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Briefcase vs. Attache Case: What’s the Difference?

by Vicky Oselumese
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Briefcase vs. Attache Case

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When it comes to professional accessories, two terms that often come up are “briefcase” and “attache case.” While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are distinct differences between the two.

This article aims to shed light on the disparities and help readers understand what sets a briefcase apart from an attache case.

Definition of a Briefcase

A briefcase is a rectangular-shaped bag typically made of leather, although other materials such as nylon or canvas can also be used.

It is designed to carry documents, files, and other essential items needed for business or professional purposes.

The traditional briefcase features a top handle and a hinged frame that opens to reveal a spacious interior.

It often includes compartments, pockets, and organizers to keep belongings organized and easily accessible.

Characteristics of an Attache Case

Similar to a briefcase, an attache case is also a rectangular bag used for carrying important documents and belongings.

However, there are some notable distinctions that set it apart. An attache case is typically made of rigid materials such as aluminum or hard-sided leather.

It is usually smaller and more compact than a traditional briefcase, with a narrower profile and a more structured shape.

Unlike a briefcase, an attache case often features a combination lock or other security mechanisms to protect its contents.

Historical Context

The terms “briefcase” and “attache case” have their origins in different historical contexts. The term “briefcase” can be traced back to the 1850s when lawyers and legal professionals used small cases to carry briefs and legal documents to court.

Over time, the briefcase evolved to become a symbol of professionalism and prestige.

The term “attache case” originated from the French word “attacher,” which means “to attach.”

In the past, diplomats and government officials used attache cases to carry important documents that were “attached” to their duties and responsibilities.

Attache cases were often associated with the world of diplomacy and were considered a symbol of status and authority.

Usage and Style

Today, the usage of the terms “briefcase” and “attache case” has become somewhat blurred.

Many people use them interchangeably, referring to any professional-looking bag as a “briefcase.”

However, purists argue that a true attache case should have a more formal and structured appearance, often made of hard materials and featuring a lock or combination mechanism.

While the traditional briefcase remains popular, modern variations have emerged, such as messenger bags, laptop bags, and backpacks designed to serve similar purposes.

These alternatives often provide a more casual and relaxed style, catering to individuals who prioritize comfort and versatility.


In summary, the main difference between a briefcase and an attache case lies in their construction, appearance, and historical context.

A briefcase is typically made of leather or other soft materials, features a top handle, and has a more spacious interior. On the other hand, an attache case is usually made of rigid materials, has a more formal and structured appearance, and often includes security features.

While the lines between the two may have blurred in modern usage, understanding the distinctions can help individuals choose the right accessory to suit their professional needs and personal style.


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