A friend once told me that she finally felt like an adult only when she had a cabinetful of shopping bags stored under her kitchen sink. But you know what’s more useful (and adult) than a cabinet stuffed with shopping bags? Knowing and owning and committing to a single perfect tote. So we’ve asked the experts, who applied the term “tote” a bit broadly and went beyond the typical canvas options, and gathered 15 excellent totes that are well made and, more important, not the same New Yorker or public-radio one you’ll see every time you leave the house.
“If I can pick something from our own store, MoMA’s Japanese Pleated Tote is my latest favorite. I love that the pleated fabric allows the bag to fold compactly for storage, and then the pleats fan out prettily as the bag is filled. It is a super-functional tote that doesn’t look functional. Plus it’s made of environmentally friendly materials making it extra beneficial to use the pleated tote as your extra bag.” —Chay Costello, Associate director of merchandising at the Museum of Modern Art, retail division
“This gym tote is awesome. I love the size and fabric. It’s water-resistant (or at least I think it is) so it’s easy to clean and never has that dumpy gym-bag look. That look your bag gets over time from carrying your sweaty smelly clothes. It also has great compartment space inside for valuables and toiletries, which is key for me.” —Marissa Berg, Director of visitor experience, Jewish Museum
This tote is sold out, but here is another chic gym bag from Sweaty Betty.
“I love how Jason Wu’s Suvi Shopper Tote elevates a traditional tote with its gold-top handles. You get the benefit of a tote size, but with high-end design. It also has optional long shoulder straps that add a level of ease while still looking super chic. The tote comes with a small zip pouch —perfect for the little items that could otherwise get lost at the bottom of your bag. The suede lining inside adds an ultraluxe feel. To boot, this bag also has ‘JW’ on it — my initials!” —Julia Wetherell, Co-founder, Orchard Mile
“Kazumi Takigawa’s line of waxed-canvas products called Funagata is beautiful in its pure materiality. Over time and continued usage, the waxed-canvas material begins to wear, showing white lines where there has been a bend or scratch. The result is a bag that has a narrative unique to the user, like a fingerprint.” —Nancy Wu, Co-founder, Building Blocks
“I’ve been working to design a tote bag for our store, so I’ve done a lot of investigation into which tote bags we love and why. I use the Baggu Tote for the beach because sand just falls of it and you can fit a lot in it, but also folds into that little pouch so it’s great for traveling. I love my Bedford Cheese tote bag; it’s the best one for grocery shopping. It’s black so it won’t get super-gross-looking. It’s super sturdy and nice and wide. Oh, and the Opening Ceremony bag is super cute.” —Fabiana Faria, Co-founder, Coming Soon
“I haven’t purchased a bag in ages, since starting my own bag brand KARA, but when Gillian and Elise launched their line Truss, I couldn’t resist. I love using their tote in the summer for the beach or being in the city. For a cheaper option, I bought this bag on a trip to the British Museum several years ago and I carry it most days of the week. It’s a copy of the all the text on the Rosetta Stone.” —Sarah Law, Founder, KARA
This tote is sold out, but here is another woven tote in white, black, purple and green.
“LeSportsac makes some of my favorite tote bags. It’s such an iconic brand, and they feature playful patterns with different designers as well as versatile solids. The zip closure of the Medium Travel Tote is a huge plus when I’m going to the office or traveling, and the interior pockets keep me organized. It’s important for me to be able to have a bag that is big enough to fit everything I need. Every day is a little different, but as a working mom, I sometimes need room for my laptop as well as items for my son.” —Anna Bond, Co-founder and chief creative officer, Rifle Paper Co.
“We love the Apolis Market Bag for its simplicity, timelessness, and durability. Not only does it bring reusability to the next level, but it’s handcrafted through their Bangladesh Projects which supports developing economies by connecting them to the global marketplace.” —Dean Di Simone, Co-founder, OTHR
“Truth be told, most of the time when I’m carrying a tote, it’s the super supple and handcrafted Lotuff Leather Working Tote. But when I’m not, I like a canvas tote that establishes a sense of place and identity, whether it represents a memorable vacation spot, favorite haunt, or even an alma mater. Being in the bag business, too, I appreciate something simple, durable, and American made. As a non-New Yorker frequently in the city for work, I sometimes find myself carrying one of the canvas totes supplied during stays at the Wythe Hotel. Handsome, perfectly sized, and in my favorite color of navy, it reminds me of waking up in one of the Wythe’s comfortable rooms, with a coffee, newspaper, and panoramic views of Manhattan the first things I see.” —Greg Moniz, Lotuff Leather
“I have been a loyal user of the Japanese brand Porter for many years. The combination of simple and sturdy materials combined with the great attention to detail results in casual-chic bags that remain super practical. This navy tote has my name written all over it, but you have to be registered to buy their bags from the Porter website online, so they also sell them at Barneys. Also, this collaboration between British artist Richard Woods and Danish brand Hay which features a colorful graphic rope design is a great looking tote at an amazing value.” —Emmanuel Plat, Director of merchandising at the Museum of Modern Art, retail division
“Pool is a student-initiated publication project at UCLA, and as a faculty member I want to support it every way I can — including taking this tote bag with me just about everywhere I go. It’s a limited edition and I think I share a special experience with a small number of people.” —Jimenez Lai, Founder, Bureau Spectacular
“My all-time favorite tote is actually from Diner — an amazing restaurant in Williamsburg. I love that their totes are U.S.-made and eco-friendly, and the bright blue-and-white whale motif reminds me of summer.” —Tara Foley, Founder of Follain
“I love this bag from the Moschino capsule collection. It has an obvious sense of humor with the dolled-up mouse in newspaper couture and the bottle-cap hat (although I may accessorize with a different hat!). Fun factor, and not taking oneself too seriously is what fashion is all about right now, and what I have always been about. Additionally, it’s a super-functional shape and has the double strap.” —Eugenia Kim, founder, Eugenia Kim
“The best tote in my opinion is the Hermès Garden Party. I have one in their signature orange and it brightens up my neutral spring outfits perfectly. I love that it’s made of a lightweight canvas, which means I can load it up with my laptop and notebooks, gym clothes, or beach towels and still be able to carry it around easily. The two side snaps make it easily expandable and most importantly for any tote, the straps stay firmly on my shoulder. And of course. It’s Hermès.” —Denise Lee, Founder and CEO, Alala
“I used this EVERYBODY tote bag for the first time during a recent trip to Cuba and it brought me so much joy. The yellow is so vibrant that it can’t help but make me happy. The bull denim is light and malleable so I can shove it into another bag for easy traveling. It lies well on the shoulder, and its strong handles and stitching on the bottom provide reinforcement so I can carry all of my essentials.” –Danielle Levitt, photographer
Get the best of The Strategist delivered to your inbox.
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.
Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.