The tote bag: Practical STYLE

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

Day to day life is blurry. We fall into patterns, automating sections of our lives: wake up, work out, shower, get dressed, go to work, go home, go to bed­–repeat. But sometimes these patterns are interrupted (for better or worse). Sometimes driving to work you realize you forgot your wallet at home. A small inconvenience, but one nonetheless.

I forget my wallet or phone because I don't have set place for them. I come home and leave it to fate to where they end up. Sometimes that's the kitchen, other times the office or bathroom. It ensures the next morning is a scramble to find what I need. It would be helpful if I had one place where I kept all the things I need on a daily basis, so when I leave the house, everything I need for the day is already together and ready to go. Thus eliminating the hide and seek factor of my morning routine.

A good tote bag would solve this issue. But for some reason men have stubbornly agreed to walk around with their pockets stuffed and arms full with phones, wallets, keys and all other miscellaneous items they need for the day.

"Isn't that a purse?", you may ask.

Who cares? It’s a bag. A practical bag. You can carry it onto a plane, take it to the ballpark or museum. Its utility is unquestioned, but you will have to get past your ego. Can you do that? But I admit, besides the pure function aspect, I also have a sartorial motive for acquiring a tote bag.

When wearing suits and jackets, I don't like to use the pockets. I think the odd bulge of an iPhone or wallet takes away from the line and structure of the jacket. And the fix: having a bespoke suit made so the tailor can make adjustments for the items I carry every day is out of my price range.

Therefore, let's look at some tote bags:

1. Brooks Brothers Canvas and Leather Tote

Brooks Brothers is one of my favorite brands. And their canvas and leather tote bag, much like the brand itself, is a soft spoken luxury. Nothing flashy or loud on the outside. A majority of the bag is made of canvas, with leather pockets, trims, and handles. The bag has an artful appearance while skimping on the fragility aspect. The canvas should ensure it can stand up to the daily use and abuse a daily tote bag encounters.

It’s an open tote bag (not an official definition, but oh well), meaning it doesn’t have a zipper to seal the inside contents. But I’m not sure you would want it closed once you see the inner lining. A navy lining brandished with a repeating pattern of the infamous Brooks Brothers sheep fills the interior, and is a luxurious subtle nod, only known by you.

Brooks Brothers sourced the manufacturing for their bags to J.W. Hulme Co. Which means it was made in the USA–this bag is made to last. Starting at $348.00–we might not have to see the other four tote bags.

2. Tecovas: "The CarryAll"

“I wasn’t born in Texas, but got here as fast I could.” is something people say, because well, we have a good thing going here. And Tecovas is a part of that good thing. If you're unfamiliar with Tecovas, that’s okay, I’m happy to make introductions.

Tecovas is an Austin based company who started manufacturing quality men's and women's cowboy boots. They eliminated middleman suppliers, therefore they offer high quality boots at a great price (I have two pairs).They now have a physical store on historical South Congress, and have expanded into an array of accessories, including their tote bag, the "CarryAll".

My research has concluded that it must be a good buy, seeing that it's sold out online. Besides the great price, which I’ll get to shortly, what really separates them from the other tote bags I chose are the four outer slip pockets. It’s a great design and use of space. The entire bag is made of bovine leather, and the interior is lined with green canvas. The inside also has a zip pocket to secure your most important valuables. At $245.00, you might want to sign up for their email alert. Because when they're back in stock, they won't stick around long.

3. Clarke & Barba: The Ethan Bag

Unless you're huddled in the same little corner of social media as me, I doubt you know about this bag. The Ethan bag is made by Clarke & Barba, based in Los Angeles. Specializing in made to order leather goods and accessories, the founders, a married couple, believe “quality and value are one and the same”.

Their every day tote bag is named after Mr. Ethan Wong. Ethan is a bit of a polymath. He works for Ascot Chang, writes for his blog, co-hosts a podcast, and dabbles in photography. Ethan has also built a good size following on Instagram for his style, and personal approach to the platform. He’s developed a passion for menswear and understands that style is a process, but keeps a healthy perspective of where clothes belong in reference to our day to day lives. And I’m really impressed with what he and Clarke & Barba came up with for the tote bag.

Made of unlined leather and hand sewn, the Ethan bag has a large slip pocket on the outside, and a smaller pocket, with a magnetic latch on the inside. The design is clean. It appears as one flowing piece of leather instead of a Frankenstein of assorted and mass produced pieces.

But my favorite part of the bag are the handles. They're rolled instead of flat. It gives one the feeling of walking around with a $2,500.00 tote bag. Lucky for you the Ethan tote bag is $250.00.

4. Sword & Plough: Green Signature Tote Bag

This is a brand that I found during my research for this post. And I’m glad I found them. Sword & Plough’s mission is to bridge the gap between civilians and the military, reduce waste, and empower veteran employment. They make a variety of bags, including hand bags, travel bags, backpacks, and finally tote bags. All of which are made using repurposed military surplus fabric, leather, and hardware. On top of that, a veteran is involved in every step of the manufacturing process. Who can’t get behind that?

And if your skeptical of a former airborne Army Captain’s ability to design a stylish tote bag, I get that. But your skepticism will be replaced with awe once you see the bag. Below is the Green Signature Tote Bag. Designed by the co-founder and CEO during her “spare” time as a new Army Officer- the bag rivals those sitting on the shelves of Neiman Marcus.

First off, I love the color. It's unique and stands out among the rest. It has two outer pockets with zippers, and three interior pockets. The leather handles are full grain American, the outside is made of tough canvas and nylon, and the interior lining is refurbished military surplus twill.

The photos on the website have people holding the bag so you can get a good idea of the bags actual size. The Green Signature Tote Bag is $229.00, with 10% going to veteran charities.

5. Manready Mercantile: Americana Tote Bag

It’s the one place that has it all: retro Houston Astros patches, hand poured candles, and tote bags with serial numbers. No, not Buc-ee’s. Manready Mercantile in Houston is a purveyor of cool. And their tote bag is definitely that.

Made by Coronado Leather–serious leather craftsmen in California who build leather goods that “last for a life time”–the Americana tote bag is an heirloom in waiting. Handmade from vegetable tanned leather, the bag looks as if it demands a second take from people passing by. It has one big slip pocket on the outside, a latch, and a canvas interior with multiple slip pockets.

It’s finished off with a serial number to preserve its authenticity. You get what you pay for in this instance. A beautiful piece of leather, molded by craftsman, with the knowledge it will outlast you. The Americana Tote Bag is $599.00.

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