I Can’t Stop Customizing L.L. Bean Tote Bags

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L. L. Bean Custom Boat Tote in Blue.
In regatta blue it’s like the tote version of Bill Cunningham’s iconic work jacket.
L.L. Bean Custom Boat Tote
From $55, L.L. Bean

There’s a reason the L.L. Bean Boat Tote is a classic: It’s durable, handsome, and affordable — and gives off just the right amount of Preppy Handbook flair. I love the original boat tote, with its white duck-canvas sides and sun-bleached handles, maybe sporting a jaunty monogram. But I’ve found that L.L. Bean’s custom feature, which allows you to mix and match colors, is one of the most soothing time-wasters on the web. And time and time again, I keep coming back to the same combination: a monochromatic color scheme, in which body, strap, zip flap, bottom, and pocket are all one of the same four basic colors.

When monochromatic, the boat tote is suddenly elevated; going from Greenwich Academy lacrosse practice to Sunday afternoon at Dover Street Market. I have these in several shades and sizes, although there are a few variables I always opt for: long handles for wearing over the shoulder, a zip top for security, and an exterior pocket for pens. In all-black, a large tote works as an understated weekender; an extra-large will get you through a week. In regatta blue, it’s like the tote version of Bill Cunningham’s iconic work jacket. (I have one friend who uses it as a diaper bag.) Medium in dark green — my everyday bag — works as a slightly unexpected neutral and easily holds a laptop and several books. And, just like all the L.L. Bean totes, you can throw it in the wash and it will last forever, the colors mellowing with time — even if your weathering process takes place more on the 1 train than the aft deck, or whatever.

More Strat-Approved Totes

Makr Canvas and Leather Fold Weekender Revised
$160, Makr

This, Strategist deputy editor Jason Chen’s favorite, is the Goldilocksian ideal of a tote. He writes of the Makr: “Instead of lengthening to accommodate more stuff, the Makr goes wide — enough not only to carry a pair of shorts and sneakers, but also a Kindle, a pair of jeans and three shirts for a long weekend (first for my college reunion and then a getaway to New Hampshire). Its fold-over style creates a makeshift closure system that still keeps everything within easy access, and the two interior pockets is all I need for pens and knickknacks (any more and I just end up stowing things I forget about).” Read more about it here.

Madewell Transport Tote
$168, Nordstrom

Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen told us that she loves her Transport tote from Madewell: “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.”

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I Can’t Stop Customizing L.L. Bean Tote Bags