Well, it’s happening. Things are slowly returning to normal, and that means going back to work … in an office. While some can’t wait to get back to watercooler chats and desk salads, others are still figuring out how to get dressed again (let alone doing it in time for a 9 a.m. office arrival). No matter which camp you’re in, a new work bag is in order. Honestly, it’s mostly about treating yourself, but a new bag could even be a necessity if you’re new to lugging a laptop around for hybrid work. Now, the best work bag isn’t one-size-fits-all. Sometimes, you need it to do everything at once: Look professional but not too stuffy, accommodate gym sneakers and a laptop, and organize all the miscellany you definitely don’t need (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 at after-work drinks). We surveyed more than 20 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
This slouchy tote from Oak + Fort is favorite of Kaylin Marcotte, the founder of framable-puzzle company JIGGY. She calls it a “secret favorite for a surprisingly affordable and chic everyday bag.” Marcotte, who adopted her dad’s “rather be safe than sorry,” approach to packing, needs her work bag to hold all the essentials (plus a few just-in-case items) while also being durable. This magnet-snap-closure bag is roomy on the inside in addition to having two outer pouches for easy access.
It’s also important for Marcotte’s bags to be pretty stylish, as she’s “often going straight from a day full of meetings to an evening event, so a bag that can transition day-to-night is key.” This one is spacious, but not too large to carry to dinner, and comes in almost ten different neutral colors to match whatever you’re wearing. At this price, you can buy more than one and swap them out. Marcotte has three.
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.
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.
Best under-$150 work bags for women
For a “sleek, stylish, structured” backpack that’s just north of $100, Style influencer Bethany 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.
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.
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.”
Best under-$200 work bags for women
For a versatile bag with some serious structure, try this tote from Dagne Dover that “meets all the needs” of high-school assistant principal Jade Stenger. She trusts it to hold her digital camera, work folders, school supplies, snacks for her little one, and her travel coffee tumbler. A favorite feature, according to Stenger, is that the bag has many interior compartments to keep all those items safe and organized.
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.
“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.
“It’s a limitless Mary Poppins bag,” says Marcotte of this canvas Cuyana tote. It’s her go-to for work bags right now “because it’s huge, has thick straps, multiple pockets, and goes with anything.” She’s often carrying more than she needs and “ inevitably my bag gets uncomfortably heavy,” she says, so strong straps are important. While the rest of the bag is canvas, the straps are leather, which is a plus, and she adds they’re “extra-wide so they don’t dig into my shoulder.” The tote also has a tie-leather closure, which provides easy access to everything inside. And while it can hold a lot, on a light day you don’t have to look like you’re going away for the weekend: Fold the sides of the bag in with magnetic closures for a more compact look. That’s not to say this bag couldn’t survive JFK on a holiday weekend. Marcotte says it’s very durable and has kept up with her busy life. “I’m based in NYC and now that the city’s reopening, I’m back to the constant running around, on/off subways, jumping on Citi Bikes, etc.” she says. “It’s up to the test.”