The briefcase is the sine qua non of the modern woman, without which, I suppose, she would be a '50s woman. It's a mark of status, of taste and even of glamor. That's what we've come to. So you must be choosy about your briefcase and aware of the statement it makes.
The "Bionic" Briefcase: Far and away the most serious briefcase you can get is this one. It has some really great features -- an electronic transmitter that lets them know where you are if you get kidnaped; a sweep to detect bugs on your telephone; a monitor to record conversations; a signal light that goes on if you are being bugged; a siren that sounds if your briefcase is stolen; a flashlight with a powerful beam to temporarily blind an oncoming attacker; a detector of explosive vapors -- all encased in a bulletproof cover. If you want to make a statement that you are very important -- or very paranoid -- I would imagine this briefcase would do it.
The Attache' Case: Among nonbionic briefcases, the ne plus ultra is the attache' case. But I wouldn't advise carrying an attache' case unless you have a job. It usually is so divided up into compartments and pockets that only things like papers, calculators, business cards, ballpoint pens, folders, letterhead stationery and annual reports fit into it. It won't do for your leotards, knee-warmers and towel for Aerobics II, nor for shovels, buckets or swimming suits for the beach. It's not just that only papers fit into it, but papers in such quantity and variety as to have to be organized, making it too much for the grocery list, the PTA agenda or the list of library books you mean to check out one day. But if you do have a job, a very important job with a path -- if you can but find it -- right to the top, this is the briefcase for you. But remember, it's a briefcase to live up to.
The Expandable Briefcase: Unlike the attache' case, this briefcase does not have a rigid frame; it is softer and more pliable. But don't be misled: it is still the basic briefcase and is to be used only if you mean business. This is not a briefcase for pretending to be on the executive track. You have to be sincere; it can tell if you aren't.
There are variations on the basic model. You can opt for a shoulder strap. A shoulder strap makes it undeniably a woman's briefcase and you, hence, undeniably a woman. If you're comfortable with your colleagues knowing that, try out the strap.
Another variation of the basic model is the briefcase/purse combination. This usually means that there is a long top flap that closes over one or two pockets which you can keep your keys and comb in. This briefcase also says you're serious and a woman. It has the added advantage of not requiring you to wear a briefcase over one shoulder and a purse over the other. Of course, there still is the shoebag problem. As of this writing, I have yet to see a briefcase/purse/shoebag combination.
The Portfolio: The portfolio is used when you have very few but very important papers to carry. This slim affair fits under your arm and gives the impression that you carry within it your annual speech to the stockholders, the final figures on last year's gross or your top-secret analysis on the situation in Singapore. I suppose you should have both a portfolio and a briefcase and carry the briefcase to work and the portfolio to the meeting. That's what I'd do.
The Briefcase in Fun Fabrics: If you are uncomfortable with the claim to high status that leather makes -- or its cost -- yet you want to show that you are serious about your job, e.g., that you carry papers back and forth from work to your home, you might consider a briefcase in nylon, suede, twill or something like upholstery fabric. Now this emphatically says you are a woman; moreover, a woman who views the executive ladder with some condescension, perhaps even amusement. The over-all impression is good-humored seriousness. You also can coordinate these with your outfits.
The Duffel Bag: The duffel bag is lightweight, commodious and hides what you have inside it. You can put your papers in it and also, of course, your Aerobics II and beach equipment. Because it zips, no one knows. But you're not making an executive statement here; you're stating that you're a schlepp. Think about it.
The Tote Bag: The tote bag has no executive connotations whatsoever. Sure you still can stuff it with the briefs for the upcoming case, as well as your heels for changing into after you've jogged to the office and also your yogurt and wheat germ, but, everyone will know. There's no secrecy, no allure, no sense of secrets hidden away when you use a tote bag. But if you are already an executive secure in your position and want to display a certain independence from the lock-step dress-for-success image, maybe a tote-bag statement is for you. As for the precise statement, tote bags come embossed with hundreds of pictures and messages, all the way from "Ain't I a Woman" to "Split Wood Not Atoms." You can get them with pictures of shells, famous writers, your PBS station logo, designs from your local museum. Executive, art lover, and, with a loaf of French bread sticking out, gourmet. Put it all together: a woman of parts, unafraid to march out of step.
The Indian Knit Bag: If you've still got one of these left over from the 1960s, you might want to dig it out. This is a counterculture statement par excellence. Put your executive papers in this and the world will know that although you might have power you are not alienated from your roots nor from the struggles of the working class. This is a real thumb-your-nose-at-executive-privilege bag. If, however, you haven't got a secure niche yet and still are plodding along hoping to be linked up soon to a mentor, think again about this bag. I think I'd recommend a traditional briefcase done in a conservative khaki nylon with brown or burgundy trim. Okay?
The Backpack: If you are a genuine Sierra Club outdoorswoman, I suppose you could get by with a backpack no matter what your level of career or aspirations. But in general the backpack says you haven't left off your college habits. You probably still stick candles in raffia-covered bottles, part your hair in the middle and tuck it behind your ears. The backpack is efficient and has zippers, an advantage over the tote bag, but you have to go through an amazing array of contortions to get it on and off and I'm asking whether you want to do that just before an important board meeting. Well, let's face it, if you're still using a backpack, you probably aren't getting to all that many board meetings.
The Shopping Bag: The word from here on shopping bags is "No."