Nothing challenges a man’s masculinity quite like the tote bag.
But take a moment to break it down, and the humble carryall is everything a man could ever want. Simple and practical, it’s a style of bag that can accommodate a wide range of tasks and settings. It’s also important to note the tote bag’s historical precedent as a bag originally designed by L.L. Bean to haul ice back in the 1940s.
Problem comes in when one man’s idea of utility is another man's idea of femininity — an idea founded upon nothing but the fact that a tote vaguely (like, very vaguely) resembles an oversized purse.
But here’s the thing: dudes carry things around, too. And even though more men are choosing to carry said things over-the-shoulder (the sale of men’s tote bags is up 11% from last year, according to the New York Times) the stigma will always be there. “We should be lugging around backpacks!” “No, rucksacks!” “No, we should just be lashing things to our person with tweed, rope and iron stemples!”
We men do everything in our power to avoid it. But call it what you will — man bag, “murse,” or “mag” — the tote bag deserves its place as a tried-and-true answer to man’s day-to-day carry.
At the airport, it proves itself as the perfect carry-on: big enough for the traveller’s most pressing needs, small enough it’ll never be questioned. For the workplace, it’s the epitome of smart-casual: more grown-up than a backpack, not as stuffy as a briefcase. And for every other time: let’s just say the utilitarian aspect never leaves.
Which leads us to believe what matters most, then, is the matter of style. No man wants a bag that looks girly. This is totally understandable. At the same time, no man should ever entrust his belongings to a crummy canvas bag.
What you’re looking for? Fabrics that can take a beating: heavy canvas or rough leather, waxed cotton or heavy wool. Then you’ve gotta consider shape. You needn’t anything more than a straightforward design with a few pockets to keep you organized. Another note about design: keep it simple. The best totes don’t call attention to themselves, they just carry things, plain and simple.
Below, five of our favorites.
Clockwise from top left: Winter Session Large Zip-Tote Bag ($125); Filson Grab 'n' Go Medium Tote ($90); Topo Designs x Woolrich Cinch Tote ($119); Whipping Post Vintage Tote Bag ($195); Troubadour Goods Deconstructed Tote ($429)
Main photo: Whipping Post