The Hunt: Appropriate Bags for Summer Associates

The Best Bags for Summer Associates | CorporetteWe got this request in from a reader, and thought we might resurrect an old feature — The Hunt — in which we look for a great basic, available now, in a variety of price points. Here’s the request:

As an incoming summer associate at a large NY firm, I’ve been wondering – what kind of bag would be appropriate? I’ve been told that Longchamp is too casual, and would be interested to hear your thoughts on it. I don’t want to break the bank before I’ve even made my first paycheck, but would like something nice and versatile that will last a long time. Any thoughts would be appreciated!

We would actually disagree with that — we think Longchamp is fine for a big tote bag. It’s functional (fits a ton of papers), is made well (is strong enough to carry a ton of papers) and — especially if you get the black on black versions available in Canada or at the physical stores in New York City, quite appropriate for work.

However, it’s a bit doubtful that a) you’ll HAVE that much paperwork to lug around over the summer, and b) NEED to lug that much paperwork with you to or from work functions like lunches and client meetings. For your purposes as a summer associate, you should be on the hunt for a purse large enough to hold a notepad (preferably legal-sized), but not so huge that you can’t tuck it under your seat at the work-sponsored theater outing. Ideally, look for something with multiple compartments — you should be able to zipper up your personal items like make-up and feminine supplies, yet find your pens and Blackberry quickly. You’ll also want something fairly sleek — something you can wear over your shoulder (leaving your hands free for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, of course) yet keep close enough to your body that you won’t run the risk of knocking other people’s cocktails out of their hands. We’ve looked for bags in black, which can be worn with any color; if you wear less black you may want to look for a bag in white or brown. Leather looks nicer, but canvas or nylon is much, much lighter. The current trend seems to be for bags that are more vertical than horizontal; if you get one of these we’d suggest having anything you might need quickly (lip gloss, pen, business card) in your jacket pocket rather than the bag so you don’t have to dig through it — nothing’s more unprofessional than being up to your elbows hunting around your bag.

That said, it can be challenging to find this ideal bag, particularly in a reasonable pricepoint. Our first line of attack would probably be to try discount stores like TJ Maxx, Filene’s, and DSW.

That said, here are our suggestions from what we could find online…

Green Street Designs Handbag Sierra Madre Black Tapestry Tote Black We like the size and unique look of this black tapestry fabric bag with leather trim. We like that there are three big compartments inside the bag, as well as multiple zippered pockets (and a spot for your cell phone!) Originally $120, currently $96 at Green Street Designs Handbag Sierra Madre Black Tapestry Tote Black
This one is slightly more expensive, but looks more standard and has a bit of a designer name attached to it — Ben Sherman’s briefcase. The 9″ straps are definitely big enough to put over your shoulder; we also like that it has feet, so you can set it on a restaurant’s floor without too much fear. We wish it had more by way of internal compartments, but it’ll do — especially given that it’s only $109 at Ben Sherman Nylon Hold All Briefcase (See more Ben Sherman bags at Amazon.)
Ben Sherman’s briefcase
kate spade ‘union square – simone’ satchel Don’t be too alarmed by the neon orange — the bag also comes in a slew of other colors, including black. Again, we wish this came with more interior pockets, but we like the size, the lightweight nylon, as well as the leather accents. Available at for $325. kate spade ‘union square – simone’ satchel
We’ve heard great things about the Foley + Corinna tote — we particularly like that it can be used as a regular purse when you don’t need to carry papers with you, but it converts to a North/South tote if you need the space. Available at ShopBop for $444. Foley + Corinna Supple Mid City Tote
Foley + Corinna Supple Mid City Tote
Kooba Handbags Classic Natasha Bag in Black We’ve been fans of Kooba bags for a few years now — the leather is so supple and the bags are thoughtfully designed — to wit, interior pouches and pockets abound here. We particularly love that the Natasha bag expands via the twist-lock flaps on the side. Was $645, now $452 at Kooba Handbags Classic Natasha Bag in Black
We featured this one in blue a while back for one of our TPS Splurges, but we thought we’d mention it again in black. We like that this one is definitely contained — it’s just big enough for a notepad and your personal items, which is perfect. It’s available at Neiman Marcus for $995. Marc Jacobs Casey North-South Tote Marc Jacobs Casey North-South Tote
Nancy Gonzalez Croc Tote Hello, gorgeous. If you’re in the mood for spending your first paycheck (and then some!) on a bag, we present to you: the Nancy Gonzalez crocodile-skin bag, also available in black. Available at Neiman Marcus for $3,650. Nancy Gonzalez Croc Tote


  1. Something that I’ve loved to death and gotten a number of complements on is my Fossil executive center zip bag. I loved the first one so much I bought another color! Plus it has a lot of pockets and plenty of space to stuff notepads/books or a laptop in the center portion.

  2. As a summer, I liked to carry a very small purse or clutch (just big enough for wallet, phone, lipstick and keys) inside my larger bag, so if people wanted me to join them for lunch or a quick coffee run I didn’t have to carry either a monster bag or just my bare wallet. I don’t think you need to worry about carrying lots of files, but I like to have a bag big enough to carry my shoes, smaller purse, umbrella and lunch (for those rare days you eat at the office).

  3. I personally like Rebecca Minkoff bags, especially the market tote, the morning after, and the Nikki. They’re trendy enough for a younger associate to go out with but are high enough quality leather to appear professional. The Nikki is the biggest and the easiest to wear over the shoulder, but I think the market tote or morning after are slightly more polished and professional looking.

  4. Anonymous :

    But what about bags that can wear across your body (like a messenger bag). Or are those only for men?

  5. I can vouch for the Foley + Corinna bag. I usually walk to work, so I have lunch, heels, folders, gym clothes, water bottle, a small island nation (just kidding), etc. in my bag at any given time. This one is versatile, strong, and looks good!

  6. I would shy away from anything too obivously costly in today’s legal firm environment. i.e., not to the time to show up to the office with a new Mulberry Bayswater or Hermes Kelly. I agree with Emily — shove a clutch in the bag, so you can leave the big bag behind for fun events.

  7. Is it better to use a purse or a briefcase in the financial industry?

  8. Longchamp rules — don’t think too casual at all — and I’m a reasonably senior female lawyer at one of the stuffier NY law firms. I have the tote in black and in brown and they go everywhere with me — client meetings etc.

    I also got this bag recently —[]=RF-SHINYC205283&startColor[]=Black&groupName=totes&category=handbags — big enough for anything, very professional looking, and the first bag I’ve ever had that has gotten numerous compliments from (straight) male colleagues.

    I use a large tote like any of the above when I have a file or two, legal pad etc. to bring to meetings, and then it doubles as a bag for getting all my personal junk to and from the office. When it’s more stuff than that, I use a wheeled lit bag.

    In answer to anonymous, I wouldn’t use a messenger bag for taking with me to meetings, lunches etc., but for to and from the office, whatever makes you happy.

  9. What’s everyone’s opinion on colored bags? I mean a bag other than just black or brown. Personally, I like even my most professional accessories to have at least a little personality. And I think a slightly more fun bag is a good way to do it (since you’re not necessarily wearing it on your person at all times). I’m not talking like a neon yellow bag, but maybe something in a deep red or blue. Thoughts anyone?

    • Practitioner :

      I have a maroon bag, a gray bag, and a reddish-orange bag (burnt sienna?) that I rotate. They all contrast/match almost everything I wear. Go for it. A friend has a yellow one, and it looks great.

  10. Anonymous :

    SUCL 2L.

    I have a beautiful deep red tote that I carry at least 2-3 times a week. I get compliments on it everywhere I go. I think it looks very professional, but also stylish.

  11. Absolutely — colored totes are great. They’re the kind of thing you wear once you’ve GOT the job, though, not when you’re trying to get it — and this summer especially is going to be a long interview process for anyone working in BigLaw, with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. Our $.02? Stick with the neutral colors until you’ve got the job.

  12. Third-year associate lawyer here. I can vouch for the Kooba bag. I own it and I love it.

    For “color” I have a burgundy briefcase. I believe it’s the same one that the character Cuddy has on the TV show House, but in a different color (hers is black). I used it a lot more in my court-going days, and it served me well. Now that I have more of an in-office job I don’t use it as much, but I still love it.

    One tip: if you’re an attorney and you’re going to court a lot, aim for having a small purse with a shoulder strap. It will make it easier to carry your briefcase (and a rolling briefcase) if you’re personal handbag is small, simple, lightweight, and leaves your hands free. Also make sure it closes at the top, to avoid any embarrassing/time consuming spillage at the metal detectors outside the courthouse.

    • What is the brand of briefcase, if you don’t mind me asking? I’ve been looking for one that shape and size and just saw it on House the other day. You’d be a lifesaver if you could tell me what it was!

  13. Definitely agree to have a small bag to hold your wallet, tissues, lip gloss so that you don’t have to lug anything large to lunch. But I disagree that you can’t have color when you’re a summer. Maybe it’s a West Coast thing, but I got a TON of compliments on my big red (Hermes knockoff) bag that I carried when I was a summer–including from a female senior partner. I think this year’s summers especially need to try to stand out somehow, and demonstrating that you, or at least your accessories, have personality is a good thing. (But maybe not the bright colors if you’re being taken to court or to a client meeting.)

    And re: messenger bags–I agree with the above advice; completely fine for getting you to/from work, but I wouldn’t wear it at the office any longer than from my office to the elevator.

  14. Also disagree about color. I am on the west coast and think that a bold color bag that is stylish but not over the top modern is a great idea for a summer associate.

    However, color is not always a good idea. Last summer a woman SA wore color mascara, you know the kind that I wore in junior high in the ’80s. It was childish and distracting and I would be embarassed for her in a client meeting. It wasn’t enough to not get her the job offer but I have a feeling that it should have been.

    • “It wasn’t enough to not get her the job offer but I have a feeling that it should have been.”

      Ha! What an excellent way to put it. :)

  15. i love my foley and corinna city tote- i just got one as a 3l, but i know it would have been perfect last year when i summered at a ny firm.
    i love that its design is simple enough that you can go with a bolder color (personally, i have the bronze, which is a very slightly metallic pewter) and i love that it’s not branded (in these economic times you don’t want to show up as a walking logo, it seems tacky)
    but when i summered i honestly didn’t give my big much thought, often i did have bulky files with me, so even though i had a smaller handbag (sometimes a coach leather bag, sometimes a harvey’s seatbelt bag) i usually had a bold patterned lesportsac tote with me too

  16. Dirty LAWndry :

    I agree with Jay. You definitely want to stand out with color. It’s not like you’re carrying your handbag all day in the office. Live a little! I have some cute Spring-inspired options at

  17. I have heard that in some New York Law firms it is considered to be less professional if you are not carrying a name brand bag. Is this accurate, in your experiences? Also, are some brands less appropriate than others? I am having difficulty in weighing the importance of this in the current climate. Thank you for this post!

  18. CT in Boston :

    Does anyone have some more affordable options for summer associates? I perhaps look on the upper-end for a end-of-the-summer present to myself, but I’d like to purchase something now for work and other networking events. Is Coach too passe?

    Thanks!Great post!

  19. Anonymous :

    I too, was wondering about Coach — are the bags with the large “C” logo inappropriate for work?

  20. Anonymous :

    I looked for a long time before finding what I consider the “perfect” bag: go to and look for the ‘baby Jane’ style in any color. It is lightweight nylon with patent leather trim, very classy, and large enough to fit an 8 1/2×11 notebook and a pair of running snearkers (plus Blackberry, snacks, wallet, etc). It’s not cheap ($325) but well worth the money. I got it in black and am now considering buying the tan linen for summer. I have a Longchamps travel bag for trips that I love as well.

  21. I hate to say it, but I think Coach is passe. One of the partners at my firm wears a Coach bag that actually is quite cute. But I feel like it looks more immature than I know she is. I’m a third-year associate and just bought my first Fendi about six months ago. It’s the only ‘designer’ label I wear so I don’t think it’s over the top because it’s classic, goes with everything, and is a nice medium size. I love it. However, when going to court, I always carry my Franklin Covey croc bag. It’s black patent, but not obnoxious. It matches my planner, so I feel like I look put together. Franklin Covey has the best compartmentalizing I’ve found, which makes going to court easier because I feel so organized. Nothing is worse than fumbling around for business cards or exhibits!

  22. I just bought the Fossil Executive Center Zip tote recommended by Kay. It’s on sale at Macy’s for $118 and there are still great colors available.

    Thanks for the tip!

  23. I am by no means an authority, but I tend to think a nice bag that happens to be Coach is acceptable, while anything with the brand printed all over it is not. A few years ago when I worked in DC, the predecessor to the peyton leather large carryall in a light brown/ camel was my life. New version here:

    Alas, the bag has seen better days, and I think I am ready for an upgrade. I really want something classic, especially if I am going to shell out the big bucks. Maybe even something with a monogramming opportunity. Anyone have a suggestion for something closer to briefcase than tote?

  24. really like the simplicity of the ben sherman and the marc jacobs (but pricey!)
    j. crew has good bags at the moment – in particular the bisbee and parlour.

    we just did a blog on similar subject and put together some good looking options!

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