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Where to Buy a Classic, But Non-Boring Tote Bag

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Where Can I Find: A Quality Leather Tote That Fits All My Crap?

I’m looking for a large, everyday tote that’s classic without being boring. In a perfect world, itwould fit my laptop without screaming “this is a laptop bag!” and could double as a purse for work or the weekend. Also, I want to be able to fit everything from gym gear to clothes for ashort trip.

After almost settling on upgrading to the Louis Vuitton Neverfull ($1,340), I’m rethinking the price tag. Where can I find a leather tote bag that’s as high-quality for half the price, or less? —Alizah

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Story by Cory Baldwin

If and when you’re able to splurge on the bag you’ve got your heart set on, you should go for it. But until then, there are tons of options that won’t eat up a whole paycheck. Even if you do go that route, I’d recommend finding a good quality mid-range tote to use in addition to your designer bag; if you’re throwing your laptop, gym sneakers, and/or all your clothes for the weekend in your Louis Vuitton, it’s going to see some wear and tear quicker than your wallet will like.

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As a first stop, I’d check out Cuyana. The San Francisco basics brand makes several styles oftotes, all in supple leather from either Argentina, Italy, or the US. The bags are available in a range of colors like black, cognac, burgundy, ballet pink, beige, and gray, which all feel perfect for the season but will definitely work year-round.

You can have your pick of open top or zip-top, pebbled or smooth leather, a thick shopping bag-style handle ($175) or a thin handle plus a commuter-friendly shoulder strap ($265). The brand also makes a few satchels that could work for you, too, from $275. My favorite is the classic leather tote in dark burgundy ($175); this is the bag I would buy in a heartbeat if I was looking for a carry-everything tote at the moment.

(For a few cheaper, similar versions, take a look at Madewell ($168) and Baggu ($160). The leather quality isn’t as thick or nice-feeling, but the totes made by both companies look cute and will certainly be able to handle carting all your crap and then some.)

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Neely & Chloe, a new accessories brand from the nieces of Tory Burch, is another great mid-range option. Starting at $268, the brand’s tote bags (there are a few different sizing and leather options) are huge and attractive, and feel pretty durable.

The large and small versions both have an interior toggle that can cinch the bag to make it smaller, sort of like the pull tabs on the side of the Neverfull, and come with a snap-in small leather pouch in the same color, which is a nice feature. But like the Madewell totes, they’re made in China and the look of the leather isn’t totally on par with something in a higher price range.

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Of course, there’s always Everlane. The direct-to-consumer brand has a couple of solid options: The Petra Market Bag ($365), a huge classic tote, and the Petra Magazine Bag ($325), which is thinner and slightly more sleek, are both made in Vicenza from Italian leather and come in a variety of colors like black, navy, and white.

According to Everlane’s cost disclosures, these purses would typically retail for between $1,100 and $1,300, putting them right up there in quality with the bags made by LV. I’m not totally crazy about the hardware on the straps, but it might not bother you.

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If you want something with a little structure, check out a lesser-known but equally cool brand making handsome, practical bags out of Brooklyn called Haerfest. The brand’s Eva Tote ($495) and the more rectangular Ray Tall Tote ($695) are both part of Haerfest’s brand new women’s line — the rest of the brand’s bags are unisex — so not everyone on the street is going to have this yet. Though, I’ll be honest: While your laptop will fit, you probably won’t have enough room for your sneakers.

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And finally, if a designer name is really a make or break for you, a good compromise might be Saint Laurent’s shopper tote ($995). It’s got the designer quality and logo — though more subtle than the Louis Vuitton Neverfull — but comes in at under a grand.

It’s roomy, simple, and classic, and comes in fun colors like army green and electric blue if you want something more interesting than basic black or beige. And as a bonus, the purse comes with a removable pouch in the same color that you can use as a makeup bag or clutch.

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An Ode to the Navy Blue Sweater
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I can’t help but smile at the shopping bag at my side on the subway. I'm laughing to myself about a silly joke I seem to keep playing on myself: continually giving designers and stores money (sometimes far too much) for something I already have plenty of. Peeking out of the bag, attempting to break free of its tissue paper, is a navy blue sweater. It could be wool, cashmere, a lighter cotton, a cable knit, or something really cool I don’t even know about yet.

To an untrained eye, or perhaps one not-so-trained to hunt navy blue sweaters, it’s nearly identical to the stacks of them in the lower right corner drawer of my dresser. A fleeting waste of money, a temporary retail high, some would say. But to me, it’s simply one more paragon of knitwear, a perfect garment. By winter’s end, that drawer will be filled out with more variations on the theme, each with its own merits, some yet to be revealed or made.

Let’s examine the obvious common thread among them all: navy blue. It’s the world’s most flattering color. Furrowing your brow and questioning why it’s better than black? I wouldn’t blame you — black is the world’s great equalizer, and it is, after all, New York City’s patron saint.

But black is not a color. It’s the opposite of color; it’s negative space, or so my fine art degree will tell you. You look great covering your body in negative space, no doubt, but you also wrap yourself in a slimming layer of boredom, of absence. (I’ll also point out that you’ll run the risk of looking like a tech person working a high school musical.) Navy blue affords you the same gifts with the bonus of a universally flattering hue — it’s slimming, it’s sexy, it’s clean, and it’s just as versatile. It is truly the perfect color.

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