What Is a Doctor Bag? Learn More About This Timeless Accessory

by Sara Wennerstrom / Aug 12, 2022

A reliable bag that carries all your essentials is a must in your handbag collection. When you have that go-to bag that’s a true multipurpose wonder for work, play, and travel, there’s no stopping you from conquering any occasion in style. And when it comes to practicality and lightweight appeal, there’s no better bag than the doctor bag.


With its roots in the medical field, the doctor bag (or gladstone bag) is a well-structured accessory designed for optimal accessibility. The style has evolved beyond the black bag associated with family physician house calls, becoming a staple for those outside the medical profession. Read on to discover what a doctor bag is — everything from the history to today’s contemporary uses of the ever-practical style.


What is a doctor bag?


A doctor bag is a sizable satchel with room to hold essentials and then some. It’s usually a compact leather bag in a boxy duffle-shaped style. This quintessential bag has a flat bottom so it can easily rest upright, a wide opening for clear visibility of the items inside, and a long middle section that’s almost tube-like in its length.


The bag has two large handles, so you can grab and go out the door with everything needed safely nestled inside. Everything from the durable leather to the well-defined shape, organized interior pockets, and sturdy clasp — points to its utilitarian origins of doctors needing to pack up equipment and medications for home visits.


SENREVE model holding yellow Doctor bag

Doctor Bag in Dolce Butterscotch


The history of the doctor bag


The doctor bag dates more than 100 years back to the Victorian era, when British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone was known to favor this model for its lightweight yet reliable style. That’s where the name “gladstone bag” comes from, since the politician used the bag as what was essentially a briefcase.


But it wasn’t long before doctors caught onto the appeal of the prime minister's go-to accessory. At the time, most doctors made house calls — it was common to have a family doctor provide care in the comfort of one’s own home. And because doctors require their medical supplies to carry out exams or administer medications, the practice needed to be portable. With its flat bottom and wide opening, the medical bag, or the gladstone bag, became the ideal solution for physicians on the road tending to sick patients.


Though house calls eventually faded into a thing of the past, as transportation became more accessible, the doctor bag popped up now and again for its namesake use. During both World War I and World War II, when caring for wounded soldiers on the battlefield, surgeons utilized the lightweight tote to administer life-saving care and medication. And the bag is still used by doctors in remote areas of developing nations where they might have a bag prepared when off the clock. These essentials could include a stethoscope, stitches, antibiotics, bandages, antiseptic, or other diagnostic tools and treatments.


Understandably with this rich history, antique doctor bags are collector’s items, but they’ve also been made new again for everyday essentials for those who work in professionals beyond the medical field. This fashion accessory borrows from the classic shape and style, but it’s more in line with the prime minister's original vision of a work bag or a weekender that can carry your overnight necessities.


SENREVE doctor bag along with accessories


What can you use a doctor bag for?


So how does a doctor bag fit into your everyday life, regardless of your ties to the medical community – or lack thereof? Here, we’ll give you some ideas for this timeless silhouette that’s truly stood the test of time.


  • Work bag. You don’t have to be a doctor on the go or the British prime minister to maximize the doctor bag’s work-life potential. With Senreve’s Doctor bag, made with high-quality Italian leather, you can fit up to a 12” laptop and still have room to spare. It features seven interior compartments and two exterior compartments for optimal organization, so you can ditch the boring briefcase and not sacrifice style for function.


  • - Weekender bag. When you have a spacious bag with a large main compartment, it’s also ideal for an overnight bag. It’s still roomy enough to carefully pack a change of clothes and your must-have toiletries. Just be sure to pack light for this lightweight bag, so it’s not bursting with unnecessary items. A weekend away puts your strategic packing skills to the test.


  • - Carry-on item for the plane. The doctor bag can be the ultimate carry-on item for the plane. Plus, if it’s compact enough, it has the potential to double as your personal item for low-stress flights. Remember, carry-on only travel shouldn’t increase your stress levels. Don’t let baggage weigh you down when you have the right bag to make quick trips a breeze.


  • - Day bag. The doctor shouldn’t be limited to work or travel; it can also act as your everyday bag as you run errands with the kids or meet up with friends for lunch. The beauty of the doctor bag is its durability and its versatility. That’s why it transitioned from being in the political landscape to the medical field with such ease.


  • - Go mini for a night out. And with doctor bags in a variety of sizes, you can opt for a miniature version of the beloved standard. Check out the mini version of our iconic Doctor bag, which measures 9.5 inches across. This sized-down sister to our bestselling Doctor Bag can be worn in a relaxed or boxy style, and it’s spacious enough to contain your basics for a date night out.



Revisit the past for the perfect modern accessory


There’s a reason why fashion is always looking to the past for inspiration. When a garment or accessory is timeless, we realize that we don’t have to reinvent that classic LBD or box clutch; we just have to bring the concept into the present. The doctor bag exemplifies Senreve’s belief in equipping the multifaceted and modern woman with everything she needs to execute a task in style. Explore our Doctor collection for a host of colors and materials to match your lifestyle.