this thing's incredible

The Best Thing I Bought Last Decade Is a Set of L.L. Bean Tote Bags

A selection of the author’s L.L. Bean totes. Photo: Hilary Reid

Over the past decade, I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff that I love: some 15 sticks of Revlon’s color balm lip stain in “Romantic red”; a cooling gel eye mask; a stack of hardcover Moleskine notebooks; a few Agnès B. Cardigans; a Black & Decker handheld vacuum; a collection of objects that look like hands from medieval paintings. Contenders, all of them, for my favorite purchase of the decade. But the items that actually top my list are different versions of the same thing I’ve used to schlep all of those aforementioned items around: an L.L. Bean Boat and Tote bag.

I was initially introduced to L.L. Bean’s sturdy canvas bags — which the company began making in 1944 as “ice bags” (bags, literally, meant to be used to haul ice) — by my mom, who purchased hers, in a variety of sizes, in the late ’60s, at the L.L. Bean factory in Freeport, Maine. She bought me my own set — the ones I still have today — before I went off to college. At the time, though grateful for the gift, I didn’t think of the bags as particularly cool or interesting. But over the course of the decade, I began to appreciate their timeless style — this is a tote, after all, that was carried by both Carolyn Bessette in the ’90s and Chloë Sevigny in 2016. And as Andrea Whittle wrote in an article for W, the bags have recently grown especially popular among art and fashion types. (In that piece, Strategist columnist Chris Black — who has recommended the bags on this very website — said: “Carrying a Boat and Tote lets you indulge in some “Wasp cosplay.”)

Wasp cosplay aside, the bags are just extremely practical and well-made, and if you’re considering getting one, I suggest going for a whole suite. I currently have six Boat and Totes in various sizes, which, in my opinion, is just the right number. My two zip-top XL totes helped me carry desk lamps and various other small pieces of furniture during my last move, the two large open-tops are the perfect size for bring clothes to the laundromat, the medium-size zip-top is ideal for taking a laptop and some gym clothes to work, and the mini zip-top with short handles comfortably holds my wallet, a book, and a bottle of water. And they’re relatively affordable: My set of six comes out to $245 — just $25 more than a single leather Baggu bag.

The mini zip-top was the bag I used most last year, and if friends’ post-Hanukkah and Christmas Instagram stories are any indicator, it’s the one that we’ll be seeing a lot of this year, as prep becomes more and more popular. Though the bags are having a “moment,” the real draw is their longevity. My mom still uses her bags from the ’60s, and their frayed and re-sewn handles only make them more chic. My bags, ten years in, still look brand new. I’ve considered speeding up the aging process (running them over with a car, pouring boiling water on them, and other tactics that parents of girls on my middle-school softball team used to help break in softball gloves come to mind), but I know the best route to a perfectly well-worn L.L. Bean tote is time and use. Which is why I’m looking forward to carrying mine for decades to come.

The smallest open-top totes are $25, and prices go to $30 for a medium, $35 for a large, and $40 for an extra-large (shown above).

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 acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

The Best Thing I Bought Last Decade Is an L.L. Bean Tote Set