Tote bags are not just for your weekend farmer’s market visit! The new designer totes available on the market deserve to be seen in all kinds of settings. The right tote bag can accompany you to the office, gym, or club, and it can also substitute for all those pesky shopping bags that create unnecessary waste. The key is finding those well-crafted tote bags that will suit your life and personal style.
We’ve selected the best tote bags to suit every occasion, need, and aesthetic, including some truly gorgeous designer totes. Then we’ll take you back in time to learn about the history of the tote bag. We’ll break down everything you need to take into account when choosing designer tote bags for you, and then give some must-know tote bag styling tips. What are you going to tote around?
Designer Tote Bags for Women: Contents
- 27 Best Designer Tote Bags for Every Occasion
- A Look Back at the History of Tote Bags
- How to Choose Your Perfect Tote Bag
- Tips for Styling Your Tote Like a Fashionista
From roomy totes to on-trend mini bags, these designer tote bags come in so many gorgeous colors and designs that everyone is sure to find her perfect tote here.
1. Pink Mini Tote Bag
If you want to start off cute, this is one of those designer tote bags that follow the mini bag trend in the most adorable way possible. This Medea pink leather bag is reminiscent of a luxury accessory shopping bag, but no one will be confused when they see you wearing it cross-body with the help of the included shoulder strap. Buy it from Net-a-Porter!
2. Blue PVC Tote Bag
Stella McCartney is a designer known for her deep commitment to the environment, so maybe a bit of that can rub off you on you with her designer tote. It is large enough that you certainly won’t need any disposable bags at the store! It is made of light blue PVC, with faux leather handles, and has “Stella McCartney” printed in black lettering across the bottom. Pick it up at Forward!
3. Stripe Red Tote
This is the best tote bag for anyone with a bit of a retro flare. The red and white stripes are quaint and romantic, and because it’s so large it’d be ideal for carrying picnic date supplies, a shopping haul, or everything you may need for a day at the beach! This Zimmermann bag is made of canvas with fabric lining, so it is very durable, and even has an extra pocket to hold smaller items. It is available at Shopbop.
4. Crackled Silver Tote Bag
A Proenza Schouler bag makes a big statement these days, with this tote definitely included. This tote bag is made of crackled silver leather, a dramatic material offset by modest rope handles. The bag could work in professional settings just as well as it would in casual ones. Get it from Nordstrom!
5. Red Leather Tote
This designer tote bag has a bit of attitude. It is made of shiny red leather that is hard to miss, and striped cotton handles that give it a modern, urban vibe. This robust Isabel Marant tote has a magnetic closure, an inner pocket, and fabric lining, all of which put it within handbag territory. Order it from My Theresa!
6. Quilted Butterscotch Tote
This chic tote from Givenchy is a real head-turner. It is made of faux leather in rich butterscotch, with a quilted diamond finish that gives it a timeless elegance. The thin leather handles contrast nicely against the color of the bag. There are no pockets here, but it does come with a pouch. It is sold at Farfetch.
7. Brown Leather Basket Tote
If you live and breathe earth tones, then this Bottega Veneta would be one of the best tote bags to try. It is made of supple brown calf leather, with rounded leather handles. It has a vase-like silhouette, with an impressive widening at the top that lends a bit of romance to the design. It is unlined but sturdy enough to fit in at the office. Purchase it from Moda Operandi!
8. Small Color-Blocked Tote
You can always expect a Marni product to feature compelling color blocking. This little tote bag is made with extra smooth leather panels, mimicking a high-end shopping bag, in apricot and navy, with bright red handles. Because it is open-topped, it comes with a removable drawstring bag for small, precious items. It also includes a removable shoulders strap. Order it online from Net-a-Porter!
9. Latin Lover PVC Tote
If you’re feeling playful, this Alberta Ferretti would be the best tote bag to pick up. It is made of bright yellow PVC, with “Latin Lover” emblazoned over the front in all-capitalized purple letter patches. The handles and an included leather pouch are also purple, to match. Get it from Forward!
10. Pink PVC Tote Bag
This designer tote is a whole pop art fantasy. Designer by Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garçons, this large tote is made of bright pink PVC. It has a canvas drawstring bag that sticks out a little, adding contrast as well as practical separation. It will jazz up your more casual outfits with ease. You can buy it from My Theresa.
11. Elongated Mini Tote Bag
This is another one of the best designer tote bags for anyone with a boho-chic flair. It has an elongated silhouette that is quite elegant, with panels of lighter and darker tan leather. Circular bamboo handles add a raw, natural touch to the design. This Carolina Santo Domingo bag is lined, so you can definitely think of it as a purse. Pick it up at Moda Operandi!
12. Monogrammed Medium Tote
If you want to be ostentatious about having designer tote bags, we can’t think of a better way than with a Louis Vuitton monogrammed tote. The bag is made of brown coated canvas covered with the LV print, but it is bolstered by leather trim and buckled leather handles. Your items will feel secure inside since it has a zipper fastening as well as small inner pockets. It is available online via Shopbop.
13. Geometric Brown Tote
This Staud tote bag is the perfect addition to a minimalist outfit in whites, creams, or earth tones. It is made of elegant brown leather, in a modern, geometric design. The large tote bag has an elegant shape, with square handles that add sophistication. It comes with a matching zipped pouch that can hold your valuables. You can get it from Net-a-Porter.
14. “Sculpture” Tote Bag
If you’d like to add a more playful option to your collection of designer totes, then this Off-White creation is probably your best choice. This white bag has the word “Sculpture” printed over it in quotation marks as a tongue-in-cheek statement, while other design elements like the binder clip hardware and caution tape-style shoulder strap add the industrial flare the label is known for. Find it at Forward!
15. Jute and Linen Summer Tote
This beach-ready tote bag is already looking a little distressed in the best way possible. It is made of a rustic blend of tan jute and linen fabrics and is decorated with red and green striped embroidery to represent the Gucci brand. This simple, durable Gucci bag will be the perfect company on your beach vacation. Purchase it from My Theresa!
16. Minimalist Beige Tote
If your style is best described as casually elegant, then this is one of the best tote bags for you. The square design is simple and sophisticated, and the beige color is creamy and chic. It is made by Saint Laurent, so there are some subtle elements in gold that add a hint of luxury, and there is also an included pouch for smaller items. It is sold at Farfetch.
17. Fringed Leather Tote
You can always trust Mansur Gavriel to present the most timeless bag options, totes included. This tote bag is made of rich brown-red leather in a medium size that is ideal for day-to-day use. Almost all of the ornamentation is very subtle, with the exception of the threaded handles that end with a dangly fringe. You can order it from Net-a-Porter.
18. Slouchy Sepia Tote
Just because this designer tote bag is slouchy doesn’t mean that it’s not luxe. In fact, it is made of ultra-soft calf leather that gleams thanks to its high-quality finish. The simple design definitely leans into the purse territory, as it is in a medium size with a zippered top. Golden C hardware to represent the Chloé brand proves exclusivity. Preorder it at Forward!
19. Pink Lucy Tote
Whether you’re a fan of the Peanuts comic or just appreciative of cute character prints, you are sure to love this designer tote bag from Marc Jacobs. It is made of pale pink canvas and printed with a whimsical cartoon of Lucy from the iconic comic, with a sassy quote on the other side. It is a larger bag perfect for weekend use. Grab it from Shopbop!
20. Oversized Tote Bag
This oversized tote bag is a must for big shopping days – it’ll look much chicer than a bunch of plastic bags, and will also be much better for the environment. The bag is made of cream canvas with a chocolate brown leather trim and handles. “VLTN” is printed in stark black across the front to represent the Valentino label. Buy it from My Theresa!
21. Brown Nubuck Tote
Jacquemus is the brand making all the waves when it comes to unique bag sizes, and we’re certainly in love with this massive leather tote bag. It is made of supple, textured nubuck leather in a warm brown shade that is perfect for every season. The silhouette is trapezoid-shaped, with a wider opening at the top and a narrower bottom. Get it from Farfetch!
22. Rainbow Fringe Tote Bag
This colorful bag is a result of a Loewe and Paula’s Ibiza summer vacation-inspired collaboration. It is a fun and playful bag with a retro flare thanks to the old school Paula’s logo. The logo from which the rainbow fringe descends really stands out against the white base of the bag. It is just large enough to hold your summer essentials and includes a secure pocket. Find it online on Net-a-Porter!
23. Pride Tote Bag
Pride month comes when summer is at its hottest, so you don’t want to be weighed down by a heavy bag. Light designer totes will hold everything you need to stay fresh and hydrated during the Pride Parade, and this one from Michael Kors will also show your support. It is made of clear plastic, with red handles and the eponymous label in rainbow coloring. Pick it up at Nordstrom!
24. Striped Canvas Shopping Tote
If you love those cool winter tones, then pick up this gorgeous striped tote bag from Miu Miu. Green, white, and blue stripes in various widths are perfectly elegant, fitting both casual and professional settings. The bag is on the larger size of medium, made of canvas with leather trim. You can purchase it from My Theresa.
25. Rubber Tote Bag
On the first glimpse, this two-tone Simon Miller tote bag looks like it’s made of leather, but it’s actually comprised of rubber! It is a perfect summer bag, with a two-tone white and yellow-brown design that gives Mediterranean vibes. This large, open-topped bag will carry plenty of items and has some secure pockets as well. Grab it from Farfetch!
26. See-Through Striped Tote
If you’re not shy about what you carry with you day-to-day, then you can’t go wrong with this clear striped tote. It is made of a blend of see-through PVC and brown leather, a real combination of modern synthetics and natural materials. The striped design is timeless, and the medium size is perfect for daily use. It is available through Net-a-Porter.
27. White Bucket Tote
There is something charmingly retro about this white Prada tote bag. It has a bucket silhouette with a rounded, wide opening that we adore, and is emblazoned in black with the iconic Prada logo. It comes with a detachable brown shoulder strap as well as a removable pouch. Order it from My Theresa!
So technically, a tote bag is just a large bag meant for carrying things. In practice, however, totes are usually made simply, with just one large compartment (perhaps with a few smaller pockets inside), and with two handles that come out of the sides. A cheaper grocery tote will not have a fastening or closure, but as you saw, designer tote bags often do.
As a verb, the word tote means “to carry or wield,” with the implication that one is carrying a large or heavy object. The verb first showed up in the English language in the late 17th century, likely after it was borrowed from Low German.
The first noteworthy iteration of the design we now call a tote bag was in 1944 when outdoors brand LL Bean released their first “ice carrier”, a large bag with a simple design featuring an open top and two handles intended to – yes, you guessed it – haul ice. Such bags would become especially popular in the 1950s when their use expanded to carrying groceries, and you can be sure that LL Bean still offers many heavy-duty tote bags.
The verb “to tote” transformed into a noun in the ‘60s when bag designer Bonnie Cashin released a bag similar in design to the ice carrier, which she named “The Cashin Carry Tote.” This bag was a fashion-forward take on the utilitarian tote bag that was constructed out of sturdy leather in a variety of colors.
The next stage in tote bag history came in the 1980s when New York bookstore The Strand released its simple canvas totes as an advertisement for the store. The cream-colored bags were mass-produced and had the shop details as well as slogans printed across them.
Other brands, realizing that this was a brilliant marketing tactic, quickly followed suit. This is why tote bags are such a common freebie these days – when you carry around a branded tote you become an advertisement yourself.
In the mid-2000s, plastic shopping bags became the target of environmentalist boycotts, while reusable tote bags became the eco-friendly choice for shoppers. However, environmentalists note that for a reusable tote bag to have a small eco-footprint than a disposable bag it must be used at least 131 times before it is discarded.
Unfortunately, most mass-produced grocery tote bags do not hold up for that long, and many consumers find themselves disposing of them much sooner. Environmentalist also noted that more often than not consumers were forgetting their tote bags at home altogether and ending up with disposable bags anyway.
We suspect that consumers would be much likelier to actually use their tote bags if they choose a stylish one that they can get excited about carrying. It is also pretty clear that designer tote bags are going to hold up for much longer than a cheap, mass-produced bag.
Keep reading to learn how to choose the perfect tote bag for you.
Tote Bags by Size
• It seems like no matter how big your bag is, you can always find a way to fill it up completely! Tote bags, for the most part, come in sizes like large, very large, extremely oversized, although we do have a couple of fashion houses breaking rules and making trendy mini totes.
• If you do happen to choose a tote bag that is only the larger side of things, it may sag inelegantly if you don’t fill it up enough.
• Try to stick to the smallest tote bag you can get away with, in order to avoid unnecessary items weighing you down.
• If you’d like to carry a tote bag as your day-to-day handbag, then stick to a medium-sized one, which will carry all of your essentials with ease, including a tablet or small laptop.
• If you need your tote to carry you over from a day at work to an evening out, a tote bag about the size of a large handbag will do, as it can carry all of your larger essentials like a book or small laptop, as well as a change of shoes or makeup bag.
• Oversized tote bags are best for short shopping trips, weekend getaways, picnics, and days at the beach. Try not to use them to carry your essentials, as things are likely to get jumbled, but rely on them for the big pieces that don’t need careful organizing.
Tote Bag Materials
• Leather totes are long-lasting, and they tend to work well both as tote bags as well as purses, especially if they are lined with fabric, which makes them heftier. They are likelier to be damaged by things like water or salt, but they will handle the repeated stress of heavy loads day in and day out without ripping or stretching, unlike their fabric or plastic counterparts.
• Fabric tote bags from cotton, linen or jute are going to look more casual. Designer tote bags, even when made from these materials, are still going to be fairly durable, but not as long-lasting as leather. If they are designed to be sturdier you can probably carry them in professional or upscale settings, while if they are slouchier or simpler they should be reserved for casual affairs.
• Synthetic totes from plastics like nylon or PVC are an excellent choice for groceries or day at the beach because they are waterproof and easy to clean. They can also work well for casual days out and for shopping trips. However, these kinds of tote bags are usually not going to be appropriate in professional settings.
Compartments in Your Totes
• Tote bags never have a lot of compartments, so if you need things to stay super organized or if you like to carry lots of small odds and ends, then this might not be the ideal bag choice for you.
• Simple totes will only have the one large compartment that can hold a lot of things but is hard to organize, and that cannot be fastened. These are best for carrying groceries or larger items like gym clothes or beach supplies.
• Designer tote bags will often have a small compartment or two for holding a phone, keys, or a small wallet, so they are better suited for day-to-day carrying.
• Other designer totes might come with a removable pouch or drawstring bag that can be used only when necessary, or even removed and utilized as a clutch. These are great when you need something more versatile.
• Remember that if you plan to carry valuables in your tote bag, it is definitely better to choose one with a zipper or at the very least a magnetic closure.
Tote Bag Aesthetic
• This might be a given, but no matter the purpose, the best tote bags will also complement your personal aesthetic. If you’re only comfortable in cool tones then you’ll want either a neutral or cool-toned tote bag, although it’s possible that a tote bag might also give you the chance to branch out of your comfort zone – a warm-toned tote bag can provide a nice contrast to a cool-toned outfit, for example.
• Lots of tote bags are very casual in style, but that won’t fit if you work in a very professional environment or if your style is very formal.
• A slouchier tote bag in earth tones, made of either leather or fabric, will look best with a more bohemian outfit that utilizes natural materials and colors.
• Super clean, geometric or minimalistic designer tote bags will work best with a style that is clean, modern and chic, and they can absolutely work from casual to formal settings.
• If you have a more modern or urban style, choose a tote bag with clean lines, made of either leather or plastic, with streamlined or industrial details.
• If your style is very versatile, then choose a simpler, neutral bag that will go with everything.
• Make sure your tote fits the occasion! As we mentioned earlier, plastic totes are usually better for casual settings, leather totes can work in professional ones as long as they are firm rather than slouchy, and fabric ones will depend on the construction.
• Let your tote bag make a statement. While a simple tote bag might be useful if you work in a conservative environment, for all other purposes we think it’s better to choose a bag that will have its own personality, either through silhouette, color, print, or embellishment.
• Because tote bags are usually made of smaller panels than the average handbag, it can be a great color blocking item. Pair your colorful tote bag with either a monochrome outfit or an outfit made up of solid-colored separates to make a unique color scheme.
• You can definitely personalize your tote bag, especially if it’s a fabric one! Embellishing your tote bags with enamel pins to it or iron-on patches can give it a whole new vibe, while scarves tied around the handles can add a splash of texture and color.
• For dressier leather totes, you can glam things up by adding a brooch or a bejewled key chain.
• For a casual look, a simpler tote bag with a specific print or written phrase can make a literal statement.
• Tote double bags! Carrying a big tote filed with necessary large items and a smaller bag with your valuable essentials like a wallet or phone can be both a fashion statement and a practical choice. You can use your tote to carry gym essentials, and then leave it at the office when it’s time to go out and meet friends! Your tote bags and handbag don’t have to be perfectly matched but do take into account how the two of them will work together as well as how they will influence your overall outfit.
Photos via @bartabacmode, @vivaluxuryblog, @notyourstandard, @janicejoostemaa