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Sure, we all know what wardrobe essentials for work 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.
It has been WAY too long since we’ve done a roundup of the best work totes for women — which are your favorites right now, readers? Do you prefer backpacks for work, or another style?
For my $.02, a great work tote for women:
- has a closed top like a zipper
- has organizing features like pockets, water bottle sleeves, sometimes even a zippered outside compartment for your commuting shoes/gym shoes
- isn’t too heavy — my preferred material has always been nylon; faux leather is also going to be pretty lightweight; leathers and coated canvas are the most durable but add weight
- is large enough to fit a folder with your resume in it (if you’re interviewing)
I’ve rounded up a ton of options: splurges, super affordable bags, laptop bags, bags with trolley sleeves (to fit over your rolling suitcase for business travel), smaller/indie brands focused on bags for work, and vegan brands.
Readers, have you bought a work tote recently that you love? Which are your all-time favorite bags for work, and why?
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(Looking for a luxury work bag? Here’s our latest roundup…)
- Hall of Famers (specific styles that have stood the test of time): Cuyana, Lo & Sons, Kate Spade New York, Madewell, Tory Burch, Street Level, Michael Michael Kors, Dagne Dover, and Tumi
- Usual Suspects (reliable brands or stores to check first): Cuyana, Tumi, MZ Wallace, TJ Maxx, Lo & Sons, Longchamp (leather), Banana Republic
- Under $100: Street Level ($51), Amazon brand ($12), New Day — also check your local Nordstrom Rack or T.J.Maxx!
- Splurges: (see all of our favorite luxury work bags here!) Chanel, Louboutin, McQueen, Mulberry, MCM, Jimmy Choo, Ferragamo, and Strathberry.
- Laptop bags for women: Lo & Sons, Dagne Dover, Tumi (also check for laptop sleeves from Society 6 and, of course, Amazon)
- Backpacks for work: Tumi, MZ Wallace, Lo & Sons (convertible!), Herschel (see our whole roundup of stylish backpacks for work!)
- Nylon/lightweight: Tory Burch, Lo & Sons, Tumi,
- Trolley sleeves for business travel: Tumi, Lo & Sons, Vera Bradley, Herschel, and Baggalini
- Former reader-favorite brands that may be rebranding/closing (just speculation since they’re really hard to find right now in the usual places): Lodis and KNOMO London
- Smaller/independent brands focusing on bags for work: Cuyana, Lo & Sons, Dagne Dover, Gigi New York, Alesya, deWolfe, Shinola, Ian James, Martine, My Best Friend is a Bag, Jemma Bags, July, Daame, Formula,
- Vegan: Street Level, Matt & Nat, Gunas New York, Senreve
- ORGANIZING INSERTS for totes: Omystyle (12,000+ good reviews at Amazon), Olunsu (5,600+ good reviews at Amazon)
As of Feb. 2023, some of our favorite luxury work bags for a splurge (large enough for work papers and sometimes even a laptop) are from Chanel, Louboutin, McQueen, Mulberry, MCM, Jimmy Choo, Ferragamo, and Strathberry. Of course, note that a lot of our readers who are in big jobs note that they love their (more affordable) Lo & Sons bags, as well as their Tumi.
If you’re looking for a work tote under $50, this one is really close — this reversible tote is $51 at Nordstrom. It doesn’t have too many bells or whistles — it’s made from a PETA-approved faux leather and has removable “zip wristlet.” It has almost 2,000 great reviews at Nordstrom!
If you’re looking for a tote with more organization/pockets, do keep in mind that you can buy extra inserts for tote bags for around $15 on Amazon — Omystyle and Olunsu are both incredibly highly rated. You can also get a ton of plain laptop sleeves at Amazon or a HUGE variety of styles at Society 6.
If $51 is too rich for your blood, this simple Amazon tote has more than 14,000 good reviews and is a mere $12 — and it comes in a zillion colors. If you’re on a budget, I’d also recommend taking a look at your local Nordstrom Rack or T.J.Maxx since they tend to specialize in this kind of bag. Target also currently has some highly-rated bags under $50 from Universal Threads and New Day.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the big Tory Burch emblem (where does this fall on the “cheugy” continuum, if you care?), but it’s hard to find highly-rated nylon bags that are lightweight and have stood the test of time. This one has been a bestseller for YEARS — if you’re looking for an affordable classic and lightweight interview tote, it’s a great investment. It’s $198-$228 at Nordstrom, and it’s wonderful to see that they now offer a version made from recycled nylon.
A more affordable but floppier option is this Tumi Voyageur bag, on sale for $69 — but that one has a trolley sleeve for your rolling bag. Also look to Lo & Sons for excellent nylon bags, many of which are 50% off right now.
There are a TON of Lo & Sons bags that have been loved by the readers (they’re always on our lists of the best work bags!), many on sale right now — the Seville laptop bag, the OG. I’m featuring the Rowledge here because it’s that unusual bag that is a business-appropriate backpack for work that converts to a north/south tote with a top handle. If you’re looking for something like this, definitely consider Lo & Sons.
Another super popular north/south tote (but not a backpack) is Madewell’s Transport tote.
If you’re looking for a classic leather tote bag with a zippered top, I think most readers would agree that the Cuyana bag is the one. It’s a smaller brand, people rave about the leather and durability, it comes in 10 colors, it can be monogrammed, it has inserts or tech sleeves you can add on — and it’s only $195. The brand’s website also notes that they are LWG Silver certified, “ensuring the leather is tanned responsibly against measures like traceability, resource consumption, and effluent treatment.”
Looking for a splurge tote? There are so many great bags here. I think the one I’m currently drooling over is the pictured Bottega Venetta East/West Tote — it just looks so cool. I’m always a fan of Bottega, though, because I feel like their leather and craftsmanship is impeccable but the brand recognition is lower than some of the more logo’d brands.
In addition to Bottega’s totes, if you’re in the market for stylish work bags, I’d also consider MCM, Prada, Christian Louboutin, The Row, Mansur Gavriel, Valentino, Jimmy Choo, Ferragamo, and Nancy Gonzalez.
Readers, do tell — which do you think are the best work totes for women in 2021?
Social media picture credit: Shutterstock / Superlime.
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