handbag, satchel or backpack?

When I was a child, a doctor decided that the scoliosis in my spine was not severe enough to be treated. I am always grateful for that decision, the thought of back operations or some form of iron corset support fills me with horror. But I had always been aware that the bendy backbone might lead to a problem as I got older. What I hadn’t thought about was how my choice of work bags might contribute to the problem.


As headteacher I routinely carried a satchel of stuff home each night. This often included some marking from the one class I managed to teach, as well as most of the day’s correspondence, official documents I had to read and so on. The satchel was usually functional rather than stylish. Roomy. And generally hefty and heavy. With a strap as well as a handle. I always had a handbag – definitely more stylish than the big bag.

My usual practice was to sling both satchel and handbag over my left shoulder leaving my right arm and hand free to manage greetings and doors in between me and my destination – another meeting in another part of the school, the school car park, the regional office car park. This bags-on-left-shoulder habit meant that I had to lean from the waist to the right side to counter balance the weight.

Well you can see where this is going. The result is permanent damage to a somewhat vulnerable back.

These days, as an academic, I still carry a load of stuff to and from work. I now also have a re-usable cup, re-usable shopping bag and a re-usable water bottle to add to the books and correspondence.  But now I have only a backpack which, particularly when it’s very heavy, holds my back straight and – bonus – generally gets rid of any back ache that has been caused by too much sitting down or too much standing on one spot when teaching.

Why didn’t I just use a backpack then?

Well, in my defence I was a headteacher a long time ago, and backpacks were far less common than they are now. Most of them were designed for walkers and travellers and they were all a bit earnest.

But even if there had been the equivalent of my current sleek Scandi leather backpack available, I’m not entirely sure I would have opted for it. I do wonder whether I would actually have chosen something that looked more ‘casual’ than the (standard at the time) headteacher handbag and satchel. I like to think that if I really knew that bag-carrying would contribute to the bad back I now have that I would have chosen the backpack. Sense would have prevailed.

But there’s something rather informal about the backpack. Something a bit student-y. Something that perhaps doesn’t entirely fit with the jacket and professional dress code expected of the boss?

Amanda and I haven’t asked headteachers about their bags. But I think we will. I do wonder if it’s another one of those areas where how we think we are seen by others, what we think the unspoken norms and expectations are, actually influence our wardrobe choices.

Do any heads use a backpack and not a handbag and satchel I wonder?


Photo by David Pisnoy on Unsplash