The Hunt: Black Tote Bags

black tote bag2017 Update: We still like these black tote bags, but you may prefer to check out our most recent roundup of the best tote bags for work

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

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  1. anonx1000 :

    I have the Tumi tote (but in brown). Really durable and I love the fact that the back zips open so that you can slide the bag down the handles of your suitcase or another rolling bag and it doesn’t fall off. I can easily carry my laptop and legal pads and files, though it gets crowded fast with the computer in there.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      I am in love with the Tumi one. Glad to hear that you like it. I’m going to have to save for it.

      I love strong lines on a bag, which is why the Tumi is so attractive to me.

      • anonx1000 :

        it’s also stain resistant – not a problem in black, but once I had a Diet Coke spilled on me on the train – the liquid just beaded up and came right off. Score for nylon.

  2. I use the Marc by Marc Jacobs “Classic Q” leather tote in black for work and I love it! It’s stylish but still simple and professional, and it easily fits my laptop and notebook, along with the usual everyday essentials. It’s also great as a carry-on when I travel. Plus, I got 20% off of it, which makes me love it even more.

    • Drool! I love this one. Wish I had $500 to spend right now.

      • Thanks! It was definitely a splurge for me (bought it after I got a raise as a “treat”) but with the way I use it (basically nonstop), I think it was well worth it.

      • I’m also drooling – this is a great bag!

  3. somewhere(less)cold :

    I have a Franco Sarto tote that is wearing out. I am trying to decide whether I should get a new one or branch out and try something else.

    The one I have is: in black (and the inside is a bright print, which I like, although the light never worked).

    I like a nylon bag, and, although I like the Kate Spade one Kat posted, it just seems like a lot for a nylon bag. I also like that my current bag has a slit pocket on the outside where I can put my ID badge.

    Any opinions on the Franco Sarto one? Suggestions for other bags to look at?

    • Diana Barry :

      The Franco Sarto one is NMS at all – it looks like something you would keep in your office to stash the overflow work you needed to bring home, but not something you should carry on the commute every day.

      I looooooooove that Fendi one above – will look for something similar in my next tote. (I don’t carry a computer, but need something really wide for my redwelds.)

    • somewhere(less)cold :

      I am thinking about going for the Lo & Sons T.T. after being reminded about it by Kathy’s post below about the O.G.

    • anon-oh-no :

      I guess it depends on what you are using in for. To me, although very cute, the franco sarto looks like a weekend bag for taking to the farmers market or beach. I think I’d try for something more structured if you are using it for work.

      • somewhere(less)cold :

        The more I look at the other colors, the more I see the beach/market bag. I’m also moving to a more formal area and job, so probably time to move up in the bag world.

  4. I have the O.G. bag from Lo and Sons, which is fantastic. Classic shape, and its large and roomy, yet its made of nylon so its not too heavy. And the shoe pocket on the side is genius – perfect for commuting. They had a 40% discount code not too long ago.

    • Barrister in the Bayou :

      I shouldn’t have clicked on the link… I love both of them! How long are the handles on the O.G.?

    • Maddie Ross :

      Plug for Lo and Sons — the bag is gorgeous! But before ordering, definitely measure your laptop. Neither my work laptop or personal laptop fit into the laptop sleeve in the OG. One is a Lenovo (not sure what kind), the other a Dell Inspiron with a 12″ screen. So disappointing! That said, Lo and Sons was fabulous to work with and so understanding about my returning the bag. They processed my refund quickly and told me they would be bringing out a larger sleeve option in the future.

    • Do you have a link to the discount code for Lo and Sons – love the bag, would love it more with a discount.

  5. I like the Milano line from Jack Georges. The leather is super nice and they are the kind of bags that stand up on the floor – I can’t stand slouchy totes.

    Of the styles you show, I own the kate spade Maryanne in a dark purple croc-embossed leather. I think of it as a hanbag rather than a tote. I’m not sure it’s really big enough for work papers, or at least not many, and I wouldn’t carry my laptop in it.

    • Agree on the Maryanne. It tapers towards the top, so it’s more of a 10″ opening rather than 15″ (as the website states the dimensions). Unfortunately that means it’s ruled out for my 13″ work laptop needs!

      Does anyone have other recommendations at the higher end – close to the Fendi’s on sale price? I mentioned this last week but only got a few responses – looking for something in the $1000-1500 range that is classic, black, feminine but sturdy enough for the daily schlep. Suggestions? Thanks ladies!

      • The LV black epi tote is beautiful, IMO. Around $1500.

        • ooh, I just looked it up on the LV website – the larger Madeleine is lovely. And sold out online – I wonder if that means it’s out of stock in stores too? Or do dept. stores also carry the same bags that are in LV boutiques themselves?

          • My post is in moderation – let’s see if this one works.

            I recommend you check out bagsnob for your expensive tote.

      • If I were going to spend that much on a handbag, I’d get the YSL Muse

        But I don’t really covet totes, so I don’t have a recommendation at that level. Have you checked out the bagsnob blog?

    • Wow — thanks for reminding me about Jack Georges. My first (and only so far) briefcase is one of theirs — a gift from my parents for law school graduation. I love all of their current totes and business bags!

  6. I’m sorry, but we are adult professionals. Ditch the nylon already. Fabric looks like amateur hour. Even (and particularly) the pliages.

    • OK, that’s one opinion. Another is that a proper looking nylon bag is perfectly good way to lug home 9 lbs of files, not to mention more animal-friendly if you care about that sort of thing.

      • SF Bay Associate :

        I agree. The last thing I want when dragging home two stuffed redwelds is another several pounds of leather. Is my nylon tote my everyday work briefcase? Absolutely not, but I do use it several times a week to lug work home. Bonus points for rolling up small and fitting into the nice work briefcase.

    • Yeah, you can pry my nylon chocolate brown Tumi Quintessential tote from my cold, dead hands. I use it every day to tote my laptop back and forth and receive a ton of compliments. And based on the beating it takes daily, it looks *much* better than a leather bag would. (And it has a turqouise lining, wheee!)

    • I’m trying to find a pilage replacement as I agree that it is juvenile and doesn’t help my cause (I already look young). I like the idea of the totes suggested but I’m looking for a few more requirements:

      * Must be brown — preferably cognac
      * Must have two top handles that fit over the shoulder (tote style)
      * Must also have a crossbody strap for when I am running through the airport (messenger style)
      * Should be large enough to hold files, ipad, and personal items
      * But should be small enough to carry to more casual post-meeting dinners without looking like I brought my suitcase to the restaurant
      * Should also have some structure so it doesn’t fall over when I need to sit it down

      Any ideas?

      • How about the Cole Haan Vintage Valise Kendra E/W Tote?
        Or the Michael Kors Hamilton Tote?
        Both appear to be available at different retailers, some on sale, in a cognac-ish color. I would post links but a) moderation, and b) my internet keeps freaking out, so I’m just going to try to post this before I have to start over again!

      • Something like this?

        I got a fossil tote for Christmas last year, in a cognac color (the one I have doesn’t appear to be available anymore, and didn’t have a cross body strap). I have been really happy with the quality and usefulness. It was one of the cheaper options I was looking at, but it is beautiful leather and holds up really well. I use it about every other day for heavy files.

        • Lovely….I’m just itching to pull the trigger on it but I have so many work bags/totes already! Love Fossil.

      • anon-oh-no :

        Over the years, my standard tote bag has always been some itteration of a coach leather bag (current one is black, but have used a deep red in the past, as well as a herringbone in the winter) The price is usually in the 2-500 range (try outlets) and they hold up great.

        I also use a big LV bag and a few Kate Spades. I switch up my work bag every 2-3 months, usually with the season, or just when Im feeling it. This makes the bags last longer and i dont get bored with the same thing all the time.

        • anon-oh-no :

          The coach chelsea leather shopper — it comes in a variety of work appropriate colors (and some more fun) and is less than 400 bucks

      • These suggestions are spot on! I especially like the Michael Kors Hamilton Tote. Although, I fear the hardware might add too much weight to the bag.

      • I just went through this exact same search. I fell in love with a few Cole Haan and Michael Kors bags (I just searched them on Zappos) but I ended up buying this:
        It’s cheaper and SO beautiful. Good luck!

    • Anonymous :

      MZ Wallace nylon rocks, imo.

    • I feel kind of guilty for hating the pliages so much but I see at least three of them on the bus every day. They’re starting to feel very Stepford Corporette to me.

      • (Corporette in the broader sense, not specifically the audience of this website.)

      • They are pretty ubiquitous. BUT, they really do have their merits – IMO they’re great for traveling – not necessarily for work, but weekend getaways etc – lightweight, stuffable, sturdy, pack away nicely and all that. And some of the more interesting colors are quite cute.

        But I suppose this is a thread about professional bags …

        • Anonymous :

          Duchess Catherine used them for her Canadian trip– you can see them on the tarmac with her luggage.

      • Oh my gosh, I hate the pliages so, so, so much. They are so ubiquitous and so awful.

      • I agree that the pliages are quite ubiquitous, BUT . . . for someone who works full-time and goes to school at night, they’ve been pretty key in terms of hauling work stuff, regular purse contents, laptop, planner, textbooks, etc. The fact that they’re so lightweight, while carrying so much other stuff, is definitely a plus in my book!

    • The only time I care if my tote bag is leather (or nice looking faux-leather) is if i’m interviewing or going to court. If i’m just hauling files to and from home, then nylon works perfectly fine for me. Leather’s heavy and harder to clean. Of course, I also spent some time working in DC, where it seemed to me that backpacks were perfectly acceptable for hauling stuff around on your commute.

      • Backpacks are not acceptable in D.C. as profesional wear.

        • Anonymous :

          So, I’m confused. Are you saying that, if I live in DC, and I’m using a backpack to get from home to office and back (not bringing it to court, meetings, etc), then that is not professional?

          Who cares, really?

          • Pretty much. If you work in a casual environment or are lugging stuff around on the weekend, use a backpack. If you’re wearing a suit to work, use a tote.

          • Anonymous :

            Interesting. I commute by car and never need to carry that much with me, so it is a moot point personally, but I can’t imagine thinking less of a person because they decided a Swiss Gear backpack works better for them than a purse or a briefcase.

          • It has nothing to do with thinking less of a person. We wear suits and nice shoes because that’s what is expected of our workplaces. IMO that expectation applies to bags and outerwear as well. It’s the same reason why I would not wear a fleece over my suit.

          • DC Kolchitongi :

            I work for a multinational consulting firm with a pretty conservative work environment (at least in the DC office; we have heard that other locations are much more casual). Plenty of us use some variation on a backpack to lug our laptops/gym clothes/lunches/case binders to and from work. If you commute to work via mass transit, and you’re carrying more stuff than can comfortably be stuffed in a briefcase, then a backpack is pretty much what you have to use.

          • Anonymous :

            But how far do you want to take that? If I’m using a bag to commute – not bring into a meeting – but just to commute? It still has to “‘match” my suit and shoes?

            Does that mean that I can’t get away with driving a paid-for older car because I should be upgrading to a new luxury vehicle to match my suit and shoes?

          • Of course I would not expect you to get a new car. But It’s not that hard to have a work appropriate bag. It’s like wearing big clunky white sneakers and scrunchy tube socks with your suit. You can do that but you can also wear commuting shoes (even sneakers) that work better. After all, this blog is about style.

        • I saw hill staffers with them all the time. It’s not like they’re carrying them around for meetings, but for the commute, when you’ve got a lot of stuff to haul home, or you’re carrying a stack of papers you need to read overnight plus probably a laptop and maybe your gym clothes, then yea, it’s usually a backpack.

          It was mainly guys I saw with them, not girls.

          • Anonymous :

            I’m as Hill as you can be — the big white building with the lady on top– and do not see backpacks. They’re not illegal. But I do not see them on man, woman, beast or fowl. I don’t think you’d be judged for wearing one because I don’t think you’d wear one.

    • This…is awfully catty!

    • S in Chicago :

      I respectfully disagree. I think it’s just a matter of personal taste.

      By the way, I own the Longchamp that is featured in today’s post but in a non-shiny coated leather. Love it! I’ve had it about two years now (?) and it has been with me just about everywhere (work and vacations) at every time (crazy snow and crazy rain) without any stains or scratches or other signs of wear. It was a splurge at the time, but well worth it considering how much use I have had out of it.

      • I also love the Longchamp. Mine is the same finish as S describes, and it has held up beautifully in daily wear for well over a year, with zero care.

  7. Just wanted to share with the ‘Rettes… ordered these as wedding dress options:

    Totally different looks, I know. Can’t wait to get them and see if they work!

    • Anonymous :

      Congrats and enjoy!

    • I love the first one, so beautiful and with a twist. Congratulations and have a wonderful wedding!

    • S in Chicago :

      You have AMAZING taste. I absolutely adore that first one. Makes me wish I were getting married

      Not that you asked for advice, but just thought I’d share something that totally helped when I was picking out a dress. My friend took pictures of me in a bunch of different ones (those I liked as well as some I didn’t). Looking at it all in the privacy of my house afterward helped me really get a sense of what looked best and narrow things down–it’s so hard to think when you’ve got so many folks focused on you when you’re there in person at a shop. Anyway, just thought I’d pass along in case it’s helpful to you as well.

      Congratulations, and I hope you have a fantastic wedding!

  8. These are great — maybe it’s time for me to go with a tote. I just have such a hard time carrying them when they get heavy (and that’s almost every day) — and I also lug my lunch to work, which doesn’t usually fit in anything but a (gasp) backpack (the horror!).

  9. Black is so New York!

    I’m looking for a raw leather tan bag I can use everyday. Love that these can all be carried over the shoulder.

  10. Was lucky enough to purchase a plain leather Roseau tote when the Euro cost $.80. At that exchange rate, purchased in the flagship store with VAT rebate it came in around $175. I may have fainted when I saw it in Nordstroms for $325-50 about 6 months later. They are gorgeous bags – quality wise they remind me of old school Coach (actually slightly better than the Coach briefcase I got as graduation gift in the late 90s). If you want one black tote or handbag for the next decade, I feel you can’t go wrong with Longchamp.

  11. I’d like to preface this by saying this is a total splurge and to some a total waste of money but I have a Chanel black leather tote that works well for me. It has multiple compartments (one is even removable) and is large enough to fit legal size documents. I can fit multiple files (a redwell may be pushing it)’as well as my wallet, iPad, phone and misc. items. I’ve had it for years, use it constantly, and it has held up beautifully.

  12. Wait, what? My 100 dollar black nylon Liz Claiborne tote/briefcase that I have been carrying since 2003 is not adult or professional? WHAAAAAAT? Whatever. I am still frustrated because none of the bags on here are really big enough to carry a brown expandable file folder and my purse stuff. Still on the hunt for something new. Probably nylon because I can’t afford leather so I will still be a little girl!

    • Oh, This! This wrapped in a croissant and dipped in melted butter. This this this this this.

  13. sittininla :

    I have been looking at this one for a while, it has great reviews and a nice price.

    • That’s really pretty and more in my price range! I’ve never had bad luck with LL Bean.

      • I saw that one at a store after I had been eyeing it online and I recall it being a lot bigger than I had pictured it.

    • I bought this a couple months ago (based on the recommendations of some other Corporettes) and I love it. Somebody mentioned the fact that the lining has “wildlife” (ducks, deer, fish, etc.) on it, which, yeah, it does and I’d definitely prefer a more simple lining, but hey, it’s LL Bean. Bottom line, this is a great bag with plenty of room to fit a laptop and a ton of files, and definitely a great buy for the price. I’d buy it again.

      • I’ve had one of these for years – maybe 5? As PP said, the lining has wildlife….. That having been said, I think that it’s a great value, if you don’t mind the lining. It is large, so I mostly use it when I travel.

  14. Great post-these are some really lovely options! I’ve been on the lookout for a black tote and recently decided to try this out:

    Haven’t received it yet so can’t comment on quality, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed :).

  15. i have the kate spade bag and i love it! i get a lot of compliments on it, but the chains add some weight to the bag so my shoulder ends up hurting after a while.

  16. viclawstudent :

    I’ve been looking for a black tote for a while that meets two criteria: a) interview-friendly (OCIs coming up) and b) vegan. It has not been the simplest thing to find nice faux-leather (as opposed to the cheapy fake stuff) totes in the right size and style, but today I found a Matt & Nat one on sale.

    My partner saw it and says he thinks the studs (the gold detailing in the picture – they’re not quite what I would call studs, but that’s as close as I’m going to get description-wise) make it unsuitable for interviews. I said I’d run it by the Corporettess. What do you think?

  17. Just got this bag last week. I had a 40% off code absolutley worth it.

  18. spiffyflotusfan :

    I’ve been oogling over this Tumi Moore Brief. Black leather is lovely, and the brown suede is beautiful as well.

  19. anonymous :

    What do you think about the tory burch robinson tote? it’s nice and roomy. made with saffino leather which i am not sure i like the look of, but would be durable.

    • I have this bag in tan and was actually just wondering if I could return it to bloomingdales despite having used it almost exclusively since April. It’s a beautiful bag, well priced and has lots of nice compartments but the handles are falling apart. The leather is literally peeling off in some parts. Its also quite heavy. I don’t reccommend it.

  20. Maggie Dixon :

    This Jack Georges bag is the one-and-only handbag I use for business trips:
    It looks great, is light to carry, can be worn on shoulder, arm, or even draped over a pull-handle on a rolling suitcase. Lots of compartments make it easy to organize the interior so you can get your hands on what you need in a snap.

    (This sounds like a commercial, but I’m not getting paid — I just love this bag!)

    • Maggie Dixon :

      To add: I have it in black (seriously, is there anything else for a professional travel handbag?), and I’ve been carrying it for years and it’s still looks great. I travel a lot (but I’m pretty careful about not abusing my bags).

      • I have that one in smooth black. Love it. I love that it doesn’t look like a laptop case. I take it on short business trips.

        I disagree that bags have to be black, though. I actually have a Jack Georges in orange that gets a ridiculous number of compliments. I’m on the West Coast – maybe we’re more colorful characters out here (says the San Franciscan wearing all black today)

  21. I like the vintage tote bags. I love Marino Orlandi bags and I have their black tote/overnight probably sold in the 80’s still looks like new, only better and oh so rich with that leather and brass. Love! I agree a black tote is classic and totally functional!

  22. グローブ KOMINE コミネ :

    There’s certainly a great deal to know about this issue.
    I really like all of the points you’ve made.

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