Coveted for its timeless style and outstanding practicality, the tote bag has come a long way since its introduction in 1944 by L.L. Bean. Today, tote bags come in a wide range of materials and can feature an extensive variety of details and embellishments. Suitable for virtually any purpose and occasion, depending on its size and construction, this bag is a true style staple that will always have a place in any modern woman's wardrobe.

Read on to discover how you can make the most of this incredibly versatile carrier, explore the different types of tote bags available, and learn how to care for each kind.

What is a Tote Bag?

Women’s Shalia canvas tote bag in Multi - CHARLES & KEITH

A tote bag is a mid to large-sized bag with two parallel handles, one attached to either side. Traditionally, tote bags have a rectangular shape, but nowadays, there is an array of creative variations that continuously refresh the classic tote silhouette, adding a modern twist to this timeless accessory.

One of the remarkable features of a tote bag is its functionality. With a roomy interior, it easily accommodates all the things a person may need in a day and more, making it an ideal companion for a busy day. Typically, tote bags are unfastened, providing quick and easy access to your belongings. However, for those seeking enhanced security, options with magnetic and zip closures are also available.

The perfect blend of style and practicality, a tote bag is a must-have accessory for fashion-savvy individuals who seek convenience in their everyday lives.


History of Tote Bags

Origin & History of Tote Bags

To ‘tote’ is to ‘carry or transport’. All throughout history, satchels have been fashioned out of various textiles to help bear different loads and objects on the shoulder. The first iteration of the tote bag as we know it, however, first rose to popularity in 1944. American outdoor goods retailer L.L. Bean advertised a boxy ice carrier made with a sturdy, water-resistant canvas that could help transport ice from the bag to the freezer. Soon, people started seeing the utility of the deceptively simple bag and homemakers started sporting the tote bag on their grocery runs.

As the tote bag began to be adapted for everyday errands, its simple construction underwent several upgrades. Handles were reinforced with binding and hardware, sturdier canvases were used, and the rectangular silhouette was adjusted to accommodate various objects and purposes. The tote bag's versatility caught the attention of award-winning fashion designer Bonnie Cashin, who created the iconic namesake Cashin Carry tote. Canvas was swapped out for a luxurious leather finish, complete with a turnlock pocket reminiscent of a woman's coin purse and top handles reminiscent of classic women's handbags. This fashionable carry-all quickly gained popularity and became a staple on the shoulders of women everywhere.

The Modern Tote Bag

Experimentation with the tote bag has only continued in the decades since. When The New Yorker started offering free tote bags to paid subscribers and IKEA introduced their signature blue FRAKTA carrier bag, it cemented the tote bag’s enduring place in popular culture. The plain canvas tote bag of the mid-twentieth century is the perfect drawing board for constant reinvention, shape-shifting into endless combinations of materials, textures, and embellishments. From the streets to the runway, affordable to designer options, the tote bag proves adaptable for all purposes and occasions. In the modern day, experimenting with the size and shape of these bags is an infallible way to refresh this beloved staple. Whether it's abstract shapes or the tiny totes of the micro-bag trend, there should be a tote bag in every closet — ideally, several!

Common Uses of Tote Bags

Tote bags, with their roomy design and minimalist charm, effortlessly blend fashion and function to create an accessory that is reliable and stylish enough for any purpose and occasion.

Everyday Carry

One of the best features of a tote bag is its unparalleled capacity to hold a lot. From laptops and notebooks to makeup kits and water bottles, a well-designed tote bag has ample space to accommodate all your daily necessities, with room to spare.

Work or School Bag

Large totes with sturdy handles can easily support the weight of laptops and notebooks in addition to your daily essentials, making them a popular choice for students and working adults alike. With ample space for your belongings, these versatile accessories also excel at events after work or school.

Grocery & Shopping Bag

Reusable and durable, a basic canvas tote bag can be conveniently folded and stashed inside your everyday bag as a spare or used independently. Elevate your fashion quotient while making a positive impact on the environment — it's a win-win situation that demonstrates your dedication to both style and sustainability.

Weekend Getaways

Whether you're setting out on a spontaneous road trip or a meticulously planned vacation, the roomy nature of a tote bag guarantees you'll never have to make packing compromises. From sun hats to sandals, books to bikinis, your tote bag will effortlessly accommodate all your travel essentials with both convenience and style. Canvas or knitted tote bags, in particular, perfectly capture the essence of a summer vacation, making for a functional and enjoyable style companion for those sun-soaked getaways.

Gym Bag

The spacious tote bag makes for the perfect workout buddy, with ample room to accommodate your gym accessories, water bottle, towel, and a change of clothes. It comes in a variety of materials, and choosing a water-resistant option for easy cleaning or a partially mesh tote for ventilating post-workout gym clothes is ideal for active individuals who are always on the move.

Types of Tote Bags

Women’s large Kay canvas contrast-trim tote bag in taupe - CHARLES & KEITH

Canvas Tote Bags

Canvas stands out as one of the most commonly used materials in the making of tote bags, as it is both lightweight and durable. Its capacity to remain sturdy despite being relatively light makes it an ideal choice for accommodating heavy items while minimising the strain on your shoulders. In terms of aesthetics, canvas exudes a casual vibe, rendering canvas tote bags perfect for leisurely off-duty days and laid-back weekends.

Women’s Nina leather drawstring slouchy tote bags in brown - CHARLES & KEITH

Leather Tote Bags

Owing to its luxurious nature, leather appears more polished and elegant than their canvas counterparts. This elevated aesthetic makes leather tote bags a splendid choice for professional settings, such as the office or a business trip. Notably, leather tote bags are more sturdy and durable than canvas ones, largely due to their inherent resistance to abrasion. In light of these factors, it becomes evident why leather tote bags are excellent for transporting your laptop.


Nylon Tote Bags

Nylon tote bags exude a utilitarian aesthetic that is particularly well-suited for laid-back ensembles. Thanks to their waterproof property and lightweight design, a nylon tote bag is the ideal choice for a gym session. A unique attribute of nylon tote bags lies in their elasticity — their stretchable nature enables them to accommodate a large number of items, even if they have odd shapes. You can brush off any concerns about the bag losing its form as nylon effortlessly reverts to its original structure.

Women’s striped handles raffia tote bag in chocolate - CHARLES & KEITH

Woven Tote Bags

Woven tote bags come in a diverse range of styles, and they are crafted from natural materials such as straw, wicker, raffia, and jute. While they may be considered relevant only during the warmer months, woven tote bags — a go-to fashion choice for tropical vacations and beachside holidays — will add a touch of chic elegance to your wardrobe no matter the season. Being composed of natural fibres, these bags demand a greater degree of care and maintenance. With careful attention, they can endure for several years.

Choosing the Perfect Tote Bag

When it comes to choosing the perfect tote bag, the sheer variety of options in terms of size, materials, colours, and styles can be overwhelming. Nevertheless, dedicating your time and resources to finding the right tote is a decision that will pay off. A carefully chosen tote will become a cornerstone of your style collection, serving you admirably for seasons to come.


Tote bags are available in a wide range of sizes, ranging from petite options designed for essentials to generously spacious bags capable of accommodating all your needs and more. The size you opt for is crucial, as it directly impacts the bag's capacity and overall functionality.


Material is another crucial factor that is often overlooked. If you're looking for lasting quality, genuine leather tote bags stand out as a top choice. Not only do they exude a luxurious aesthetic, making them perfect for professional attire, but they also offer durability and longevity. Leather totes can effortlessly accommodate your laptop, work documents, and daily essentials without losing their shape. For those seeking durability and versatility at a more budget-friendly price point, canvas or nylon tote bags serve as an excellent alternative. Lightweight and easy to maintain, they often come in classic neutrals that complement any outfit.

Handle Length

Handle length influences how you carry your tote. Longer straps are perfect for wearing the bag over your shoulder, while shorter handles are designed for hand-carrying. Adjustable straps offer the versatility to adapt to your preferred style.


When choosing a tote, it is also essential to consider the closure type. Open-top totes offer easy access but provide less security, while zip closures offer extra security, ideal for safeguarding your belongings. Magnetic closures offer a perfect middle ground, striking a balance between accessibility and security.

Interior Organization

The interior organisation of your tote matters, especially if the bag is spacious. Multiple inner compartments help keep your belongings organised, making it easier to locate smaller items. Whether you're a woman on the go or simply desire effortless access to your essentials, thoughtful interior organisation enhances your tote's functionality.

Having explored these essential considerations for choosing the right tote, continue reading to discover how to care for and maintain your favourite bag.

Tote Bag Care and Maintenance

Proper care is essential for extending the life of your tote bags and maintaining their appearance. Depending on the material of your tote bag, it may require special attention and care. To ensure your CHARLES & KEITH bag stays in tip-top condition, follow these product care tips and find out more about how to care for it.


Featuring a durable and versatile material, it is tempting to simply chuck your canvas bags in the wash and call it a day. However, especially for more structured canvas tote bags, we recommend these tips instead:

  • Regular Maintenance: Gently brush off any loose dirt or debris from the surface of the bag. You can use a soft brush or a lint-free cloth.
  • Spot Cleaning: For small stains or spots, use a mild detergent mixed with water. Dip a clean cloth into the soapy water, wring it out, and gently blot the stained area. Avoid rubbing, as it can spread the stain.
  • Hand Washing: If the entire bag needs cleaning, opt to wash your bag by hand instead of with a washing machine. Fill a basin with lukewarm water and a mild detergent. Gently submerge the bag and agitate the water to create suds. Let it soak for a short period, then gently scrub with a soft brush or cloth. Rinse thoroughly with clean water and hang to air dry.
  • Drying: Always air dry canvas bags in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Avoid using a dryer, as it can cause shrinkage or warping.
  • Storage: When not in use, store your canvas tote in a cool, dry place. Avoid hanging it on hooks for extended periods, as this can distort the shape.

Faux Leather

Faux leather, also known as synthetic leather, requires careful maintenance to keep its appearance and texture intact:

  • Dust Removal: Regularly wipe down your faux leather tote with a soft, dry cloth to remove dust and dirt. This prevents particles from settling into the material.
  • Spot Cleaning: For small stains, use a damp cloth with mild soap or a specialised faux leather cleaner. Gently wipe the stained area, then wipe again with a clean, damp cloth to remove any soap residue.
  • Avoid Harsh Chemicals: Avoid using harsh chemicals, alcohol-based cleaners, or acetone on faux leather, as they can damage the material's finish.
  • Conditioning: While faux leather doesn't require conditioning like genuine leather, you can use a small amount of non-greasy, water-based moisturiser to maintain its suppleness. Test in an inconspicuous area first.
  • Protection: If you live in a humid environment, consider using a water-resistant spray to protect your faux leather tote from moisture and stains.
  • Storage: Keep your faux leather tote in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and heat. Use a dust bag or pillowcase to prevent scratching if you're storing it with other items.

Genuine Leather

Genuine leather tote bags are a classic and durable choice, but they require special care to maintain their appearance and longevity:

  • Regular Cleaning: Wipe down your leather tote bag with a soft, dry cloth to remove dust and dirt. Regular cleaning prevents particles from accumulating and scratching the leather's surface.
  • Avoid Water and Moisture: Leather is sensitive to water and moisture, so avoid exposing your bag to rain or spills. If your bag does get wet, blot it gently with a clean, dry cloth and let it air dry naturally at room temperature. Avoid using direct heat sources like hairdryers.
  • Conditioning: Leather can dry out over time, leading to cracks. Apply a leather conditioner every 6 to 12 months or as needed to keep the leather moisturised and supple. Choose a conditioner specifically designed for the type of leather used in your bag.
  • Spot Cleaning: For small stains, use a damp cloth with mild soap or a leather cleaner. Gently blot the stained area, then wipe with a clean, damp cloth to remove soap residue.
  • Avoid Direct Sunlight: Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can cause leather to fade and become brittle. Store your leather tote in a cool, dry place away from sunlight when not in use.
  • Storage: When not using your leather tote, store it in a dust bag or pillowcase to protect it from dust and light. Avoid using plastic bags, as they can trap moisture.
  • Avoid Sharp Objects: Be cautious not to scratch or puncture the leather with sharp objects. Avoid placing your bag on rough surfaces that could damage the bottom.
  • Professional Cleaning: For deep stains or extensive cleaning, consider taking your leather tote to a professional leather cleaner. They have the expertise to clean and restore leather without causing damage.
  • Maintain Shape: To help your leather tote maintain its shape, avoid overloading it with heavy items for extended periods.
  • Patina: Over time, genuine leather develops a unique patina that adds character. Embrace this natural ageing process as it's a sign of quality leather.


Woven tote bags can be delicate, so proper care is essential to preserve their intricate patterns and textures:

  • Gentle Cleaning: To remove surface dirt and dust, gently shake the bag or use a soft brush to lightly brush off debris.
  • Hand Washing: Fill a basin with lukewarm water and a mild detergent suitable for delicate fabrics. Submerge the bag and gently swish it around, avoiding excessive agitation. Do not wring or twist the bag.
  • Rinsing: Empty the soapy water and refill the basin with clean water. Gently submerge the bag and swish it to rinse out the detergent. Repeat if necessary until the water runs clear.
  • Drying: Press the bag gently between clean towels to remove excess water. Avoid twisting or wringing it. Lay the bag flat on a dry towel, shaping it back into its original form. Let it air dry in a cool, well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight or heat.
  • Storage: To prevent snagging, store your knitted tote bag in a dust bag or pillowcase, away from sharp objects that could catch on the delicate fibres. Avoid hanging the bag, as this can stretch the knitted material.


Nylon tote bags are known for their durability and resistance to stains, making them a practical choice for everyday use. Proper care can help maintain their appearance and functionality:

  • Regular Cleaning: Wipe down your nylon tote bag with a soft, damp cloth to remove dust and dirt. For stubborn stains, you can use a mild soap or detergent mixed with water. Gently scrub the stained area with a soft brush or cloth.
  • Machine Washing: Many nylon tote bags are machine washable. Check the care label for specific instructions. If it's safe to do so, place your bag in a laundry bag or pillowcase to protect it during the wash. Use a gentle cycle with cold water and a mild detergent.
  • Drying: After washing, let your nylon tote air dry naturally in a well-ventilated area. Avoid using a dryer, as the heat can damage the nylon fibers.
  • Stain Removal: For tough stains like ink or oil, you can try using a specialized stain remover designed for nylon fabrics. Always test it on an inconspicuous area first.
  • Storage: When not in use, store your nylon tote bag in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. Avoid folding or compressing it for extended periods to prevent creases.
  • Water-Repellent Spray: If your nylon tote bag isn't naturally water-resistant, you can apply a water-repellent spray to protect it from light rain and moisture.

Remember that preventive care is essential for all kinds of tote bags. By keeping them clean and protected, you'll help maintain their appearance and extend their lifespan. Always refer to any care instructions provided by the manufacturer for specific guidance.

We hope this guide on tote bags has been helpful in aiding you to select one — or even a few — that aligns with your needs and personal style. From its mid-century origin to its contemporary diversity, the tote bag certainly has an enduring appeal that cements its status as a style icon. It will always have a place in your wardrobe, no matter the season.