Why tote bags are back in style – and likely to stay


After years of dominance of the tiny handbag – some so small they couldn’t even fit an iPhone – consumers are turning to something a little more practical: the tote.

Bags like the Louis Vuitton “Neverfull” or Goyard “Saint Louis” are long-standing bestsellers. But during the pandemic, the rugged style hit a low point when work-from-home mandates and postponed vacations seemed to mean the extinction of bags designed to carry stuff. Google searches for bins fell to their lowest level in five years in April 2020.

Now, with airports and commuter trains bustling again, ferries are experiencing a resurgence. Hybrid work schedules mean people need to have a bag in which they can carry everything they need for a working day from the office to home and back again. In a survey conducted by BoF Insights for The New Era in Designer Bags report, 71% of women in a wealthy panel said they were more likely to buy a tote than another type of bag, compared to 56% choosing a shoulder bag and 45 percent choosing a crossbody bag.

Today, consumers are turning to more utilitarian and less luxurious fabrics like canvas, woven rope or raffia, as well as light touches like bright colors and wry sayings.

Brands at all price points are trying to profit. LL Bean is seeing the highest demand in a decade for its signature ‘Boat and Tote’ canvas, which has received a fashionable twist from customers adding cheeky embroidery. During New York Fashion Week, Bottega Veneta collaborates with The Strand on three leather bags, “a tribute” to the Manhattan bookstore tote bags.

More than a post-pandemic trend, the tote renaissance is more of a return to the status quo: totes have been a staple of any bag lineup for decades, with an option for every budget. Typically made from cheap and durable fabrics, bags offer brands a relatively affordable blank canvas, so to speak, to express their style.

Tote bags have always been great sellers,” said Wendi Koletar, owner of Austin, Texas-based boutique Kick Pleat. “Now it’s adding color and novelty to something that you can easily buy and wear. And often, because it’s canvas, it can also be the right price.

Mania Tote

At their core, the bags are as much a marketing tool as they are a fashion statement – there’s a reason brands like Outdoor Voices and Reformation give them away. Large, impossible-to-ignore logos serve as moving billboards. And while not every consumer recognizes a Dior saddle bag, everyone can read the words “Christian Dior” printed on the side of the brand’s popular tote.

“A lot of people like to have something that is meaningful to others,” said Meaghan Mahoney Dusil, co-founder and CEO of Purse Blog. “That’s something that worked very well with these bags. You see a Dior tote, you know what it is the minute you see it.

At the top of the range, the formula is quite classic. Canvas body, leather trim and a large embossed logo on the front. Chloé sells several versions of its Woody tote, while brands like Saint Laurent, Balmain and Mansur Gavriel offer simple, no-frills versions. Dior’s tote bag and Gucci’s Ophidia tote offer options covered in the brand’s signature prints. Brands are also experimenting with a variety of fabrics: Loewe’s raffia totes and Prada’s multicolored woven totes have both become summer hits.

For most luxury brands, bags are among the most affordable styles of bags. Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche tote costs between $1,390 and $1,950, while the day bag starts at $2,390 and can go up to $4,200. Gucci’s Ophidia is $1,600 for a medium tote, $1,890 for a large, while the 1961 Jackie bag is $2,950 and the 1955 Horsebit shoulder bag is $3,250. Even the most expensive options, like Dior’s tote bag, which can cost up to $3,900, pale in comparison to its other offerings, like the Dior Lady bag, which starts at $5,300.

“At a luxury price point, they’re very expensive, but they’re a little cheaper than their leather bags,” said Ana Correa, footwear and accessories strategist at WGSN. “They can be an ambitious entry point.”

More affordable brands present their bags as functional yet stylish, positioning them as a reasonable splurge even as inflation and a potential recession cause some consumers to limit unnecessary purchases. LL Bean’s boat and tote, a TikTok favorite, costs between $29 and $55, while J.Crew’s most expensive “Montauk” tote tops out at $148.

“People want a little more practicality,” said Rae Liu, co-founder of Leatherology, which introduced a canvas tote last year. “You want to be able to hold your stuff, so you want your canvas bag, but you also want it to look good. It’s not just your free supermarket bag.

Because customers plan to take their bag with them everywhere, they tend to have strong opinions. When Leatherology opened a pop-up store in Dallas, the brand received more feedback on the store’s tote selection than any other style.

LL Bean’s boat and tote have been a core part of the brand’s range since 1944, but took off with a new generation of consumers this year after the bags were featured on TikTok and Instagram. Users showed how they personalized the tote with unexpected emblems, from luxury brands such as Prada or Balenciaga, as well as intentionally humorous phrases such as “unhinged” or “girl boss”.

“It’s the perfect storm of a bag that’s known for its incredible quality, but you can customize it and show your personality,” said Gracie Weiner, who runs the @ironicboatandtote Instagram account where she shares various takes on the bag. .

And given their current moment in the spotlight, brands can position tote bags as both a practical must-have for an on-the-go shopper, as well as an essential it bag. It makes them “both fresh and nostalgic,” Koletar said.

“It’s an update to that very basic bag that younger generations are embracing,” Correa said.

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