For Fashion or Function, 11 Options for a Summer Tote Bag

It is the bag that does it all: the tote. A classic style that can help you pack for a quick weekend away, a day at the beach, a summer picnic or in any season, the right choice for a busy urban lifestyle — subway, gym, work. You can carry a day of life in a bag.

With humble beginnings — one of the earliest-known tote bags dates to the late 19th century, when a local store called Cantwell Shoes in Coshocton, Ohio, printed their logo on a burlap sack — today the ubiquitous tote has been reimagined by designers and brands far and wide, from Hermès to Trader Joe’s.

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The L.L. Bean Boat and Tote.
The L.L. Bean Boat and Tote.

As summer begins there is a range of options to lean into, like Susan Alexandra’s take with a beachy tableau of whimsical fish and starfish, or a more straightforward classic like Madewell’s straw version with leather trim.

A style icon in its own right, the L.L. Bean Boat and Tote “like so many of our earliest products was designed to solve a problem,” explained Amanda Hannah, L.L. Bean head of external communications and brand engagement.

It debuted in 1944 as the L.L. Bean Ice Carrier, a heavy-duty bag built to transport block ice to home freezers and to this day is “still made in Maine and tested to hold up to 500 pounds with our signature V-point closure to authenticate it’s an L.L. Bean Boat and Tote,” she said of the bag, which has transcended its utilitarian origins. Recently L.L. Bean teamed with menswear label Wooden Sleepers to curate a collection of 24 of its vintage Boat and Totes, a reminder of how the brand set the stage for countless imitators.

Even when they become a style statement, totes are still rooted in ease, like the sustainable VeeCollective Porter tote bags from Germany that are popping up across cities in the U.S. “[It] is our take on a lightweight, functional and sustainable yet fashionable everyday tote bag,” said cofounder Lili Radu.

Vee Collective
Vee Collective’s Porter bag.

Made for a busy lifestyle, each bag has an adjustable shoulder strap and a detachable pouch and is made up of 100 percent recycled and vegan materials. “Our bags are made of nylon and vegan leather which allows for a weightless, breathable and effortless feel during summer,” she added. “The Porter is designed for the modern woman on the go. She is active, independent, successful and stylish. She wants to be mindful of her daily needs while still looking her absolute best.”

Whatever your personality — fashionable, functional or both — there is a summer tote bag to fit.

Launch Gallery: New Riffs on the Boat Tote

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