The Hunt: Interview Tote 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.

This week, we were inspired by a question from a reader:

Hi gals – thanks for the great blog, I’ve come to rely on it as I prepare for fall law firm interviews! Thanks for all the timely posts. I have a slight emergency – would it be possible for you to do a post on appropriate interview handbags? I’m looking for a structured bag in a lower price range (i.e., ideally less than $200) but still professional and nice enough to make a good impression. Also – I stupidly bought a dark gray pinstripe suit and a dark brown suit – no chance there’s some kind of bag that would look good with both, right? If not, I’m looking for both a black and a brown bag, so suggestions for either would be GREATLY APPRECIATED! I don’t know how you find all the great sales and styles that you do, but I’m always impressed! Thanks in advance -Amy

For interviews, we’ve always taken tote bags. You can get these in a range of prices — from affordable to break-the-bank — but they’re all kind of the same. Keep in mind that nylon ones will wear less well (but in the beginning it’s fine) whereas the leather ones will be heavier once fully loaded (less pliable, also).

Liz Claiborne - Montclair Tote (Brown) - Bags and Luggage
First: The gray and brown dilemma — we’d advise one of two things. First, wear a black bag with both — and don’t worry about it as long as you’re wearing black shoes as well. This is easier to swing with navy (yes, black does go with navy) than with brown, but it’s still possible. The other option would be to get an inexpensive bag in brown, on the theory that you’ll be using it less. (A third option would be to get a bag in a fun color — green would go great with both suits, as would red — but you may not want to take that route for interviews.) We did some quick searching and would suggest this bag (at right): At $74, isn’t as cheap as we’d like, but we like the way it looks: Liz Claiborne – Montclair Tote (Brown) – Bags and Luggage


Otherwise, though, we’re behind black bags. Most of the selection we’ve chosen is from Zappos, which has free shipping and free returns, but we’d also suggest checking out your local Filene’s or TJ Maxx. Another great source, if you’re near a Chelsea Premium Outlet store, is a Liz Claiborne outlet store — a ton of great basic bags for deep discounts. (If you’re lucky, you should be able to find one for around $40, maybe less.) For interviews, we’d suggest keeping current copies of your resume in a neat folder (doesn’t have to be leather, but doesn’t hurt) and keeping your makeup and other sundries in makeup bags. If you’re going to bring along brain candy-type reading materials (Shopaholic books, gossip magazines) we suggest either putting them in another folder, or turning their spines towards the floor of the bag. See our selection of totes, after the jump…

Even though this is the cheapest option, this is one of our favorites, for some reason. Note that it’s only 9 3/4″ high, though, so any folders might peek out the top. Available at Zappos for $54. Franco Sarto – Electric Company Lights East/West Tote (Black) – Bags and Luggage
Franco Sarto - Electric Company Lights East/West Tote (Black) - Bags and Luggage
Lodis Accessories - Milano Tote With Laptop Pocket (Black) - Bags and Luggage
This bag has a pocket for your laptop, should you choose to bring one for your down time… Available in four colors at Zappos for $279. Lodis Accessories – Milano Tote With Laptop Pocket (Black) – Bags and Luggage
This one is technically only a laptop sleeve, but we’d wear it as a tote bag. (But note: it’s only 2.5″ wide.) Also note: it’s made of nylon (with leather trim). Available at Zappos for $329.
Kate Spade – Clinton Street Calista (Black) – Bags and Luggage

Kate Spade - Clinton Street Calista (Black) - Bags and Luggage
Cole Haan - Village Medium Work Tote (Black) - Bags and Luggage
The Village line at Cole Haan has amazingly soft leather, but note that the pebbled appearance of it might make it on the more casual side for an interview. Available at Zappos for $399.
Cole Haan – Village Medium Work Tote (Black) – Bags and Luggage

Tod’s is one of the great basics — this bag will last you for years and still be in style. Available at eLUXURY on sale for $809 around $485 (this is an amazing price for this bag!) Tod’s Restyled D-Bag Shopping Media


  1. I have a leather handbag from Fossil that is black with brown trim that, to me, seems to go well with both my black and brown suits — but I have admittedly pretty poor fashion sense. Thoughts on this option?

  2. Anonymous :

    The handbags and shoes at eluxury don’t get the 40% additional discount — it just applies to the clothes.

  3. Hmmn… It depends on how “dressed up” the bag is. If it’s at all pebbled/rough leather or a soft, non-structured bag, you’ll run the risk of looking too casual. (In general we think of those brown/black combo bags as being intended more for wearing with jeans, but maybe that’s us…) But if it looks good then that seems a totally workable answer to the black/brown/gray conundrum!

  4. Shoes and handbags on sale at eluxury aren’t eligible for the additional 40% discount — it only applies to the clothes.

  5. Anon — Thanks for the head’s up — I’ll go change the text. Boo, that would’ve been a great deal.

  6. For the brown/grey dilemma, how about a dark maroon/oxblood bag?

  7. I think Kate may be the winner here — I was going to say that no, I think bright red looks better than brown, but I know people have, er, questioned that judgment before. I know cordovan is supposed to go well with navy, but I wasn’t sure if it’s supposed to go with brown. So I looked up cordovan. From Wikipedia:

    “Cordovan is the most versatile color. Black shoes should not be worn with brown suits or trousers, nor brown shoes with gray or blue. Cordovan goes with all colors.” – cited to _To Manner Born, To Manners Bred_ (c) Hampden-Sydney College, 2004

    Cordovan, for those of you who don’t know, is that rich shade of burgundy — for the women’s spectrum there are tons of shades this could be, but you’ll probably know exactly what shade we’re talking about if we say this: it’s the dark rich burgundy you sometimes see in men’s shoes.

work fashion blog press mentions