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The Best Work Bags for Women, According to Working Women

Photo: ABC

The best work bags can, of course, be different things to different people. Sometimes, they’re a little bit of everything at once: professional but not too stuffy, roomy enough to juggle gym sneakers and a laptop, and equipped with additional pockets to store the miscellany you don’t need but carry anyway (reading material, kids’ toys, and even the odd wine bottle). Other times, you might just be looking for a stylish pocketbook that fits the essentials and makes you look like a boss (both in the office and when you go out to meet friends for drinks after a long day). And not required, but still appreciated: the ability to wear a bag multiple ways in multiple places without looking out of place. We surveyed 27 industrious women about the multitasking tote bags, backpacks, and over-the-shoulder options they rely on to get them through the workday and beyond. Below are their recommendations, which include open-top work totes, cross-body bags, and backpacks, with many options under $100.

Best under-$100 work bags for women

Dianna Baros, who chronicles her life as a frugal-fashion expert on her style blog the Budget Babe, told us her go-to is this “stylish, classic” faux-leather tote bag. For the price, you’re really getting two bags in one because this is completely reversible (in addition to the black/cognac style shown, it comes in black/leopard and taupe/ivory, both of which also cost $50). Baros adds that the bag is big enough to fit her 15-inch laptop inside with plenty of room for other things. And if $50 for a reversible tote bag you can carry five days a week does not seem like enough of a good deal, the bag also comes with a detachable wristlet you can tuck cash, credit cards, or other little things in for when you don’t need to schlep the whole thing.

Style influencer Bethany Everett-Ratcliffe also carries a reversible tote as her everyday work bag, noting how her favorite style “is essentially two bags in one for under $40.” She adds that this can hold “everything you need for work, and can easily go from work to weekend.” Everrett-Ratcliffe’s go-to work bag also has a magnetic closure, making it a good bet for anyone who tends to reach into her bag constantly.

Baros is also a fan of Target’s A New Day line for great-looking work bags on a budget. She specifically pointed us to this structured, top-handle tote, which has “clean, minimal lines” that she says make “it look more expensive than its $45 price tag.” While Baros notes that this bag won’t fit a laptop, she says it still has plenty of space for your other day-to-day essentials.

Siraad Dirshe, a storyteller and social-content manager at direct-to-consumer razor brand Flamingo, carries this “perfect-size” L.L. Bean canvas tote, which she says looks “slightly better than the old canvas tote bags” you probably have cluttering your apartment. “You can also customize it, which I really like.” Since L.L. Bean says the bag is designed to be taken when you go “waterfowling, dog training, or shooting,” you can safely bet that the durable polyester shell and water-resistant interior will stand up to daily use. The bag comes in medium, large, and extra large, but Dirshe prefers the medium for running around.

For the cost of a Dig Inn bowl, you could sport this “super-affordable work bag” from Dreubea that Baros recommends. She notes that there are “lots of colors to choose from, making it easy to swap out your bag for different color trends as the seasons change.” She’s not the bag’s only fan: It has more than 5,000 Amazon reviews, 75 percent of which gave four and five stars. This soft, structured bag can comfortably hold an iPad, as well as your wallet, phone, keys, Dopp kit, and the latest Molly Young–approved novel.

“This is a stylish faux-leather backpack with all the bells and whistles, including a wireless power bank so you can charge devices on the go,” according to Baros. She loves that the backpack comes in four wearable colors, including bone, navy, charcoal, and camel, as well as the fact that it has a padded laptop-storage pocket. The bag is “really comfortable to carry, and it’s fairly lightweight, too,” Baros promises.

For another brand she can count on to find work bags that won’t break the bank, Baros also loves Sole Society. “They look expensive and they’re well made,” she says of the generally affordable brand’s line of products. Baros particularly likes the Lacie Tote, which has interior pockets to keep things organized and a detachable cross-body strap. In addition to the camel color shown, it’s available in cream, brown, and black — all of which feature the brand’s signature cheetah-print lining that can be found inside all of its bags.

Best under-$150 work bags for women

For a “sleek, stylish, structured” backpack that’s just north of $100, Everett-Ratcliffe suggests this vegan-leather option from Calpak. It has a separate, zippered back compartment to keep your laptop secure, a luggage sleeve, as well as several zippered pouches inside the main compartment that help keep the rest of your belongings organized. While the bag is available in classic colors like black and brown, it also comes in blush and mint if you prefer something a little less predictable.

Baggu Basic Tote
Photo: Retailer

If you prefer your tote bags to be longer than they are wide, product designer Sam Anderson suggests Baggu’s Basic Tote, which she says is “like Mary Poppins’s carpetbag, roomy enough for whatever I need, yet still small enough that I never feel I’m carrying something more than a purse.” She adds 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.”

For a waterproof option, Seattle-based knitwear designer and blogger Elisa Yip recommends this classic Longchamp tote. “The bag repels water to protect all my important stuff,” she says, including her iPad, phone, wallet, makeup bag, and eyeglasses. Yip adds that it’s also a great bag for traveling, since it can fold up and fit into a carry-on, making it a good choice if you’re someone who takes a lot of business trips.

Photographer Alice Gao told us that Lo & Sons makes her go-to backpack for working and traveling. While she admits that the bag isn’t the most aesthetically appealing option, when she’s schlepping all her photo gear and her laptop, it is the most practical. “The back of the backpack has a sleeve that slides over my luggage handles, which is a simple design godsend,” she says, adding that the design is “minimal enough and understated.” The company no longer makes the exact style she uses, but its Hanover Deluxe 2 Travel Backpack is extremely similar, down to the sleeve that slides over luggage handles that she loves so much.

This delightfully bright tote from Pacific Tote Company is what Man Repeller’s photographer and writer-at-large Edith Young relies on when working on photography projects that require her to fill her bag “to the brim with items of unwieldy shapes and sizes.” When it comes to that “particular game of packing Tetris,” Young says the Big Sur tote can’t be beat. “Come for the color-blocking, stay for the convenience of a zippered top on a tote bag (a deal-breaker when schlepping around the city),” she concludes.

Best under-$200 work bags for women

According to Biz Lindsay, the director of brand marketing and communications at Flamingo, “Everlane’s Day Market Tote is all the right mix of things.” It’s roomy enough to carry a change of clothes and sneakers, but versatile enough to take from the gym to the office to after-work plans, she explains. And it comes in a range of neutral colors, including black, cognac, light taupe, red, and saddle.

“I do not have very exciting or expensive tastes in handbags,” says Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen.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.” She’s on her second or third Madewell Transport Tote, the most recent of which is a (now unavailable) rose-pink color. But the tote is still available in classic brown and black, which may be more office-appropriate for everyday wear. We also recommend taking advantage of Madewell’s complimentary personalization service: It’ll give you up to ten characters to play with, so feel free to go for your initials or favorite (short) phrase.

According to graphic designer Meagan Sapashe, this Madewell Transport Tote is “quite literally the perfect medium” because it’s big enough to fit all of her day-to-day necessities without being too bulky. It’s not as roomy as Perelman’s favorite Transport Tote, but like that tote, it has a minimal interior — only a single pocket — which makes it “easy to find what you are looking for,” she explains. One detail unique to this Transport Tote, however, is that it has two different sets of straps: Two short top handles, plus a detachable shoulder strap that allows you to wear it across your body.

Baros also told us about Logan & Lenora, a small, Denver-based bag brand that she says is “known for style and craftsmanship.” She says the brand’s lightweight Daytripper bag has a “cool yet classic look,” as well as a weatherproof, stain-resistant, machine-washable exterior made from a poly-canvas material. It also has top handles, a cross-body strap, and a luggage sleeve so you can carry it however is most comfortable on any given day.

This cross-body shopper caught the eye of former Strategist writer Lori Keong: “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,” she says. “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.” While the cream color that Keong loves is currently sold out, the bag is still available in black and brown.

Strategist senior writer Karen Iorio Adelson was a devoted Madewell Transport tote-user until one ill-fated trip to the airport, when the strap on her “(admittedly overstuffed) tote tore off” while she was waiting in the security line. She ordered this Cuyana bag from her phone on the spot, and calls it a “big upgrade” because of the zipper top and gold hardware, which adds more security and sophistication, she says. “The pebbled leather doesn’t show scratches or wear as easily, and it holds everything you’d need for a workday, and the gold hardware adds some polish.”

This Clyde tote, suggested by fashion stylist Doria Santlofer, brings an unexpected touch to the classic wide work tote bag with its smoky vinyl material. If you’re worried about carrying a transparent bag to professional events, Santlofer says the bag is tinted enough to hide your personal effects. “Plus, it’s rainproof!”

If you are a devoted backpacker, visual branding stylist Libby Bartley loves this handsome (and vegan) Matt & Nat backpack, which she says is “ truly an essential part of my workday.” She notes that the bag has a lot of smart features, including adjustable straps, expandable gussets, and pockets for laptops and smartphones, making it “multifunctional for work and play,” as well as “a long-lasting investment.”

Best under-$250 work bags for women

Dana Balch, an account supervisor at marketing film Ogilvy, told us she bought this bag after swearing off backpacks when her wallet was stolen out of her bag at a Shake Shack. This one not only easily fits her laptop but has an automatic magnet snap-closure at the top, so she never has to worry about her bag staying closed. Plus, “it doesn’t scuff easily and the strap is very comfortable, too,” she says.

If you prefer to keep your daily work essentials tightly edited — that means no laptops or gym clothes — a smart-looking purse can be a stylish (and lightweight) option. “My work bag right now is the Marc Jacobs Tag Tote,” says Jane Belfry, the founder of talent agency the Btwn. She likes that it comes in enough colors to not be boring and that “it’s not too ‘work-y’-looking to take out for drinks or dinner after.” Also to like: We found it on sale for 40 percent off at Bloomingdale’s.

Santlofer also told us about Coming of Age, a New York–based brand that makes bags in shiny, colorful taffeta. “I love the iridescent gingham because why not look at something shiny on your way to work every day,” she says. She’s not the only fan of the brand: Designer Nikki Chasin recommended a different Coming of Age tote in our list of the best tote bags. Chasin told us she loves the bags’ “quirky shape and functionality,” as well as their gussets, which allow her “to fit a ton of stuff but still look chic.” We’ll take those two recommendations as a sign that a new status tote bag may be in the making.

Stylist and designer Alljahni Mack, who currently works at Kith and as a tailor at Nordstrom, says that Telfar’s Shopping Bag is one of her absolute favorites due to “its simple design and chic aesthetic” that she says can go with any style of dress. Our friends at the Cut recently wrote about Telfar’s shopper, calling the style an “It” bag and describing its appeal this way: “A simple, boxy carryall with double shoulder straps and top handles, it comes in three sizes, costs between $150 and $257, and has become a symbol of group identity for young, creative New Yorkers, especially queer people and people of color.” Mack says that the medium size is just right for fitting one’s daily essentials and a laptop. While she notes the bag “comes in several colors, a few bolder than others,” the only in-stock option right now in the medium size is white.