In the luggage lexicon, the terms briefcase and attache case are often used synonymously, but distinctions between the two cases exist. Historically, the cases have been associated with successful businessmen, but they've come a long way from their 19th century counterparts. They're still used extensively by attorneys and diplomats, but have changed in form and function to accommodate the extensive use of laptops, influx of women in the workplace, and corporate marketing needs.
The French coined the word attache, which means a person within the administrative staff of an ambassador. The word brief finds its origins in the legal field, in which a brief serves as a summary of facts and legal positions supporting arguments in judicial proceedings.
The attache case derived its name from its use by ambassadors and their staff. The briefcase can trace its name back to its use by attorneys. The original incarnations of the attache case and briefcase are attributed to Godillot of Paris, which made use of a hinged iron frame, the staple design of the modern briefcase and attache case, on a leather bag. The forerunner to both cases was the limp satchel that travelers used for several centuries to carry valuables.
Shape, Make and Size
Both briefcases and attache cases assume a rectangular shape. However, attache cases are composed of a hinged frame that opens into two compartments, the foremost commonly featuring pockets for further storage. Briefcases also have a hinged frame, but they feature gussets that allow them to expand for additional storage. Size is also a distinguishing factor between the two types of luggage. The briefcase is a relatively bulky, rectangular piece, while the attache case presents a slim profile.
Form follows function when it comes to briefcases and attache cases. The smaller, simpler attache case primarily funtions to transport documents. The briefcase holds documents as well, but its larger size and greater number of compartments serve to carry a greater variety of documents, files, and accessories for business travelers. Furthermore, in this day and age of personal computing, both cases can carry laptops. Most recently, the cases have become marketing tools; company logos grace the side of many cases.