The Hunt: The Lightweight, Professional Tote

lightweight professional tote bag2018 Update: Looking for a lightweight, professional tote? You may want to check out our most recent roundup of the best work bags.

I have a beloved nylon tote that was my go-to for interviews for a long time. It’s super lightweight, nondescript, and has a simple pocket inside that’s perfect for carrying a few pens and pencils. It is, alas, so “loved” that it’s no longer really a professional thing to take around — the “leather” handles are peeling, there are threads poking out everywhere, and there’s even some sort of big snag on the side.

In case other ladies are looking for a similar tote (either to replace a much-loved version or to buy one for interview season), I thought I’d share my hunt for a new, perfect nylon tote. My old tote dimensions, which I thought were perfect: 15″ wide, by 11.5″ high, by 3″ deep, with an 11″ shoulder drop.

Merona® Croco Work Tote - BlackThis one from Merona has a faux leather look to it, which isn’t usually my thing — but for $29.99 it’s hard to go wrong with it. I like that it includes a lot of interior organization — padded laptop pocket, cell phone pocket, and key ring holder — and I also like that it zips closed. The dimensions are pretty close to my old beloved favorite — 16″ wide, 12″ high, 4.75″ deep. It’s $29.99 at Target. Merona Croco Work Tote – Black
Banana Republic Nylon Buckle ToteThis bag looks a bit bigger than what I normally think of as an interview tote, but it still looks professional, and I like the fact that there’s nothing “faux” about it. The reasonable price — $49.50 — doesn’t hurt either. It’s available in black, khaki and teal at Banana Banana Republic Nylon Buckle Tote
Storksak Gigi Large Diaper BagIs it bad that I don’t care that this one says it’s a diaper bag? It still looks like a great bag to me (and, though I have no experience with them, seems somewhat small for a diaper bag at 11″x14″x6″). Again, not a huge fan of the white-on-black stitching, but so it goes. It’s $198 at Endless Amazon. Storksak Gigi Large Diaper Bag
Latico Candice Slim PorterNow the bags start to get expensive. I like the look of this one a lot, and particularly like the fun interior print. At 12.5″x17″x4″, it’s a bit bigger than my old one, but that can be okay. It’s available at Endless Amazon in black, forest, metallic brown, metallic copper, metallic olive, and “steel” for $219. Latico Candice Slim Porter
Rafe New York - Zue Large Nylon Tote (Black) - Bags and LuggageLOVE this bag. I like the patent trim, the zip pockets on the front, and the “multifunctional” slip pockets on the inside. It’s $219 at Zappos (available in black and red with black trim). (It’s also pictured at the top of the post). Rafe New York – Zue Large Nylon Tote (Black) – Bags and Luggage

Readers, what do you look for in a lightweight, professional tote? Any great finds of late?


  1. SummerintheCity :

    Hey ladies, love that there is a post about bags as I have a bag care question for you all. I have a few leather bags that I want to take care of. One is a Coach plain light camel leather bag. I have a few leather cheaper bags that are black and a beautiful green leather Marc Jacobs. I want to start taking better care of them as some of them are starting to look dry (especially the MJ which is my favorite!)

    Questions: How should I condition them? I don’t want to use anything that could damage the Coach and MJ bags as they were expensive. Can I use the same conditioner for all of the bags or do I need different products for the different colors?
    Most importantly (to me) does anyone have experience with colored MJ leather bags? I LOVE this bag and don’t want anything bad to happen to it!

    • The ladies over at the Purse Forum swear by the Apple Care and Lovin’ My Bags product lines, both of which you can probably find online. Coach makes a leather cleaner/conditioner that I’ve always used on my bags.

    • Another Sarah :

      If it’s a “real” coach (not one bought at the outlets), you can probably send it in to get conditioned. I don’t think it costs anything, or at least they’ve never charged my mom for it.

    • If they need to be deep cleaned, check out your local dry cleaner. I have several expensive leather bags that I send to the dry cleaner once a year for a good deep clean. You can pick up the leather conditioner from any of the Coach store (regular or outlets). I use it on all my bags regardless of the brand.

    • Coach sells cleaner and conditioner. The cleaner always seemed superfluous to me, but the conditioner is excellent. I use it on all my leather goods, and my car seats. I used to have a fifteen year old bmw, the seats of which were a bit iffy when acquired, but after putting a couple of bottles of the Coach conditioner into them, and maintaining them with it regularly, the seats were in such good condition that when it visited “the shop”, men would gather round to check out the seats! Plus, unlike many leather conditioners, it doesn’t stink to high heaven.

    • If it is Coach, they sell a leather cleaner and conditioner that works well on their products. It’s not too expensive. I’d take your bag in to a Coach store to be certain that the product is appropriate for your particular bag.

      You can also get Coach bags repaired for $20. It takes about six weeks. They can’t repair scratched or damaged leather, but they will condition it for you. This guarantee is why I will always go back to Coach. My leather tote/briefcase is 12 years old now and is holding up beautifully. I’ve had the strap repaired once about three years ago.

      For the MJ bag, I’d check on the website to see if there is a repair service. Otherwise, I would ask around for recommendations for an experienced and skilled place to clean it locally. You might ask the store where you bought it.

      • My Coach bag has a strap that is becoming discolored from frequent use (daily for 4 years). Is my beloved purse just in need of conditioning? How can you tell if it needs to be repaired?

        • Forestgirl :

          I have the same problem, and conditioning the bag didn’t solve it. I haven’t tried anything else yet.

    • Anonymous :

      I would buy Coach’s line of products for the Coach bag at least. They make a nice conditioner and cleaner set (two products). Cole Haan makes a cleaner/conditioner (one dual-purpose product) that is very nice as well.

  2. I have the Merona one. It’s obviously not as nice as an expensive leather bag, but for what it is I love it. Durable, lots of room, and totally unobtrusive/showy.

    • I have the Merona one too. Still looks brand new after a year of classes and toting to work at least 3-5 days a week. And I often get compliments from the female lawyers in my office – little do they know I only spent $30 on it!! My only problem is that it is a little hard to zip all the way if I have my laptop and a really thick textbook (think Constitutional Law sized book).

    • Anonymous :

      My coworker and I both have the Merona bag. I’ve used mine for a year and it is in great shape. After searching for a replacement “nicer” bag for a new job for a long time, I’ve decided I already have the bag I’m looking for — why spend the extra $$?!!

  3. jumpingjack :

    I’ve had really good luck with (and gotten many compliments on) Franklin Covey bags. Full priced they’re around $150, but there are frequent coupons and sales. I don’t think that I’ve spent more than $80 on one.

    • Levenger bags are also well-made and easy to use.

    • Nice bags, but I really dislike Covey’s politics. I won’t buy anything from his shops. He’s not known for supporting women’s rights.

      • Jade Moon :

        Agree completely, JustMe. I once read a Covey time-management book (well, skimmed it, it was too poorly written to actually read), and it was really anti-female. According to him, the man is the head of the house, the woman is to obey, etc. All this in a time-management book? I believe he is a religious fundamentalist, my memory is Mormon. (No disrespect to Mormonism at all intended here.) In keeping with his principles, his Covey stores are closed on Sundays. His store here in Hawaii closed for lack of business.

        I agree his bags are sufficient, but there are many better, and why support a knucklehead like him?

  4. Anonymous :

    Ooh, so glad for this post b/c I am in the market for a tote bag. I need one for carrying my lunch/shoes/random files/etc to work in, not for interviews/nice occasions. I’d like it to have a zipper top, be waterproof and not have rolled handles. Any thoughts on Le Sportsac or Kipling brands?

    • Forestgirl :

      I love LeSportsac. The “Small Travel Tote” may fit your needs. My LS bags have held up extremely well over the years. The problem may be finding a color/pattern that you like–LS patterns can vary pretty wildly in taste level, IMO. :-)

    • Kipling makes very nice bags, in my experience. I actually just saw some of their (new?) leather bags & was stunned — very cute totes/hoboes, great looking, nice hardware, very light, & the leather seems great quality. Actually still regretting that I didn’t get one.

  5. Acme Made has some great bags too —,2.htm

  6. My bag of choice is the Fossil Executive Tote.
    I. Have. Three! Love it!! Check the outlets too… I found one there for around $70.

    • I think I admitted somewhere else that I’m obsessed with Fossil – their Vintage Reissued collection is GORGEOUS.

      • Forestgirl :

        I agree! I was just drooling over it online. I may have to stop by a store on my way home tonight to oogle it in person….

  7. I have a faux croc bag from Target similar to the one above & really like it. Does the job, looks professional, etc.

    Wondered what ladies who have these nice black bags to carry all the work papers/lunch/waterbottles/etc. do re: purses? I’ve heard of getting a smaller purse which can be put inside tote when needed and secondary stuff (spare ’emergency’ supplies, etc.) kept in tote. Big purse seemed necessary when I was part-timer/stay-at-home mom, but now that I’ll be working full-time, the idea of hauling around *two* big, black bags is getting less appealing….!

    • Forestgirl :

      I use my large leather tote as my purse.

      • Thanks, Forestgirl! Last night I just picked up a fairly slim, black purse that will hold all my stuff and not be too bulky w/the tote. Corporette is such a great place to get workplace style ideas/feedback!

    • Jade Moon :

      I keep a small good-looking bag in my car and also one in my office. I usually carry a large tote to/from work, but when I need to see my doctor, go to an important meeting, or go anywhere I need to look pulled-together, I take the important stuff from my tote (wallet, building pass, keys, lipstick, brush, pens,kindle etc.) and place it in the smaller bag and I’m good to go.

  8. Here are some from etsy[0]=tags&includes[1]=title[0]=tags&includes[1]=title[0]=tags&includes[1]=title

    • Makeup Junkie :

      Thank you for the links! I love Etsy, the thought of buying something unique really appeals to me.

  9. Speaking of bags, I am actively trying not to buy this bag, which I looooove:

    Should I just pull the trigger? Right now I have a black lamb leather bag that functions well for toting things back and forth to work, but this is just lovely.

    One of the comments says they can’t verify that this is a real Furla bag. Thoughts? I am unfamiliar with Furla bags, but hear they are good quality (assuming this is authentic).


    • It’s a gorgeous bag. I personally would prefer if it had a zipped top, but that’s a personal preference. I have ordered a lot of stuff on ideeli, and I never encountered any problems with the merchandise. I can’t imagine they’re selling Furla knockoffs.

      There is also an authenticity guarantee. See here:

    • That’s a gorgeous bag.

  10. Going back to school part-time for my higher ed doctorate this fall, and have been looking for a backpack alternative for my in-class days that I can tote to the office, slip my netbook into at the end of the day, and go straight to class. Several of these look quite promising. Thanks!

  11. I own both the Merona bag and the Banana Republic bag you have featured here. I love both, but I was especially surprised at how nice the Banana Republic one is. It is much lighter weight than the Merona tote. I bought it to replace a beloved J. Crew nylon tote that died this year, but figured it would be one of these huge amorphous bags that would be hard to carry and find things in. Fortunately, I found that it stays pretty neat and organized despite holding my netbook, magazine, papers, umbrella, water and other purse stuff.

  12. A few years ago, Ann Taylor had a nice looking nylon tote on sale for $10 that’s the same style as the diaper bag shown here. At the moment I just use it to go to the beach/pool, but when I went to a water park with a friend she thought I was crazy for taking such a “nice” tote with me.

  13. I swear by my Lodis Audrey Milano bag.

    There are two different sizes and the larger one will hold a legal redwell and a laptop — while still looking fashionable. I have it in a beautiful camel color — that works whether I am wearing black, brown or navy.

    • That’s a good point…my Target tote will not hold a redwell & I have to put them in sideways (if thin enough) or carry.

      • I have this Lodis bag. It fits all my longer files and I love the divided compartments, pen holders, etc. I’ve had it for several years and it shows no signs of wear.

  14. I love my Briggs & Riley slim computer tote. Unfortunately, it is discontinued. On the other hand, it can still be found at a great discount. It can fit a redweld and/or laptop but zips shut at the top so you can’t overstuff it (keeping it light). Has some nice interior organization. Is made of tough nylon and has held up great in my Chicago commutes on the El. Full warranty on B&R luggage; I also bought 2 carry-ons from them.

  15. Forestgirl :

    Can someone recommend a large bag that could be an alternative to a rolling litigation bag when you have to fly and still bring documents with you? I had a situation a few months ago where my boss wanted me to bring a ton of documents but also wanted me not to check my suitcase. I ended up having to check the suitcase, to my boss’s annoyance, because the only thing I had to bring the docs in was the rolling lit bag and I couldn’t bring both the small suitcase and the lit bag on the plane. Thoughts about a carry-on that would be large enough for the docs but still would fit under my seat?

    • I would ship the docs in that scenario.

      • Forestgirl :

        Unfortunately it was a trip that was sprung on me the day before, so I don’t know whether that would have been feasible (and honestly I was in a bit of a panic and didn’t even think of that option!). But a good option to keep in mind for next time.

    • Anonymous :

      I would have told my boss to check his bag and carry the docs himself if he was so annoyed.

      There are rolling backpacks that fit under the seat in front of you and would probably work for holding documents. Or you could try a Lands End tote, they are pretty sturdy and can hold a lot of weight, but it’d get heavy lugging that around.

      • Forestgirl :

        I don’t know if I could do a rolling backpack, I’d probably rather face lugging a heavy tote, especially because the suit + backback look is never super professional IMO. But I feel like it would probably be ok to carry a lot of docs in a tote because I could mostly roll it around on top of my suitcase. Hmm.

        I was thinking of a Lands End tote–do you have experience taking one of their leather totes on a plane? I’m worried they might not fit under the seat (seems like 20 inches might be too long).

        • Same anon from above. I have a size large tote and it fits under the seat. However, I usually have it filled with clothes, not documents. The medium would definitely fit. I actually ordered an extra large once, and it was huuuuuuge so I exchanged it for the large. Extra large would not fit.

          • The Lands End bags are very nice, but huge. If you filled one of them with documents, I do not think that you could carry it. The rolling part of the rolling luggage is what makes it so difficult to fit under the seat. I’ve had to fly with enormous volumes of documents numerous times, and there is no good way to do it.
            Shipping the documents ahead of time is the best option, but I am rarely prepared early enough to make that feasible.

            When absolutely necessary, I carry on the documents and my laptop and check the luggage.

            If on a small plane, you might get away with gate checking one of the bags; it is faster than having to wait at the luggage carousel.

    • My go-to lit bag substitute is by briggs & riley and might be this one (it looks like it but I can’t tell without more pictures).

      My bag has an inner removable case to separate files and a separate section with a removable laptop sleeve and a sholder strap that can clip onto the laptop sleeve or the whole bag itself. It fits in the overhead compartment on a plane. It was around $300 at a luggage store but so worth it.

      • Actually, I think this is my bag.

  16. I’ve owned the Merona bag for about a month now, abuse it daily on Amtrak, Metro subways, and escalators. It has held up well, no scratches or gouges, rips or tears, and I think it looks great.

  17. I have a similar Merona bag from a year or two ago, in maroon, and I absolutely love it. It has a laptop sleeve, but I use it mostly to carry files. It’s held up really well for the price.

    I also have another work tote that was marketed as as diaper bag, and I get tons of compliments on it. After you leave the store, no one will know. :)

    • I am so glad someone else doesn’t understand why ‘diaper’ bags have to strictly be used for diapers!
      I fell in love with the design of one (so many nifty pockets) but it was one of those paisley fabric quilted patterns that I never got behind.

  18. a good looking “python” Sondra Roberts tote is priced at $60 (free shipping) here:

  19. PatentPartner :

    I have this bag from that I rather like and that has been holding up well:|Level=2-3|pageid=6587 (The Majorca Briefbag). Enough space for the laptop and a file, and an organizer pocket.

    • Anonymous :

      I have this one and it’s held up flawlessly. (Which I’m a bit disappointed about, since I’ve decided a stiff tote style would be more convenient at this point).|Level=2-3-4|PageID=6587

  20. I love diaper bags as totes because they have a top zipper so the bag can be completely closed and are waterproof. I have been through many downpours and all the stuff inside the bag stayed perfectly dry. Diaper bags usually have a small pocket on the side (presumably for a baby bottle) that is perfect for sticking in a tote umbrella on a rainy day. You don’t have to open your bag in the rain to get at the unbrella.
    My favorite was from Coach because it didn’t look at all “baby bagish”, but the newer Coach ones seem to be overproduced (too many pockets, bright patent leather). My old, trusty Coach baby bag is getting old in the tooth, so the above posts will be great to peruse.

  21. My only word of advice is do NOT buy a bag from Target. Merona stuff is crap. I have to carry a lot of heavy casebooks to and from work/school, and the handle on my Merona “leather look” bag snapped right off. SO not worth the $30!!!!

    • The handle on my Merona bag fell apart too, but it took about 8 months so I thought it was worth the $30 as a hold over until I found a new tote.

  22. Anon in SoCal :

    I have that Merona bag in leather and a microfiber version. I love them both and use them far more often than more expensive alternatives I own. They have held up quite well — no problems with handles snapping off or frayed edges. I swear by them and I love the padded sleeve for the computer and the ha dy pockets, including one for my cellphone.

  23. I have the Banana Republic bag in teal since I was so tired of the black. It is a fun bag for work and holds a lot of stuff. The bag is deceiving and very deep. You may want to make sure you put the more important things inside a container/folder of some sort before putting it in the bag or you will need a little more time to locate certain items. Multiple PDAs, etc. do fit in the inside pocket.

  24. Personally, I love Longchamp and have been using it for years – it’s affordable, lightweight, chic , roomy, and most of all, easy to clean.

    • How do you clean it? Does stuff sort of wipe off, or do you have to sort of handwash it like a nice top?

      I’ve been thinking of getting a Longchamp bag but my concern has been that it’ll get dirty since it’s fabric.

      • It’s surprisingly easy to clean – just wet a cloth and rub it – once dried, it looks brand-new.

  25. Hi Kat,Try this nylon tote. I think it’s pretty choose to your old one.

  26. I’ve been carrying this tote/laptop bag from Franklin Covey for about a year now and I absolutely love it!

    You will not believe how much stuff you can fit it in (and still get it to close).