Update: After we first published this story, many of you commented to request cheaper selections, and we heard you. For this update, we took out a few of the sold-out pricier options, reached out to more experts, and updated this post with a couple more office-approved bags for under $250.
The best work bags are a little bit of everything at once: They’re professional, but not too stuffy, roomy enough to juggle gym sneakers and a laptop, equipped with additional pockets to store the miscellany you don’t need but carry anyway (reading material, kid’s toys, and even the odd wine bottle), and not required, but still appreciated — able to be worn multiple ways. Below, we surveyed 18 industrious women on the multitasking tote bags, backpacks, and over-the-shoulder options they rely on to get them through the workday and beyond.
Best wide tote bag
“I do not have very exciting or expensive tastes in handbags; I just need a bag with a handle drop length, so I can shove it over my shoulder while wearing a puffy jacket that holds a laptop, water bottle, and all the toys my kids swear they want to play with that I get stuck carrying home. So basically, I need a black garbage bag. I’m on my second or third Madewell Transport Tote, but this most recent one, in pink (sorry, “antique rose”) — but, like, the perfect pink — is definitely helping offset the winter doldrums.” —Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen
“When it comes to versatile work bags, I always prefer the simplest option. To avoid carrying multiples, I like a large leather tote — roomy enough to carry a change of clothes and sneakers, and versatile enough to take me from the gym to the office to any plans I have afterward. Everlane’s Day Market Tote is all the right mix of things.” —Biz Lindsay, director of public relations at Outdoor Voices
Best medium-size tote bag
“As a graphic designer, I have struggled to find a bag big enough to fit my laptop, iPad, and sketchbooks, along with all the other day-to-day necessities. All the other bags were either very large or not big enough, but Madewell’s medium transport tote is quite literally the perfect medium. I love the carrying versatility of the bag because you can wear it over your shoulder with a longer strap or carry it by two handles for a different look. I am also a fan of the minimal interior — with only a single pocket, it is easy to find what you are looking for.” —Meagan Sapashe, graphic designer
Best long tote bag
“I love my Baggu tote because it’s roomy enough for whatever I need, yet still small enough that I never feel I’m carrying something more than a purse. It’s like Mary Poppins’s carpetbag. I use it for everything from carrying my gym stuff to groceries to going out for drinks. The thing that I love most is that the leather and finish age really well, so even oil stains and scratches give it beautiful character. It’s low-maintenance, so versatile in its simplicity, and super cute.” —Sam Anderson, product designer
Editor’s Note: We own this Baggu tote for work, too, and love it.
Best zip-up tote bag
“Two years ago, I was waiting on the security line at the airport when the strap on my (admittedly overstuffed) Madewell Transport tote tore off. I ordered this Cuyana bag from my phone on the spot. I used the Transport tote for a few years and loved it, but this bag is a big upgrade. The pebbled leather doesn’t show scratches or wear as easily, and the zipper top (and inside zip pocket) makes me feel more secure. It holds everything you’d need for a work day, and the gold hardware adds some polish.” – Karen Iorio Adelson, writer
Best structured tote bag
“As a working woman and a mother, I need a bag that is versatile enough to adapt to the needs of all my roles in life. Whether my bag needs to hold important documents or snacks for a soccer game, the Dagne Dover meets all my needs. If you open my bag you will find my DSLR, work folders, and supplies for my work life, snacks for my little one, and my travel coffee tumbler to keep me going. Best thing is, this bag has compartments to safely keep all these items.”—Jade Stenger, high-school assistant principal
Best waterproof tote bag
“Living in Seattle, with its damp weather, I use the Longchamp Large Le Pliage Tote. The carry-all bag repels water to protect all my important stuff, including my iPad, phone, wallet, makeup bag, and eyeglasses. The best thing about it is that it folds up into a little rectangle so I can pack it away as an extra personal item in my carry-on, making it a versatile travel bag, too.” —Elisa Yip, fashion designer and blogger
Best shopper bag
“This bag is my favorite everyday bag – fashionable yet functional. The turnlock adjustable strap makes it easy to convert from a tote to a shoulder or crossbody bag when I’m on the go. Plus, it is the perfect size for holding everything I need, without being so large that I have to dig. Don’t get me started on how minimalist and well-made it is, too. It’s hands down the best handmade leather bag that screams luxury (but at an affordable price).” – Vivid Wu, fashion stylist
“I bought this bag after my wallet was stolen out of my backpack at a Shake Shack. Post-theft, I vowed to take a break from backpacks. This one fits my laptop easily and the top part has four magnets so it automatically closes. It can fit even more if I’m less concerned about my bag staying closed, including a notebook, a tupperware full of lunch and my laptop charger. It doesn’t scuff easily and the strap is very comfortable, too.” – Dana Balch, account supervisor at Ogilvy & Mather
And though this one wasn’t explicitly called out by any experts, it’s one that’s caught the eye of our editors before: “It’s crafted from sturdy vegetable tanned leather, it’s distinctive but not so trendy that I’m spotting it everywhere on my commute to work, and the structured body means it has limits. I’ll have just enough room for a laptop and magazine without the temptation to bury my house keys under a pile of snacks and hand creams.”
Best work backpack
“My Fabi backpack from Matt & Nat is truly an essential part of my workday. This bag merges fashion and function in the most durable and innovative way possible. Ethically made and manufactured with sustainable resources, the bag features adjustable straps, expandable gussets, and pockets for laptops and smartphones. Not only is the bag multifunctional for work and play — it’s a long-lasting investment.” —Libby Bartley, content strategist and branding stylist
“My go-to bag when I’m working and traveling is the Lo & Sons Hanover Deluxe backpack. Is it beautiful? No, but when I’m schlepping all my photo gear and my laptop, yet still want to be as portable as possible, it’s the most practical option for me. The design is minimal enough and understated. The back of the backpack has a sleeve that slides over my luggage handles, which is a simple design godsend. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had bags fall off my luggage in transit in the past.” —Alice Gao, photographer
“I’m a big backpack person, and this Haerfest backpack has become my go-to. One of my favorite features is its slightly hidden back panel, separate from the main compartment, with its own zipper. It’s a convenient place to store my laptop, so I don’t have to dig through all of my junk to get to it. But the Haerfest backpack also just looks and feels nice, sturdy yet sleek, and always comfortable to carry.” —Maxine Builder, writer
Best gym bag for bringing to the office
“Caraa’s super-versatile ‘luxury sports bags’ are magical. My Studio 2 carries me through work, workouts, bagless grocery shopping, sneaking wine into movie theaters, and whatever else the week throws my way. It has a million secret pockets, adjustable straps that convert to a backpack or over-the-shoulder weekender, and a big, cushiony pouch for my laptop. Plus, it zips fully closed. (Why is that so hard to find??) Sorry to brag, but people stop me in the street to ask where I got it all the time.” —Katheryn Thayer, senior design and tech editor at Kickstarter
Best bucket bag
“I’ve worn this bag almost every day: to work, on weekends, even to the occasional wedding, dressing it up and down. When circumstances demand — air travel, or an afterwork event that requires a change of shoes — I carry a large tote or a backpack, and I simply tuck the Baggu, essentials undisturbed, inside the bigger one. It always fits.” —Hannah Goldfield, writer
We’re also a big fan of Parisa Wang’s bags for the workplace, since they’re very minimal, well-crafted, and don’t have any over-the-top branding details. She just released a bag with Reformation, made from recycled leather, which is under $300 and doesn’t require any straps: you can just sling it over your forearm.
Best cross-body bag
“This bag is over four years old and has been all over the world with me, but it’s best known as my go-to spring and summer work bag. It has developed a natural patina, so it’s quite dark and wears so well. I love it because I can fit my wallet, my rolled-down sweater, lip balm, and eye drops in it perfectly, and I can also wear it cross-body for when I need two hands.” —Michaella Kurdziel, senior director of people and experience operations at MM.LaFleur
Best top-handle bag
“I am obsessed with this Mlouye bag. I travel quite a bit for work, and it’s very important to me that I pack light and bring one bag that does it all. And when I say does it all, I mean it’s something that I can bring on flights, to my client meetings, and then, eventually, to dinner with my girlfriends, all in one (without looking uptight). Basically, a day-to-night bag, but fashion. I have a MacBook that fits in snugly, and it holds all my other knickknacks in what seems like 500 compartments. The look is fairly minimal, unlike the rest of my look, so it nicely balances out my outfits.” —Rachel Effendy, global head of social and strategy at Ralph
“Who says vegan can’t equal luxurious? This vegan-leather minimal bag is the perfect pairing for your everyday lady-boss get-up that’ll easily transition from day to night. On top of elevating that pantsuit, the Eloise satchel is cruelty- and sweatshop-free.” —Christina Sewell, sustainable fashion consultant
“This satchel by minimalist brand Haerfest gives off serious Peggy Olson vibes. Form truly meets function with three separate inner compartments for your phone, keys, and wallet, along with a big outer sleeve for easy-to-grab necessities. It also features a tiny pocket that just happens to be the perfect size for a handful of business cards.” —Sidney O’Reilly, writer and digital producer at Under the Influence
Editor’s Note: While the Haerfest Agnes Satchel Crossbody is sold out in black, it is still available in other colors at Haerfest.
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