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In the age of fast fashion and a trend cycle that moves at warp speed, there’s something to be said about investing in timeless pieces that are built to last, such as a designer handbag. Not only does a quality bag give any wardrobe a luxe upgrade, but it’s also ultimately a more sustainable purchase since you can wear it for years to come.
While designer bags come in all sorts of styles—including buzzy trend-driven pieces like the micro bag—arguably the most versatile and functional option is the tote bag. Equal parts stylish and functional, today’s designer iterations are anything but basic, available in all sorts of colors, prints, and textures. Whether sleek and minimal or a statement piece, they’re just as exciting as any other of today’s It bags, yet serve a real purpose: carrying all of our stuff. Unlike the tinier handbags we’ve been seeing on and off the runway, these can house your laptop, beach towel, or groceries—no problem.
The best part of all? You don’t necessarily have to break the bank to carry one. There are plenty of more affordable options built with the same quality and craftsmanship as any other designer bag that won’t make as big of a dent in your bank account—which is, indeed, a plus.
Meet the Expert
Heather Newberger is a fashion stylist, fashion correspondent for NBCLX, and the author of How to Date Your Wardrobe: And Other Ways to Revive, Revitalize, and Reinvigorate Your Style. Her work (and her expert fashion advice) can be found across various campaigns, publications, and news outlets.
Ahead, check out today’s best designer tote bags for every situation and occasion.
Best Overall: Coach Willow Leather Tote
We’re giving top honors to this classic tote from Coach. It’s simple, yes, but it truly checks all the boxes: It’s relatively affordable given the quality, it’s spacious without being bulky, it features dual inner compartments that can fit a laptop as well as a zippered divider pocket, and its simple design is great for everyday use. Plus, it’s not overly flashy and goes with pretty much everything. In short, it’s the perfect bag for carrying all of your essentials, no matter the occasion.
Material: Leather | Size: 14 x 12 x 6.5 inches | Strap drop: 12 inches
Best for Work: Staud Shoko Tote Bag
A great work tote is both stylish and functional—like this sharp option from Staud. It’s minimalist in design, but the color-blocked exterior (available in either all-leather or a leather and suede combo, depending on the colorway) is still eye-catching. Plus, its spacious interior boasts two interior slip pockets—one that’ll fit your laptop with ease.
Material: Leather | Size: 15.7 x 10.4 x 5.5 inches | Strap drop: 9.5 inches
Best for Travel: Marc Jacobs The Large Tote Bag
When it comes to travel, this tote from Marc Jacobs is a great choice. It’s spacious and structured yet folds down flat for easy storage or slipping into your suitcase when you’re not using it. It features a top zipper closure to protect your essentials, and it comes in four easy-to-wear colorways: neutral black and beige, as well as a muted blue and slate green.
Material: Cotton canvas | Size: 17 x 13 x 6 | Strap drop: 9 inches
Most Affordable: Michael Kors Large Jet Set Travel Tote Bag
Good news: Buying a designer tote bag doesn’t have to leave you broke. Case in point? This roomy bag by Michael Kors. It’s quite large, making it a great travel companion, but the black nylon is chic enough to lug to the office. Whether you’re using it for work or play, this wallet-friendly option is a must.
Material: Nylon | Size: 22.4 x 13.8 x 9.1 inches | Strap drop: 8.3 inches
Best Logo-Print: Fendi x Sarah Coleman FF Vertigo-Print Leather Tote
If subtlety isn’t your thing, then meet the tote for you. This trippy Fendi number features a distorted take on the brand’s signature double-F logo created by artist Sarah Coleman, while the vibrant color palette makes quite the statement. You can also wear it two ways, thanks to its top handles and detachable shoulder strap, and it contains a roomy interior to hold your essentials and more.
Material: Leather | Size: 15.3 x 13.5 x 7.6 inches | Strap drop: 20.9 inches | Handle drop: 5.5 inches
Best Everyday: Ganni Medium Banner Recycled Leather Tote
Minimalist and understated, Ganni has created the perfect everyday tote. It comes equipped with two top handles and an adjustable shoulder strap, built to fit your daily essentials and be carried with ease. It comes in three hues: black, for those who like a goes-with-everything kind of bag, as well as a vibrant red and slime green for those who want something a little more flashy. Plus, it’s (relatively) affordable and made from recycled leather. What’s not to love?
Material: Recycled leather | Size: 12 x 12.5 x 3 inches | Top Handle: 4 inches | Strap drop: 26 inches
Best for the Beach: Altuzarra Watermill Large Leather-Trimmed Raffia Tote
Looking to upgrade your beach bag to something a bit more luxe? Consider this handwoven raffia tote from Altuzarra. Accented with leather trim and braided shoulder straps, this tote is a must for any day spent seaside. Of course, it’s functional, too: It’s large enough to fit a beach towel, sunscreen, snacks (the most important), and then some.
Material: Raffia, leather | Size: 22.4 x 14.2 x 8.7 inches | Strap drop: 11.4 inches
Best Classic: Gucci Ophidia Medium Leather-Trimmed Printed Coated-Canvas Tote
For those who prefer timeless designer staples, this Gucci bag is the way to go. Complete with the fashion house’s signature interlocking Gs and striped webbing, this tote is durable and generous in size. It’ll house all your necessities, while the inner zipped pocket allows for easy access to your smaller goods. And with proper care, you can pretty much wear it forever, making it well worth the investment.
Material: Coated canvas with leather trim | Size: 15.7 x 9.8 x 5.9 inches | Strap drop: 9.4 inches
Best Splurge: Bottega Veneta Arco Tote
If you’re gonna shell out the big bucks for a designer tote bag, you’ll want to opt for a style that’s both timeless and high-quality, ensuring you’ll be able to wear it for years—even decades. This buttery Napa leather option from Bottega Veneta features the brand’s signature maxi intrecciato technique to give the classic shape some texture and dimension. It comes complete with a removable zip pouch to keep your goods organized and tie fastening straps to keep it all safe.
Material: 100% leather | Size: 9.5 x 16.1 x 5.5 inches | Handle drop: 7.1 inches
Best Oversized: Acne Studios Large Leather-Trim Coated-Canvas Tote Bag
Consider this a chic alternative to the classic blue IKEA tote. This extra-large coated canvas tote can carry pretty anything and everything while its sturdy leather straps fit comfortably over your shoulder. And while this may seem like a logistical nightmare for finding your keys or cards, fear not: It also features an internal zip pocket to keep small items within easy reach.
Material: 64% cotton, 36% polyurethane, leather straps | Size: 22.2 x 16.2 x 6.3 inches | Strap drop: 10.1 inches
Best Vegan: Nanushka Juno Large Vegan Leather Tote
Tote bags are known to sometimes be, well, a little basic, which is why we appreciate this unique tulip shape from buzzy Budapest-based label Nanushka. It’s roomy enough to hold all of your goods without looking too bulky, and the straps fit nicely over the shoulders. Plus, the brand is lauded for its buttery-soft vegan leather, making this bag a top choice for those looking for a leather alternative.
Material: Vegan leather | Size: 41 x 64 x 16 centimeters | Strap drop: 20 centimeters
Best for Moms: KASSL Large Oiled Canvas Baby Bag
A baby bag doesn’t have to look like a baby bag, which is why we’re loving this chic, pillowy tote from KASSL. Built to house both your and your baby's essentials, it comes equipped with two spacious interior zip pockets and features short and over-the-shoulder handles for styling versatility. The best part of all? It includes a matching dead-stock oiled fabric changing mat. Just be aware that this bag is pretty massive.
Material: Cotton/synthetic | Size: 20.7 x 17.9 x 3.5 inches
What To Look For in a Designer Tote Bag
When it comes to shopping for any tote bag—designer or not—the first thing fashion stylist and author Heather Newberger suggests looking into is the size of the bag. “If you’re purchasing a tote, it’s probably because you need to carry around a bunch of stuff, so you want to make sure the bag you purchase will be able to house all those things,” she says. Be sure to look into the bag’s dimensions beforehand to make sure your larger essentials—such as a laptop or water bottle—can fit. With that, she also mentions the width of the straps being equally as important—the wider the straps, the more comfortable the wear. “You don’t want something that, if heavy, is going to bite into your shoulder,” she says.
She also recommends opting for totes in materials that are built to last. “If you’re investing, you’d like it to be in a piece that will make a statement for years to come,” she says. “This is why choosing something made with leather vs. canvas is an important decision, as leather can be buffed and shined after hard use while canvas will likely degrade and fray over time, which can’t be reversed.” That said, if you have your eye on a bag with a higher price tag, she says to choose leather or vegan leather. “It will hold up for a longer period and can easily be taken to a leather smith (or the right shoe repair spot!) for a nominal cost if and when it begins to degrade,” she says.
In terms of value, Newberger says to consider the brand before making any purchase decision. The higher-end the brand, the better quality the bag will likely be. That not only ensures it will last you longer but also means you can have the opportunity to make some of your cashback later down the road should you decide to resell. “Always keep the concept of reselling in the back of your mind,” she says. “The better the brand? The more expensive the bag—but also, the more you can charge when it comes to resale.”
“Lastly, I think color is incredibly important to keep in mind—if you’re investing in a great tote without any intention of resale, you want something that’s going to work with pretty much any, if not all, of your outfits,” says Newberger. Her advice? Opting for darker, neutral colors that have much more matching potential. “But don’t allow a lack of color to take the fun away,” she says. “There are so many incredible textures to play with that can easily elevate your bag, regardless of color or shape.”
What is a tote bag used for?
“Tote bags are used for, well, toting things around!” says Newberger. “When you have a lot you want to bring with you, a bunch of big items, or you just live in a city and want to make sure you have everything you need when you leave the house, a good tote is a vital asset to any closet.” Think of them as a stylish way to lug your laptop to the office, carry your groceries home from the store, or even hold your beach or picnic essentials.
How do you store tote bags?
In terms of storing your totes, Newberger says it really depends on how you purchased it as well as your natural inclination. “But, if the bag comes with a cloth dust bag, I’d store mine in it,” she says. “If it doesn’t, I wouldn’t worry too much.”
How do you clean tote bags?
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—leather smith, leather smith, leather smith!” says Newberger. “Every town has one, though sometimes you’ll have to hit up your local cobbler just to find out if they fix bags as well. Depending on how hard you use your bag, I’d suggest having it cleaned (shined, buffed, and refurbished) every six months to a year so it always stays in pristine condition.” Of course, if your bag is a material other than leather, such as canvas, check the label or with the brand directly for proper cleaning and care instructions.
Why Trust Byrdie
Jenna Igneri has been working in fashion for the last decade, from running Allure’s fashion closet as an assistant to now writing about the ins and outs of fashion for various publications. She considers herself a bit of a handbag hoarder, especially when it comes to mini bags, but she’ll always have a soft spot for a good tote. As a freelance editor, she must carry her laptop with her wherever she goes—and to look good while doing so.