2018 Update: We still like these professional tote bags below (and many are still available!), but you may want to check out our most recent roundup of the best work bags!
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.
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 (updated 2018):
- Hall of Famers (specific styles that have stood the test of time): Lodis, Kate Spade New York, J.Crew, Lo & Sons, Dagne Dover, Tory Burch, Madewell, MZ Wallace, Prada, Mansur Gavriel, Lodis, Michael Michael Kors, Tumi
- Usual Suspects (reliable brands or stores to check first): Lodis, Cuyana, KNOMO London, Tumi, MZ Wallace, TJ Maxx, Furla, Lo & Sons, Longchamp (leather), Banana Republic
- Under $100: Baggallini, A New Day (nylon, laser cut), Old Navy, French Connection,
- Nylon/lightweight: Kate Spade New York, Tory Burch, Baggallini, Neiman Marcus, A New Day, Michael Kors
- Special Mentions for Life Outside the Office: State Bags (insulated tote), Zella (gym bag), BG by Baggallini (gym bag), Kendall + Kylie (water resistant tote), Logan & Lenora (waterproof tote), Ted Baker London (sooo pretty but PVC)
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: one / two / three // four / five / six :
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:
|I’m kind of surprised there are so few choices under $100 — but I haven’t found many online I’d like to recommend except for the ones listed above. Still, for $49, this bag is hard to go wrong — it’s got a zippered top, lots of organization, and it even comes with a little wristlet. It’s $49 at Target. Merona Solid Nylon Work Tote with Faux Leather Trim|
|This nylon Baggallini bag has a TON of pockets and organization, and a zippered travel sleeve for rolling bags (love that feature!). Amazon and Zappos both have it, but Amazon has more color options, some as low as $93. The pictured bag is $158. Baggallini Errand Travel Tote Bag|
|I usually think of Knomo as specializing in laptop bags, but they have a ton of nice options that could work with or without laptops inside. We’ve featured the Curzon before and it still looks good; pictured here is the slightly sharper Grosvener tote — I love the bright red lining, the top zip, and all the pockets. It’s $199 at Zappos. KNOMO London Grosvenor East/West Top Zip Laptop Tote|
|The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale has a ton of great bags, including the Kate Spade Spencer Tote we featured a few days ago and (pictured) this lovely structured number from Louise et Cie. I love the suede contrast panels at the side, and the fact that it’s so structured it almost looks like you’re carrying a very large book. It’s available in black and “warm taupe” at Nordstrom for $229 during the sale; after the sale it’ll go back up to $348. Louise et Cie ‘Yvet’ Leather Tote (Nordstrom Exclusive)|
|Ohhhh. I like this one. The simplicity of the bag and the interesting folded details are calling my name. I wish it had more interior organization (it’s just got two slip pockets), but so it goes. It does have a zipper on top. It’s $395 at Bloomingdale’s, where it’s one of the best sellers. Vince City Tote|
|Tumi has always been a reader favorite, with both the Voyageur line and the Sinclair line getting lots of love. This newer Viera tote in coated canvas (in the Sinclair line) looks great — lots of interior organization, a top zipper, and metal feet. Unfortunately it lacks the travel sleeve that lots of Tumi bags have — I like the more structured Tumi Athens bag best if you’re looking for that feature — it’s on sale at Amazon for $263-$328. (Note that there’s a green version of their basic Voyageur nylon tote in the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale also, marked from $292 down to $195.) The pictured bag comes with a laptop sleeve, and is $545 at Zappos. Tumi Sinclair Viera Business Tote|
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