielle*

      I started to wonder what kind of person would view a wheelchair user as less professional based on the kind of bag they need to get through their day, and then I remembered that people are the worst.

    3. Merula*

      Thirding a wheelie bag. Somehow they’re not unprofessional at all (maybe because they give the impression of business travel?). There are very small ones out there that are hardly bigger than a backpack, and I’ve even seen ones that were convertible to a backpack (though they didn’t seem comfortable).

      OhNo, I’m very sorry that people are judging you based on your bag. That’s awful.

      1. OhNo*

        Thank you, that’s very kind. Honestly, my current boss is great and is firmly in my corner, so I don’t especially care if people in other departments think I’m less than 100% professional.

      2. Triplestep*

        Wheeled bags are not great for walking on crowded train platforms or city streets, and in fact you don’t see very many of them there. They really get in the way when heards of people are trying to get from point A to point B. There’s a kind of social contract among commuters to not be oblivious and take up as little space as possible while moving along with the heard, and people rolling bags behind them – taking up the space of three people and posing a trip hazard – are breaking it.

    4. Laura H*

      I use a walker and I use a tote bag, because they uh flush flatter and don’t widen the walker’s profile when it hangs- also wide opening is a good thing.

    5. April Ludgate*

      Big fan of the wheelie bag here. Not a fan of backpacks myself because of my lower back response to them. I take my wheelie bag on all business meetings where carrying my laptop bag is required over longer distances, because it is always just way too heavy.

    6. Admin of Sys*

      Also a vote for the wheelie bag! Backpacks are commonplace in my area (academia+tech), but are still considered a bit more on the casual side. Whenever folks need to haul a lot of stuff but want to be seen as professional, the go-to is a small suitcase-esque wheeled bag, usually in black. And then if you need to be able to duck out to somewhere with just a phone and wallet, a small carrying purse you can grab, kept in the larger bag.

    7. CatCat*

      A caution from a shoulder-pain sufferer on the wheelie bag. Such a bag can also cause shoulder pain (or exacerbate existing pain).

  13. H.C.*

    You may also want to consider a convertible purse/tote/backpack hybrid where the straps can be adjusted for different configurations, so you can wear it as a backpack for your morning/evening commute, but change it to a tote/purse for meetings during the day.

    1. adam807*

      +1. I have the same problem and a convertible bag has solved everything. Specifically this one: (though that might be too casual for your needs; I’m a boy and on the far casual side of business casual). I saw LOTS when I was searching though, including more briefcasey ones. The backpack straps tuck right in to a dedicated pocket, and I make sure I have the shoulder strap stored inside for when I need to transform.

  14. Church Lady*

    When I was in law school and practicing I got a rolling briefcase, because law books and huge files are hella heavy! Otherwise, I’d echo the crowd and say keep a second “professional” bag at work for when you need it.

  15. thunderbird*

    I live in a major metropolitan and professional leather backpacks have become a major trend for women. For men, I do see many who carry more black canvas backpacks, even into meetings. I think in major urban areas people understand that it is just more practical and it is not necessarily thought of as unprofessional, at least that is the case around here.

  16. seller of teapots*

    There are some beautiful “designer” backpacks out there these days, made of leather and a certain amount of delicacy. They often even have handles, so you can carry them as a briefcase should the situation call for it. I think that could be a great solution!

  17. LurkNoMore*

    Tumi has a nice convertible backpack that would work in all business situations. Even at my Japan HQ where backpacks are prohibited, these bags are accepted.

    1. Melimania*

      My first thought was also Tumi! I used mine all through grad school while working full time and only ever felt slightly unprofessional (and uncomfortable) when I had it overstuffed (oh accounting textbooks). I really like how they look polished both on the back and being carried as a tote. My only caveat is while I’ve drooled extensively over the women’s bags, I’ve not paid one bit of attention to their men’s offerings.

  18. Thlayli*

    I’ve used a laptop backpack for the last 10+ years and brought it to client meetings where I’ve been wearing suits. I can’t handle the weight of a laptop over one shoulder plus all my other crap too.

    I’ve never found it to be an issue.

  19. babblemouth*

    I’m very surprised by this answer, which probably means it’s very dependent on local circumstances. I’ve always considered that a basic black backpack would be appropriate pretty much anywhere aside from a a formal gala.

  20. Candy*

    I think it really depends on the backpack! Avoid Herschel or Fjallraven or anything canvas unless you want to look like a student. Go instead with leather and something minimal with clean lines and no outer pockets. Matt & Nat is a good go-to for larger minimalist bags. My favourite “adult” backpack is a leather Beara Beara one I bought years ago in London that still looks great and fits my gym clothes and lunch and everything else.

    But for popping out to meetings, I’d recommend something smaller like a vintage black leather Coach mini backpack. I’ve taken mine to nice dinners and more fancy events and it fits right in. Just keep the leather moisturized and polished and you’re good to go

  21. Hey-eh*

    I’m 25 and have never not used a backpack for my internships/post grad jobs. Yes, I still look like a student. No, I don’t care. Office formalities can tear my backpack out of my cold, dead hands.

    Having said that, for formal client presentations and meetings I bring just the essentials in a nice tote bag that also fits my laptop. I skew looking very young which I don’t care about on a day to day, but I like for my clients to not automatically assume I’m an intern.

  22. okie dokie*

    How about some kind of rolling briefcase? Still remedies the back situation but also looks a little more professional.

    1. LurkNoMore*

      those work if it’s a day trip but they are super bulky
      If you have a longer trip and traveling with a roller-board suitcase; it’s difficult to carry and navigate thru an airport.

    2. ENFP in Texas*

      A lot of folks in my company go with the rollers, especially of they have a lot of paperwork or files that they have to bring around with them. I personally don’t like them, because of the stairs at the entrance to my building. :)

  23. Bookworm*

    I’m also surprised by this answer: sometimes people have a ton of gear that needs a bag like a backpack because of the supplies you’re carrying, the shape of your gear, weight distribution of the items, etc. Since you are apparently feeling the physical effects maybe it’s worth bringing it up with your boss? I also feel it’s a regional/organization-specific issue. If your boss isn’t happy with it, then maybe an extra bag for carrying essentials/looking professional is the way to go. Otherwise, it seems like it’s just more practical to let you use a backpack since it helps you physically.

    I’ve heard of dress code violations or issues but never about one’s bag unless it’s oversized, weirdly-shaped, etc.

  24. Sassy AE*

    I was in London recently on vacation and I spied two extremely well-dressed men get on the Underground. One was wearing a black backpack, which I thought at the time was unusual. But in a city that’s so interconnected by public transportation I don’t think it’d cause even a second glance.

    Now, if he lived where I live (Detroit.) carrying around a backpack would be pretty odd because we have little to no public transportation. He’d look like he was getting ready for a bike ride or camping or something.

  25. Trillion*

    There are geographical norms. I’ve heard professionals in the Northwest United States favor backpacks much more than, say, the east coast. Take a look around to see if you spot this on anyone else.

    But if it’s affecting your health, I say go for whatever works best for you. It sounds like you have a pretty sweet professional backpack. I would probably use it for all but the absolute most important clients. Your health comes before your job.

    1. periwinkle*

      I’m in the Pacific Northwest.

      There are backpacks as far as the eye can see.

      At my company, if you’re dressed in business or near-business attire, you’re almost certainly pulling a wheeled briefcase as well. Otherwise, it’s personal preference and the company issues both wheeled briefcases and backpacks. I’m on Team Backpack.

    2. Bea*

      We bike to work frequently and also so many outdoors industries, so yep, backpacks for days.

      Yet it took me forever to find one when I needed a cheap one for traveling. Sigh. They’re so expensive.

  26. Andrea*

    The salesmen in my company wear suits and backpacks. For the record, the ones I’m referring to are men, but the rules shouldn’t be different for women. I know they sometimes are, but I think we can start to push back on that. :)

  27. not a DR*

    My backpack is rectangle and has a handle on the side that kind of turns it into a briefcase! So there are solutions.

  28. ENFP in Texas*

    It’s funny this comes up, because it would never have occurred to me if my manager hadn’t told me HIS manager had an issue with backpacks in a professional setting (my manager is the Head of Sales for half the country in a Fortune 50 company) and flat out told my manager “no backpacks.”

    My manger bought a laptop backpack that has a side carry handle, so when he’s heading into meetings, he tucks the shoulder straps and carries his back pack like a briefcase. His manager is fine with it.

    It seems to be a growing trend – there are many options on Google and Amazon for just this scenario.

  29. Records_Manager*

    My company recently moved to an open floor plan and now we all have half sized lockers, common coat closets, and the option of a backpack or rolling bag. I chose neither and stuck with the backpack that I’ve always carried during my commute on public transportation (slim profile, grey, no major features/logo)…I just carry it a lot more now. Admittedly I move around a lot during the day, so it is fairly common to see me in my business casual outfit with a backpack on. But sometimes I’ll leave my backpack in a spot and just go places with my clutch purse, like if I’m stepping out for lunch. My boss has even commented that he thinks I’ve been a great example of embracing the mobile culture shift.

    However, the problem I’ve encountered with the backpack is that I’m not always sure that it sends the right impression to employees who HAVEN’T made the mental shift in an open concept environment. Or maybe it is just this one guy in particular who has a tendency to use my backpack as a way to joke or get attention in a very middle school way. I was having a work discussion recently at the elevators and this guy would come up behind me a hit or pull on my backpack. I would basically ignore him and make my work conversation more obvious/louder/etc., but it did make me wonder if the backpack itself is somehow signaling “casual” or “not working.” Or maybe this guy just doesn’t know how to talk with women in a work environment and has resorted to middle school behavior/possible harassment as a way to get attention. Either way, I was super irritated and it did make me question how a backpack may be interpreted.

    1. Koala dreams*

      That guy sounds awful! He hits and pulls on your backpack?! To be honest, that absolutely sounds like a him issue, that has nothing to do with you or your backpack. I think you should take your cues from the reasonable people in your office, not that guy.

    2. Logan*

      People who do that behaviour are likely to do it irrelevant of your type of bag. He would find some other excuse or behaviour if you changed.

    3. only acting normal*

      I carry a backpack at work because of upper back problems, if someone yanked on it I’d probably yowl in real pain.

  30. anathema*

    I have a convertible wheelie-backpack. Most of the time, I wheel it around. However, sometimes I need to be hands-free, and wear it as a backpack. It’s been great.

  31. C-Suite Diva*

    I (for once!) disagree with you, Allison! I think a professional looking backpack is fine for client-facing meetings (for reference, I’m an exec in a sales and consulting role with plenty of outside meetings in the financial industry). I just avoid wearing it as a backpack, which is easily solved by using the bag’s top handle as you’re entering the elevator or office space.

  32. Granny K*

    I was in Venice, Italy on vacation waiting for the bus (boat) and there was a guy waiting there, dressed to the 9’s carrying a nice leather bag. He was on the phone and turned to look at something and I realized the bag was a dog carrier and it it was his very cute dog! Business casual or not, this was a great look!

    1. KR*

      There are also backpack cat carriers with little windows for the cat to look down on the world with mild disdain. 10/10 would recommend for professional wear.

      1. Koala dreams*

        Yes, they are super adorable! Be warned though, cats can be very distracting when you need to work. ;)

  33. Tammy*

    I just got a car again, but I was commuting by motorcycle everywhere for the past two years. I had a nice black leather backpack that I could put my stuff in, and it was never an issue. Granted, I work in a high-tech company with a very relaxed culture, and though I’m a senior manager I rarely have face-to-face contact with customers. But I think if you get something understated and professional looking, this isn’t much of an issue in most places/industries. There’s a difference between a professional looking bag like those “laptop backpacks” they sell, and a “Hello Kitty” Jansport.

    I feel like if you’re doing it right, this should be a non-issue because it shouldn’t consciously register on most people that you’re using a backpack and not some other kind of shoulder bag. But you know if your area/industry is oddly conservative in this regard, in which case the other commenters have some good advice.

  34. DCer*

    This falls under the same category as expecting women to wear heels in professional settings. And by that I mean, an absolutely ridiculous “norm” that will continue until we all agree it’s ridiculous and stop enforcing it.

    Carry a backpack if other bags are hurting you. Period. Hard stop. Where ever you go. However you’re dressed. Anytime you think someone is looking at your oddly for carrying a backpack, just remind yourself, “I’m a trailblazer who is forging a new path that will one day save thousands, maybe millions, from unnecessary neck pain.”

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Agreed! I think we should all do our best to make this a “thing,” and make it okay for everyone to wear backpacks all the time.

      Shoulder Issues from my Overstuffed Tote

    2. Penny Lane*

      Well, and really, it’s pretty dated to expect women to wear heels in all professional settings. The norm at least among Fortune 50 companies is business casual to smart casual, heels not remotely needed. There’s a few fuddy-duddy industries where suit/tie/heels for women is expected, but they’re dinosaurs.

  35. Mrs. Badcrumble*

    Go look at the bags at Venque. It’s a Canadian company, but they ship and they’re not cheap but not obscene, pricewise. Backpack or not, I’ve had a lots of strangers admire mine and ask where it’s from.

  36. Songbird*

    I am a woman in a client-facing consulting role, and I wear a backpack with my suits all the time. My clients are nationwide (in the US) and most, if not all, of my colleagues are also backpack people.

    There’s a wide range available on a website called ebags, and I actually tried out three different ones before I settled on my favorite that travels easily, looks nice, right size, and doesn’t kill me. Ha!

  37. OskiEsque*

    I don’t know where my comment went, but there are companies that sell leather totes/bags than turn into backpacks. I provided a link, but that may not be allowed. The company is called Vereverto: vereverto dot com and click on backpacks. You can have the best of both worlds.

  38. lurker*

    FWIW I’ve had the Baggallini brand “Essential Laptop Backpack” for a few weeks now, love it and find it very professional-looking.

  39. Higher Ed Database Dork*

    I carry a backpack at work, though I’m in higher ed IT and we are, uh, pretty casual. However mine is a plain black twill one, one of the smaller backpacks that Everlane offers, and I feel like it looks a little more polished than the more sportsy backpacks I see most people carrying around (including my boss). However often in IT you will see people using branded backpacks they got for free from vendors.

    I think a leather backpack is the classiest of the fabrics, and I am saving up for a leather one because I just like to kind of step up my appearance game at work, and also because black twill is a hassle when you have a large yeti dog at home (I keep a lint roller in it too). Like others have said, if you really want to stick with the business formal/professional look when doing off-site meetings, I’d keep a nice tote bag or briefcase in your desk just for those occasions, but what you described sounds very nice, even for that! You could just carry the top strap in one hand or something, not full-backpack back style, so you can discreetly set it down if you need to.

    1. Nonsensical*

      Academia has much looser restrictions on clothes with professors and IT in general. I also feel like IT is a more niche sort of dress code. I work in IT and even companies where everyone else is dressed up, IT tends to be in jeans and t-shirts. At my office, it depends on whether we’re customer facing or not. When I worked for a VP, I had to dress up more but even he carried a backpack! Caveat: he kept a suit jacket and tie in his office at all times.

      1. Higher Ed Database Dork*

        I agree, IT does seem like a niche dress code. I think a lot of that comes from having to crawl under desks or mount servers, and you just do not want to do that in nice, constricting clothes.

        Academia though can be really weird. I work at a big state school now, and some departments are super casual (even more so than IT, and they are customer-facing and not anything that would require rougher clothes, like grounds crew), and some are super formal. I also worked for a small private school for a while and EVERYONE was in business semi-formal, all the time, no matter what – including IT.

        That being said, I still see some of the top VPs carrying around Swiss gear backpacks and such.

  40. Robin Sparkles*

    What a timely post because I was just yesterday searching on amazon for professional backpacks! Anyone have any suggestions for nice looking backpacks – admittedly I am a woman who likes nice looking bags and I hate the options out there. I cannot find a bag that looks really “fancy” but also is comfortable. Maybe it doesn’t exist but throwing it out there :-\

    My current work bag that is beautiful but with my laptop, documents, food, and the back and forth of walking from my different work locations is taking a toll on my back. I have to admit that I have seen a LOT more people doing the backpack thing since last five years. I need two bags for everything (I end up using both my laptop bag and my nice work bag) and a backpack is really the best option for me.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      try ebags dot com

      They have a ton of options and are a great company to buy from.

      1. Aleta*

        Timbuk2 is a really great option – they’re bike messenger backpacks (read: built to carry heavy loads and very durable) but more widely fashionable than a lot of the other workhorse brands we use.

    2. Thumbcat*

      Try Tom Bihn. They are on the pricy side, but I’ve had one of their bags for 11 years.

  41. Elemeno P.*

    My name links to the purse I use (I got it from Ross, though, not this site). It looks professional enough and it’s a lot easier on my back than a traditional purse, though not as supportive as a traditional backpack. It’s small so it doesn’t hold a ton, but I’ve seen similar bags in larger sizes in discount stores.

  42. CatCat*

    I think OP is overthinking. It would find it weird if someone found a clean backpack in muted colors “unprofessional.” They’re super common where I go (a place where public transit is common for professional people) so maybe it’s a regional thing.

    I occasionally have to travel by train and bus to HQ a few hours away for meetings and I have to wear suits. I suffer from shoulder pain too. Messenger bags, briefcases, and wheelie bags are not going to cut it. I am not giving up my backpack and hurt my shoulder more because someone else would take a weird view of it. I honestly have never thought of it as something to be self-conscious of and I’m certainly not going to start. And I am in a field where a professional appearance is expected.

  43. Wakeen Teaptots, LTD*

    This falls in my line of business and FWIW, corporate sales, expensive $$$ with company logo, backpacks outsell briefs and duffels about a zillion to one now. (those are actual sales figures :p), especially with any tech device expected to be used with it (lap top or tablet). If people are spending $70 and $80 a pop to outfit their employees with a carryall of some sort, it is a backpack.

  44. Silicon Valley Girl*

    I work in high-tech, where brand-logo backpacks are literally issued by companies to new employees. But nobody wears suits, not even CEOs, so not relevant to the OP.

    However, the blog Corporette has a very suit-wearing East Coast US lawyer-type audience, & as such, has written about backpacks at work here, with both opinions & product suggestions:

  45. pleaset*

    I think a sleek leather backpack that is aimed at business (at most two compartments visible on the outside) in black or gray is equally or more formal than a messenger bag, unless the messenger bag is also sleek black or gray leather. In which case it’s not really a messenger bag – just a shoulder bag.

  46. Danae*

    I recently had to give up my gorgeous leather messenger bag for my daily carry, because my SI joint let me know in no uncertain terms that I have to carry my stuff centered on my body. Enter much weeping and gnashing of teeth, as well as much pathetic “none of these look like they belong to grownups” backpack shopping.

    I finally found a bag at eBags that suits me! It’s actually really great, and it has a handle on the side that makes it possible to tuck away the straps and carry it like a briefcase. I feel like a grownup—a grownup with a happy SI joint.

    (I work in tech, so there’s zero pressure to have a professional looking bag. It was just my sense of style that was offended, not office norms.)

  47. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    I hate backpacks (always have, I was that kid in school that carried all of my books and stuff in hand, in college I switched to messenger bags out of necessity).

    All that being said, go for a backpack if that’s what you want to use. I would go with a leather or dark/muted colored professional one.

  48. K-Ok*

    I work in a formal environment; we wear suits every day. Backpacks are 100% acceptable, and Im actually surprised that AAM said that it might not be. Is a Jansport dressy enough? Probably not. Is a leather Tumi or Knomo? Most definitely. Nobody is going to judge you on a simple leather backpack.

    (I’m wearing a full suit today and heels. I’m carrying a black leather Knomo and a nice simple leather shoulder bag, because I can’t carry my 2 laptops and other materials in a single shoulder back without killing myself).

  49. Justin*

    I dunno. I wear a backpack with a suit (on days I wear one), here in NYC (located near Wall St, though not in financial stuff), and no one bats an eye. We have a dress code, and my colleagues compliment the bag (which my wife got me as a present when I got this job).

    I would say a certain type of backpack would not look great. But that’s true of anything.

    I vote “go for it, but know your industry/job/etc.”

  50. Rincat*

    As with most clothing, a lot of the difference between professional vs casual is going to be structure. I think if your backpack has clean lines and is structured and not slouchy, then it will look way more professional and pair well with your suit, than a slouchier one. I just browsed ebags and there were several leather backpack options that looked exactly like high-end designer purses, just with two straps. They were all very structured. It was the slouchier ones that looked more casual, even in leather.

    And then there was one that looked like a steer’s head complete with horns, which I guess might work if you were a rancher?

    1. Silicon Valley Girl*

      +1 for structure — totally nailed how that usually reads more “professional” in terms of clothing! (just don’t take it too far a la suit of armor, unless your profession is jouster).

      1. Rincat*

        If only! My husband has a full set of metal plate armor and it’s badass. Just not work appropriate…although I think he would still command respect in it at work with his awesome beard and the fact that it’s just really impressive!

    1. Curious Biped*

      I love my Saddleback backpack too. I had one of their briefcases, but the single strap started doing a number on my back and I switched to one of their squared bags.

      Yes, they’re on the pricey side, but they’re full grain leather with a lifetime guarantee. And I love their slogan “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.”

  51. SLR*

    I’m in a pretty conservative industry even if my particular office is casual compare & we see guests with backpacks all the time. Not necessarily pretty grey leather ones either. You’re fine w/ the leather backpack if that’s what’s most comfortable for you.

  52. Sexy backpack*

    I am a manager at a nonprofit education org and have an interstate commute. I’ve worn a backpack for years with everything from a suit to a dress to jeans – and no one has ever batted an eye or questioned my professionalism. If I’m ever self conscious about my backpack (which does happen from time to time at a meeting or if I’m suddenly in a dressy environment or someplace hip like a bar) I just make a self deprecating joke about my dorky bag and find a place to stash it. No biggie!

  53. Jadelyn*

    They make wheeled briefcases – you might look into one of those, either as your regular everyday bag or for client meetings. My VP uses one since he’s traveling all the time. More professional-looking than a backpack, but without the back pain of a purse or tote bag.

  54. TotesMaGoats*

    My boss is the dean of my school (higher ed) and he wears a backpack all the time coming to and from the office. He’s always in a suit. I use one in the winter because I’m usually wearing boots or something better for walking. Summer I don’t need it as much though.

  55. Lulubell*

    Of course my post went to moderation due to the link, but Corporette literally just now posted about backpacks for work! Enjoy!

  56. EB*

    Just to add on to the bag suggestions– I have a convertible tote that actually converts in mere seconds– it’s just a matter of grabbing the handles in the way you want to wear it: the Sherpani Tempest tote. My strategy in buying it was to get something nice that would bridge the gap between casual and work use so it’s more than likely not dressy enough to wear with a suit… but I am honestly considering having another bag custom made for me with the straps set up in that same way because it’s brilliant.

  57. Sci Fi IT Girl*

    Along this line – what do you think about backpacks to interviews? I don’t have a leather one yet, mine is a nondescript dark green and black nylon. Laptops, no matter how light, get heavy. Do you err on the side of nicer bag and then bring out the backpack at work later? (When you have no intention of schlepping the nicer bag around?)

    1. Aardvark*

      I think that you’ll be fine. I would not even blink if I interviewed a candidate, especially for a technical position, who was wearing a tidy, standard-looking backpack. I’m on the west coast and work in a casual environment, so YMMV.

    2. Silicon Valley Girl*

      It’s a know-your-industry thing (so high-tech, sure! lawyer, probably not). That said, I’m in tech & for just one day at an interview, even when I’ve been asked to make a presentation & brought a laptop to show my portfolio & the book I co-wrote, I carried them in a fancy tote, not my commuter backpack. I always try to go up a notch for interviews (y’know, no hoodies or jeans that I might wear on the job either ;).

    3. Rincat*

      I think they are generally okay if they are on the minimal/professional side, like a lot of the stuff described here. Just don’t wear your backpack throughout the entire interview…I interviewed a young woman once and she never took it off, just sat in the chair with her backpack on. We asked her if she wanted to set it down and she said no. I think maybe that was because of nerves!

  58. Stephanie*

    I think as long as it’s a sleek, leather backpack, it should be fine save for the most formal settings. I think it looks goofy if you’re in a suit and wearing a beat-up Jansport, but a nice, leather bag looks plenty professional.

  59. Former Retail Manager*

    Sounds like OP has found the solution above. I just came to say that this seems to be a combo age/industry thing. I work in accounting and while many younger folks coming in carry backpacks daily, virtually everyone over 40 uses either a laptop bag, be it shoulder carry or rolling, or some type of briefcase. I’ve never known higher ups to have an issue with backpacks to the extent they say you cannot use them, but I have seen some sideways glances at folks who carry them to client locations. I definitely think it’s an age thing. Maybe as time goes on, practicality will beat out appearances.

  60. Gaia*

    I had a similar concern but I found a really great solution. It is a bag that converts from backpack to messenger bag to briefcase all through the magic of hidden compartments that hold different straps when not in use. It is a really beautiful light grey fabric with faux leather corners so it looks like a nicer quality bag (but came at a very reasonable $45 on Amazon…). When I’m commuting it is a backpack but if I wanted to step it up a notch for a meeting I’d tuck those straps away and untuck the briefcase or messenger bag straps.

  61. Jess*

    I have a convertible backpack from Betabrand. The backpack straps are detachable and it can be a tote or even a messenger style bag. It’s otherwise professional looking and holds all of the things. I’ve seen a number of other convertible type backpacks. Tumi makes a few (pricey but should last a long time?). Might be a good solution.

  62. Goya de la Mancha*

    I could get away with it in my field, but we’re more on the casual side. I would look for something very plain and VERY structured if I was trying to pull it off in a more dressy/conservative environment.

    1. Ruth*

      Yes ! I came here to recommend this solution, especially if you have to bring samples or cumbersome pamphlets. I work in sales for aerospace/Automotive industrials and they make frequent apparitions in meetings and even more on events.

  63. Crystal*

    I have a sleek, grey backpack that I carry everywhere. It’s a rare meeting I wouldn’t take it to. I had my old Jansport backpack for 10+ years and when it wore out my coworkers actually brought me a my new one as a gift.

  64. Gotham Bus Company*

    I typically see dozens of men and women wearing suits and carrying backpacks in Lower Manhattan and on the subway. Plus, I just served jury duty and saw lots of attorneys (male and female) walking around the courthouse wearing suits and carrying backpacks. As long as both the suit and the backpack are clean and neat, you’re fine.

  65. Joielle*

    I’m probably (definitely) in the minority here, but leather backpacks just remind me of those ridiculous tiny backpack purses that everyone had in the 90s. I much prefer a grey or black nylon backpack (basically the first ten or so results if you search for “professional backpack” on Amazon). I think the key to a professional backpack is the overall shape – anything with fairly clean lines that doesn’t look overstuffed will work.

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      ohh but those are coming back “in”!
      I definitely rocked one, but it was a blue/green plaid ;)

      1. Joielle*

        So true! I’ve started seeing them on high-school age people recently – nothing makes you feel old like the styles of your youth returning. :) I definitely rocked one too. Looking back at pictures, it looks so tiny and goofy to me. But I guess it’s true, sooner or later everything old becomes new again!

    2. Rincat*

      I know exactly what you mean, and I think if it’s going to fit a laptop and other work gear then it wouldn’t be too small and 90s looking.

      I rocked a few of those babies as well, including the teddy bear backpack purse. :)

      1. Joielle*

        Yeah, if it’s big enough and has a more modern shape it would probably be fine. Haaaaa I totally forgot about the teddy bear ones. Those were amazing.

  66. Sternen*

    I’m sorry if this has already been mentioned. I haven’t had time to read through all the comments.

    I did a quick Googles search for “convertible backpack” and was happy to see all the professional looking options.

    Maybe something like that would work for you.

    1. Rincat*

      I think that one looks really nice! (I’m a parent and I hate the look of traditional diaper bags.) A plus to a diaper bag is that it’s typically water resistant and sometimes has an insulated pouch inside. It’s just a matter of finding a bag that doesn’t look too diaper-baggy, like that one.

  67. Sally*

    I’m a middle aged professional, but fortunately I can get away with my bright pink backpack at my job. I needed a backpack to avoid back pain/injury, and this was the only sturdy, inexpensive one I could find (and I love the color). I’m sure it raises some eyebrows, but I also have a black tote bag for more formal meetings.

    Here are a couple of photos on ebay (I don’t think IKEA is selling it anymore):

  68. Hobgoblin*

    I wear a backpack to work. It’s a beautiful Ted Baker bag and I love it. But I also keep a small leather clutch inside with my wallet, keys, etc so I can run to an outside meeting or to lunch without bringing all the stuff I need for work. We’re a business environment (button downs, conservative dress, suits, etc.) and no one has ever looked askance at it.

  69. Noah*

    Several things here:

    1. Wearing a backpack with a suit makes the back of the suit look terrible when you take the backpack off. Consider that when going to client sites.

    2. If you’re going from work to the client, why not keep another bag at the office?

    3. Have you considered a shoulder bag that goes across your chest? That helps with a lot of these problems.

  70. willow*

    Our company store has a logoed backpack meant to transport a laptop (special padded sleeve), and about 85% of the suits show up for big meetings sporting the backpacks. So we all in the company feel fine about using backpacks too.

  71. University Anon*

    My perspective might be skewed since I work in academia, but in the conservative faculty I work in (i.e. lots of suits and a formal culture) even our Dean and COO use backpacks…but we’re also health related and ergonomically backpacks are better so that may be part of the acceptance. Honestly I’m pretty sure our university president uses a backpack too! I’d look around at others in your industry and location as based on the answers above this seems to be really industry and location specific.

  72. Leela*

    this may be a repeat, I haven’t had a chance to read through yet but I got a very professional-looking rolling computer bag from ROSS of all places. I could extend a handle and use it like very small rolling luggage, or push the handle down and carry it like a soft briefcase. It was a lifesaver as I also had back pain

  73. Rich*

    Alison is absolutely right that a backpack is seen as less formal and a bit out of place with a suit. While I’m now in a decidedly business casual environment, I have worked in plenty of business-formal settings.

    With a nice backpack, though, it can come through as quirky rather than unprofessional. Quirky can certainly be a problem in the right/wrong environment. But it can also be 100% OK. I’ve tried to own the idea of quirkiness throughout my career — perfectly professional, but deliberately not dull. That’s suited me personally and I’ve never run into a scenario where it’s limited me professionally. Mostly I’ve had to deal with fussy but unimportant people being unhappy with something appearance related (longer hair, an earring, a flamboyantly loud button-up/collared shirt). But the fussy people, in my experience, were unimportant ones.

    That may not always be true in highly conservative environments, but it was true for me — including some very conservative environments.

    If you’re OK with quirky, a backpack is great.

  74. Cheeky*

    I know that backpacks are common because people are carrying their laptops and all sorts of things in them, but they look silly with anything but a casual outfit, in my opinion. I would opt for a second bag for meeting clients.

  75. MissDisplaced*

    Bah! I see men in suits with backpacks all the time.
    But if you feel it’s too big or heavy for a client meeting, why not use a clutch type wallet/purse with those detachable straps? They’re just big enough for a mobile phone, keys, money and maybe a lipstick. I mean, I would use that type of wallet anyway because I wouldn’t want to carry the backpack around for quick trips to the coffee shop or restroom and such. That or keep a small dressy purse in your desk for when you do have to go to meetings.

  76. Saundra*

    Get a professional looking rolling bag that you keep at work. When you have to go to meetings, drop your backpack inside the rolling bag, with the zipper size facing up. Voila. Ergonomic and professional.

  77. Office Person*

    I’m in Phoenix, which is totally land of the casual. Backpacks seem to be the norm, even for those unlucky souls who need to wear a suit in the summer when it’s 120 degrees out. My office seems to favor OGIO packs. They’re pretty slim, but hold a lot of stuff. I have a dark grey.

  78. Paralegal*

    I work for an extremely conservative/extra-ordinary law firm. Half of the attorneys are doing backpacks as you have described. Generally, when in court, you are present and then the judge is called. If the back pack is under the table judge does not see it unless you are invited to a separate room and you take it with you . It can always be left under the table.

    I am not an attorney. My choice was to get a cool looking roly-bag (bag with wheels). There are very nice ones out there that look like an attache case rather than a suitcase.

  79. Fed*

    I can vouch that in my branch of the federal government pretty much everyone brings casual backpacks to work, even when they are wearing suits, except perhaps the very top executive-level staff….but even some of them do, too. My backpack has a subdued flower print all over it and I have never thought twice about bringing it to a business meeting or an interview.

  80. Hiring Mgr*

    I would wear the backpack with a suit if that’s what I preferred, but then again, I play by nobody’s rules, not even my own.

  81. AlleyCat74*

    I catch the bus to work and have a sporty backpack because I walk home from work in the afternoon. I keep a handbag in my office permanently for those occasions where I need to go out during the day. It works for me.

  82. matcha123*

    OP, I work in Japan which is known for its suit culture. These days I notice a lot of suited men wearing backpacks, and many of them wear backpacks that double as briefcases. I’ll link a popular one in a reply to myself.
    I’ve seen leather ones, too. That means you can wear the bag as a backpack while commuting and take the straps off and convert it to a more professional bag when you get to work. Win-win.
    However, these are expensive. If you like them, you might be able to find used ones on rakuten or other sites.

  83. Jay*

    I’ve found that there are some quite nice oversized laptop bags/cases that come with a hidden (or at least not terrible obvious) compartment that holds a set of straps to allow it to convert to a backpack. They tend to not be the most comfortable backpacks ever, but they hold a surprising amount, have plenty of pouches, and are indistinguishable from any other oversized laptop bags/cases.
    I use this one: It’s not fancy, but my work doesn’t require fancy.

  84. Pixalottle*

    I don’t know whether you’ll be able to find one, but I’ve got a convertible bag that’s both a rucksack and shoulder bag. It’s black leather so quite smart and is easy to carry both ways. It’s not the largest but would work for meeting days.

  85. The Other Katie*

    Another possible solution is a Longchamps folding handbag (or similar), which you can carry in your backpack and then whip out to stuff your backpack in if needed.

  86. Nox*

    I wear a fossil leather backpack on client trips. No one says anything except nice bag.

  87. Rin*

    OP, get one of these before NAFTA goes the way of the dodo:
    Casgrain napa leather transformable shoulder bag / backpack from Lowell (made in Montreal)
    Converts from backpack to shopping bag to purse in a snap, thanks to a brilliantly designed set of metal loops.
    I use mine (all black) in 95% of work and non-work situations.

  88. LBK*

    Late on this, but I’m so surprised that the overwhelming sentiment is that backpacks are A-OK. I was actually just talking to a friend last weekend about how his colleagues sometimes make jokes about him walking around with his backpack. I have to wonder if some of this varies based on your appearance; he’s pretty short and I have a baby face so both of us struggle with not looking like a little kid heading off to middle school when we’re walking around with a backpack. Although we both work in business casual offices, so maybe it’s less infantilizing if you’re in a suit?

    I do wear a fairly sleek one designed for running since I run home from the office, but I do sometimes feel a little bit silly in it, especially if I’m just wearing a polo and jeans and so I’m barely distinguishable from the high schoolers I pass on the way home.

  89. 28 days left @ toxic job*

    To quote Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt:

    “Does this backpack look babyish?”
    “It is a backpack!”

    I love backpacks but it’s so hard to make them look professional, even if they’re nice.

  90. Imaginary Number*

    I’m seeing suits in combination with professional-looking backpacks a lot more often, even in meetings with external customers. It probably depends on the field, but in technical fields I see this a lot.

  91. Michaela Westen*

    Sorry, I’m in transit and don’t have time to see if this has already been said.
    Backpacks are better than shoulder bags. However, long term use can be bad for shoulders and posture.
    A few years ago I started using a two-wheeled trolley to haul my stuff and it’s much better!
    You could put your briefcase and other stuff in and be good to go!

  92. Sarah in Boston*

    While I could carry a DayGlo backpack and no one would care (engineer at a consumer electronics company), what I use is one of Peak Design’s backpacks. Their gear is designed for photographer’s first but they also work brilliantly for hobbyists of anyone who likes beautifully designed bags with the ability to change around the interior layout. I’ve linked their site in my name. (Also their camera clips and straps are AWESOME! I’m a travel shutter bug with a Panasonic bridge camera, FZ-1000.)

  93. Minerva*

    I am so happy there are so many links above. I’m looking to get rid of my laptop backpack in favor of something more stylish and there are so many great ones above!

  94. Maybe*

    This may also be different depending on where you are. I’m a mid-thirties female and the most junior of my company, and when visiting clients, I routinely use a nice, nondescript black nylon backpack. It’s never been an issue, especially in places where public transportation is common. As long as it is clean, not overstuffed, and not obviously patterned with a logo brand (i.e. not this one), people understand. I do think canvas backpacks look lazy/cheesy, especially someone is in a suit. There are so many gorgeous nylon or leather backpacks out there. Best of luck finding one you like!

  95. Chickaletta*

    Looks like there’s already been several links posted, but a quick google search comes up with a lot of professional looking, tailored backpack-purses. Maybe there’s even some that are convertible so you could take the backpack straps off before walking into a professional meeting. I hate switching out purses, I think a lot of women do, and the idea of keeping moving all your shit between 2-3 bags isn’t only inconvenient, but it’s ripe for a situation where something gets accidentally forgotten or lost.

    Oh, here’s one (and it comes in tons of colors!):

  96. Database Developer Dude*

    The reason for having a backpack is to save a person’s back…wear and tear on the body. For a civilian job, if anyone objects to a professional looking backpack (not flashy), then they deserve to be insulted. If you require me to carry a lot of crap, I’m using a backpack. If you have an issue with this, then don’t require me to carry a lot of crap. I don’t owe you my health just because I work for you. This isn’t the military, fool.

  97. Janelle*

    I use a small rolling laptop bag for client meetings, so I can shove my purse and water in there too when I head out.
    My director found a great professional bag on ebags that converts from backpack to tote or even (I think) messenger style. You have a ton of straps to store, but they can go in a pocket of the bag.

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