Sunday, March 28, 2021

I'll Never Go Back to a Work Handbag

I made the transition to a professional backpack about a year ago, and I don't think I can ever go back to work handbags. Don't get me wrong, I love fashion and handbags in general and I do appreciate a perfectly accessorized outfit. But I can't deny the practical benefits of the work backpack and thought I'd share why I made the switch and am sticking to it.

My initial impetus for the work backpack (as it is for many professional women) was shoulder, neck, and back pain. I tried switching my heavy shoulder bag as much as possible, but I started to come home almost every night with localized pain around the muscles that bore the weight of my bag. No amount of herbal tea or massages or stretching or exercise could fix the knots and tension, which would persist through the weekend and get reinforced the next week at work.

Around the same time, professional women's groups I'm in started raving about their favorite professional backpacks. I learned for the first time that there are backpacks that convert into more traditional-looking handbags or that are designed to be professional-looking enough on their own. My initial reaction was to dismiss the idea of leaving the handbag behind. I thought of backpacks as something for students, not working professionals. But the more I heard from those who loved their work backpacks, the more I found myself opening my mind. Before I knew it, I was reading "20 Best Professional Backpacks of 2019" listicles. There were waterproof backpacks, backpacks that promised to last longer than any handbag, high fashion backpacks, and more.

So when my last work handbag fell apart, I finally succumbed to my curiosity and bought my first work backpack: a sleek, waterproof, black backpack I could see myself wearing every day. Mine is even built to make pickpocketing more difficult: the zipper to open the main compartment lies against my back when I wear it, so I use it for traveling, too. It's simple and nondescript, and that's part of the point. I use my shoes and my earrings and the rest of my outfit to express my fashion sense these days. The backpack is simply a tool, and it serves its purpose well.

At first, I was fearful the backpack would stand out in a bad way, especially in the notoriously stuffy and traditional field of diplomacy. Thankfully, a colleague of mine was already using a professional backpack before I made the leap. Every person who challenges a norm or the way things have always been done (but doesn't have to be the way things are done) makes it a bit easier for the next person. And to my relief, I don't feel my backpack hurt me professionally or left a bad impression on my new coworkers when I arrived at U.S. Embassy Seoul.

Some argue that no bag is the best option of all, but I disagree. I keep a number of social and work essentials in my bag that couldn't fit in pockets alone (which all professional women know we can't count on in our clothes anyway). I always have tissues, breath mints, hand sanitizer, a spare pen and paper, a wallet with the large number of ID cards I need to carry, business cards, hair ties, and a water bottle. If I need to work later or longer, I can throw extra things in there like a phone charger, power bank, a snack, and more.

A year on, I'm glad I made the switch. My neck and back are much better off, and now I'm thoroughly sold that professional backpacks are the future of work fashion. It seems like most major handbag designers are capitalizing on the trend, too, so options for us are increasing every year. If you've never gone for the backpack before, I highly recommend it! At least for me, it was 100% worth it.

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