The Hunt: Professional Tote Bags

professional tote bagsSure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

We haven’t done a Hunt for professional tote bags in FOREVER, so I thought we’d do one now.  With OCI/EIW coming up we should discuss what makes a great interview tote, which I’ve always seen as a pretty major subset of professional tote bags. A great interview tote should:

  • be large enough to hold a folder that contains the absolute latest version of your resume
  • have structure to it — if you put it on the floor it will stand up or at least lean (so — while I love me my Planetes Longchamp bag, I wouldn’t interview with it — it’s also for this reason that most of these bags are east/west bags rather than north/south bags)
  • be mostly solid and lacking logos all over it (so in my book most Neverfulls, Goyard, and MCM bags are out — but a Neverfull in an Epi leather is a different issue)
  • have enough organization that you can ditch your purse and just carry the tote bag (or, put another way, it becomes your purse)
  • not be primarily as a laptop tote — unless you anticipate needing your laptop during the interview, you don’t need the weight and the added stress of keeping tabs on your bag (but see our laptop tote roundup if you’re looking for one)

I once joked that if you’re just looking for something to shuttle papers to and from the office, most of the rainmakers I knew carried boat bags, or at least the tote bags one gets for donating X dollars to charity or attending a conference, suggesting it was all part of “what your tote bag says about you.” Now I think it’s just because those suckers add up over the years and they’re perfect for sticking in your office closet! (Although I will note – an LL Bean rep recently told me that this bag can hold up to 500 pounds because it was designed for carrying ice blocks through the winter. Ice blocks, huge binders, whatever, right?)

So ladies, let’s discuss — do you carry a tote bag as your regular purse, or only if you’re interviewing or otherwise carrying a folder? What do you look for in a professional tote bag? Do you prefer hand-held briefcase/satchel styles, north/west styles, east/west styles? Leather, nylon, or coated canvas? Have you bought any great ones lately, or do you still carry any older ones?

First, a roundup of some general categories:

Best-Selling Work Totes

Some of the best selling work totes of all time are linked to in our Hall of Fame styles mentioned above — here are a few of those, pictured, ranging from $168-$298: 1 / 2 / 3 // 4 / 5 / 6

Featured Work Totes

Best-selling, classic styles are great, but sometimes you want to know what else is on the market today.  So: six bags we’re liking today:

[Read more…]

The Bag Lady Reconsiders…

Prada Saffiano Lux Large Top Handle Bag

2016 Update: Links have been updated below — please also check out our most recent roundup of professional tote bags for women!

Which are the great, professional, useful totes? If you always carry around a ton of stuff, should you downsize to look more professional? Reader A is about to make her first “really expensive purse purchase” and needs advice…

I would love to get your advice on my first really expensive purse purchase. I currently use a big leather tote day-to-day that can fit my whole world, and as an attorney and a New Yorker, I carry around a lot of stuff. Binders, umbrellas, water, heels, hair and makeup, food, pens, nail file, gloss, fan, gloves — EVERYTHING fits into my trusty Mary Poppins bag. That said…I’m ready to upgrade to something more sophisticated. I hate walking into a meeting or conference and having my purse either brimming with crap or slumping over in a sad black puddle (it used to stand). I have my eye on a Prada Saffiano tote, which fits can fit a slim computer or a small number of papers but is definitely not a carry-all. Will I regret downgrading to a smaller bag for my day to day use? I’m so accustomed to being a bag lady that I am scared to make an expensive commitment to something so much smaller. But it is much prettier, much smarter, and far more put together.

First: congrats on making your first really expensive purse purchase — it looks like there are a number of Saffiano totes available, but just for fun, let’s say you’re talking about the Prada Saffiano Lux Large Top Handle Bag, available at Saks for $2150. My own first expensive purse purchase did not go so well, and I hate to say it but I see similarities between your pending purchase and my purchase. [Read more…]

The Hunt: The Perfect Interview Bag

Mosey - Working Girl (Jet Black)

2016 Update: Check out our most recent roundup of professional tote bags for women!

Sure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

This is how I see the perfect interview bag: it’s big enough to fit your folder, a notepad, and everything you would normally carry in your purse, as well as maybe a bottle of water. It’s large, but not so large that the interviewer fears you’re hoping to crash on the couch in the lounge. I always like a black bag (sure, even with a navy suit), and for me, nylon is perfect because it doesn’t get as heavy as a leather bag, and nylon is very easy to clean. (Another bonus: if you accidentally swing around too fast in the elevator, the bag won’t turn lethal.) Oh, and it has to hold its shape by itself (so to me, not a Pliage bag, although those are great for other things). If this sounds familiar, forgive me — I think I go on the hunt every August for the perfect tote bag, and it always amazes me how hard it is to find these suckers online. I think I’ve rounded up some good ones for today’s Hunt, though — check ’em out below. Readers, what is your ideal bag for interviewing? Have you found any good ones lately?

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The Hunt: Black Tote Bags

kate spade new york Nylon Maryanne Tote2016 Update: Check out our most recent roundup of professional tote bags for women!icon

Sure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

I feel like a good black tote bag is something every professional woman needs — particularly if you’re gearing up for interviews.  They’re large enough for a folder with your resume, as well as some reading or work (should you find yourself waiting or with some free time), and they’re also great for stashing all of the items you generally carry in your purse.  Readers, have you recently purchased any great black tote bags?  Do you have a classic that you’ve been using for years?

$220 seems like a lot for a nylon bag, but I actually prefer nylon for tote bags because I think it wears better and is lighter weight. This is just a basic black bag, but I like the internal pockets (including one for your ipad and cell phone), and there are removable and repositionable interior dividers. I like it in black for work, but there are a number of fun colors marked 30% off which might be better for a general purpose “tote bag.” The black is $220 at Mandarina Duck. Mandarina Duck Unexpected Shopper
Tumi is another brand I know and like, particularly for business bags for men and women. I like the leather and nylon combination of this one, as well as the little details like the feet on the bag and the interior pockets. It’s $345 at Amazon. Tumi Voyageur Derby Business Tote
kate spade new york Nylon Maryanne Tote
iconI’m actually most excited about this bag — it seems like ages since Kate Spade had a good nylon tote out. I like the hardware for a bit of interest, as well as the feet, interior pockets, and fun lining. It’s $395 at Bloomingdale’s. kate spade new york Nylon Maryanne Tote
Longchamp Roseau Patent East West ToteI like the durability of patent leather for something like a tote bag — it’s easy to clean and can generally take a lot of use. This East/West tote is simple and basic — I like the slim shoulder straps as well as the toggle closure. It’s $475 at Bloomingdale’s. Longchamp Roseau Patent East West Tote
Fendi black 'Roman' leather 'Selleria' medium tote Hello, lovah. This Fendi bag has me drooling — the pebbled leather! the contrast stitching! the three interior compartments! It’s even on sale at Bluefly: was $2250, now marked to $1620 (including an extra 10% off). Lovely. Fendi black ‘Roman’ leather ‘Selleria’ medium tote

Like this feature? Check out other recent installments!

(L-all)

The Hunt: The Lightweight, Professional Tote

Rafe New York - Zue Large Nylon Tote (Black) - Bags and Luggage2016 Update: Check out our most recent roundup of professional tote bags for women!

I have a beloved nylon tote that was my go-to for interviews for a long time. It’s super lightweight, nondescript, and has a simple pocket inside that’s perfect for carrying a few pens and pencils. It is, alas, so “loved” that it’s no longer really a professional thing to take around — the “leather” handles are peeling, there are threads poking out everywhere, and there’s even some sort of big snag on the side.

In case other ladies are looking for a similar tote (either to replace a much-loved version or to buy one for interview season), I thought I’d share my hunt for a new, perfect nylon tote. My old tote dimensions, which I thought were perfect: 15″ wide, by 11.5″ high, by 3″ deep, with an 11″ shoulder drop.

Merona® Croco Work Tote - BlackThis one from Merona has a faux leather look to it, which isn’t usually my thing — but for $29.99 it’s hard to go wrong with it. I like that it includes a lot of interior organization — padded laptop pocket, cell phone pocket, and key ring holder — and I also like that it zips closed. The dimensions are pretty close to my old beloved favorite — 16″ wide, 12″ high, 4.75″ deep. It’s $29.99 at Target. Merona Croco Work Tote – Black
Banana Republic Nylon Buckle ToteThis bag looks a bit bigger than what I normally think of as an interview tote, but it still looks professional, and I like the fact that there’s nothing “faux” about it. The reasonable price — $49.50 — doesn’t hurt either. It’s available in black, khaki and teal at Banana Republic.com. Banana Republic Nylon Buckle Tote
Storksak Gigi Large Diaper BagIs it bad that I don’t care that this one says it’s a diaper bag? It still looks like a great bag to me (and, though I have no experience with them, seems somewhat small for a diaper bag at 11″x14″x6″). Again, not a huge fan of the white-on-black stitching, but so it goes. It’s $198 at Endless Amazon. Storksak Gigi Large Diaper Bag
Latico Candice Slim PorterNow the bags start to get expensive. I like the look of this one a lot, and particularly like the fun interior print. At 12.5″x17″x4″, it’s a bit bigger than my old one, but that can be okay. It’s available at Endless Amazon in black, forest, metallic brown, metallic copper, metallic olive, and “steel” for $219. Latico Candice Slim Porter
Rafe New York - Zue Large Nylon Tote (Black) - Bags and LuggageLOVE this bag. I like the patent trim, the zip pockets on the front, and the “multifunctional” slip pockets on the inside. It’s $219 at Zappos (available in black and red with black trim). (It’s also pictured at the top of the post). Rafe New York – Zue Large Nylon Tote (Black) – Bags and Luggage

Readers, what do you look for in a lightweight but professional tote? Any great finds of late?

What Your Tote Bag Says About You

ll bean boat bag

2016 Update: Links have been updated as of 2016.  See our most recent discussion on professional tote bags here!

Last week, we suggested Hayden-Harnett’s Ibiza “convertible flight tote” to readers — intending to recommend it as a tote bag for when you need to take home approximately fifteen pounds of paperwork — so we were a bit surprised when commenters railed against it as looking cheap as a purse (to us:  duh, of course, your purse is separate from that!) and bad as a carry-on (again, to us:  duh, of course, because the best soft carry-on is LeSportsac — how can that even be debated?).  After we got over our internal monologue, we’ve been thinking about all the different tote bags we’ve seen through the years.

To be clear:  These are not the kind of tote bags you carry with you to interviews — nor are they the kind of bags you use to carry a magazine and some papers.  These are the bags that you keep somewhere in your office and pull out on Friday afternoon when you suddenly realize you have to read or review thousands of pages over the weekend, and don’t feel like trying to box it up (or come into the weekend).  There are a few different varieties of them, and we’ve always thought they convey bits of your personality to people.

Readers, what’s your favorite for this kind of tote bag?  Do you think we’re accurate in our “personality” types?

 

longchamp tote for workThe “fancy” but practical bag.  Think Longchamp, the Ibiza bag, or any bag consisting of nylon and leather in a combination.  The nylon keeps the bag lightweight (aside from those fifteen pounds of papers, of course) yet very, very durable, and the leather adds a bit of glam as well as sturdiness.  We have packed our Longchamp to the brim and it always retains its shape.  (Alas, the largest sizes of the Longchamp bags are not available online — but for reference, pictured at left is Longchamp ‘Le Pliage’ Two Tone Shoulder Tote, available at Nordstrom’s for $125.)  This is our preferred look — it shows you care how it looks while you’re breaking your back doing work.
neverfull tote bag professionalThe “luxury” bag — such as Vuitton or Goyard.  For our money, the luxury bag is frequently a bit impractical — they never seem big enough, we’d worry about ripping the leather, and — considering the purpose — it seems a bit like a waste of money.  But, if you’re trying to convey that you’re a woman who cares about luxury at any cost, this is your bag.  For practical purposes (weight and durability), we would advise you to go with a treated canvas bag instead of a leather one, such as the Louis Vuitton’s “NeverFull GM,” available at LouisVuitton.com for $750.
rolling laptop bags for womenThe wheeled bag.  This one tells people that you’re a) smart and concerned about your health, b) serious about getting paperwork to and from the office, and c) possibly aren’t driving/being driven to and from work.  All said, these aren’t bad things to convey in today’s economy.  The downsides:  it’s not very fashionable, and if you end up with less papers (leaving some at home, recycling them, whatever) you’re still encumbered by the rolling bag. Pictured: Travelpro Tote TPro Xtreme Lite 15 Rolling Tote Granite, available at Amazon for as low as $84.
work backpack for womenThe backpack.  This is our least favorite option, if only because it tells people you haven’t really upgraded your bag (and possibly your style) since you were in school.  Pictured:  Deluxe Book Pack, available at L.L. Bean for $39.95.
ll bean boat bagThe boat bag.  The funny thing here is that, by and large, the female partners we know use these to shuttle their papers to and from work.  It conveys that you’re definitely driving/being driven (that open top is just a disaster waiting to happen on public transportation), and it can be a subtle way of telling people things about you:  I gave enough money to Charity X to get a tote bag!  I went to Conference Y and received this tote bag!  All in all, not a bad option to keep at the office.  Pictured:  Boat and Tote Bag, Open-Top, available at L.L. Bean for $30.95.

Shop more totes, below…

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