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While sitting in a line of congested traffic on the way into the office one morning, I observe the foot commuters in Uptown making their way from parking lots and bus stops to high rises and office buildings. This area is one of the nation’s largest urban regions, with more than six million people living within a 100-mile radius, so there’s ample people watching available while traffic inches forward.

One common denominator becomes obvious: a significant number of men use backpacks, while only a handful sport messenger or computer bags, and nearly no one carries a briefcase. For a week after, I keep a vigilant eye open during the morning and evening commutes, and what I see is that backpacks are not just a fad but a trend swing.

 Briefcases are for self-important lawyers, not practical accountants. – Reddit user

When I started working in a variety of office environments about 25 years ago, backpacks were rarely or if ever used by anyone; briefcases or portfolio bags were all you saw. However, I did begin to notice a shift about 15 years ago when backpacks started popping up around the office (some the rollable kind with the retractable handle). Businesses embroidered them and companies gave them out to employees.

Sure, backpacks free up your hands, especially while travelling, but I’m still not convinced of their place in business. While I appreciate the comfort level and familiarity of it, the backpack conjures up a time long past: 18 years of schooling (along with the higher education years) stuffed full of wrinkled papers, dog-eared textbooks, broken pencils, unused protractors and smooshed brown bag lunches.backpack-mens-suit-bad-idea21

No one cares whether backpack vs briefcase until you make manager. Then other managers may make fun of you for wearing a backpack. That’s about it. But basically no one cares.

While more commuters in urban areas take mass transit, the backpack is seen as convenient, especially if the commute involves walking. It’s also a part of a business culture that is relaxing. No longer is formal business attire the dress-code standard and, in many places, casual Fridays have been extended throughout the entire workweek.

As our culture relaxes, the briefcase will always project a professional image but is no longer the bag du jour; it’s going the way of the three-piece suit and the monocle. Using a backpack seems to be the established trend, although it doesn’t mean you should look unprofessional or a snotty-nosed 12-year-old. Men’s Health offers style tips on which backpacks project professionalism: http://www.menshealth.com/style/backpack-at-the-office.

So which do you prefer – the briefcase or the backpack?