Evolution of the Tote Bag

February 20, 2015

Style or functionality? When speaking about a tote bag, the answer to this question is; both! Originally designed to be a travel bag used for carrying luggage, the tote bag has become an icon of the fashion industry. This article discusses the evolution of the tote bag from a handbag of functionality to one of style. We look in to the origins of the tote bag and ask the question of whether functionality still exists in tote bags; or are they merely a fashion statement?

Where does the tote bag come from?

People started wearing tote bags from 1944 after the release of L.L Bean’s Boat Bag. The original term tote comes from the meaning ‘to carry’ which can be traced as far back as the 17th century. The name tote bag does not refer to the shape of the bag but more to its function. After L.L Bean released their Boat Bag, people began to frequently wear this type of bag as it was an easier and more comfortable way of carrying luggage.

It was during the 1960’s when tote bags went from being just functional to stylish as well. Bonnie Cohen released her own line of tote bags called ‘Cashin Carry Tote Bags’ which lead to the popularisation of this particular design of handbag, not only for its usability but also as a stylish fashion accessory. This idea intensified during the 1990’s when Kate Spade began to increasingly popularise tote bags.

Does functionality still exist in tote bags?

Let's look at some examples...

The Saint Laurent Sac de Jour Bag

Why is this bag functional? The tote bag features a structured strap which makes the bag more comfortable; especially when carrying heavier items.

Michael Kors Glossy Croc Dillon North South Tote

Why is this bag functional? The bag is large and provides storage space for a host of your belongings. The longer strap is also detachable allowing you to wear the handbag in a variety of ways.

Mulberry Bayswater Classic Grain Tote

Why is this bag functional? Along with being large in size, this tote bag features 1 zip pocket and 2 pouches which allow you to safely store and easily access a variety of items.

SHERENE MELINDA Royal Blue Leather Tote Bag



Why is this bag functional? You can easily adjust the shape of this handbag by opening the strap inside (pictured in the third picture). When opened, it resembles a bucket bag (displayed in the first picture) and when closed it resembles the shape of a tote bag (shown in the second and fourth pictures). Opening the strap gives you more room and closing the strap keeps your possessions compact and safe. The adjustable strap inside, as well as the one on the oustide, give you great versatillity and functionality. 

Tote bags have developed over history from being an alternative to luggage bags to an essential fashion accessory. At the beginning of this article we asked; do tote bags focus more on style or more on functionality? The handbags featured above demonstrate that functionality is still present in tote bags and that in most cases functionality is actually the main design goal. Through including features such as detachable straps, inside pockets and storage space, tote bags are both functional and stylish; and this is why we conclude that they are one of the most essential fashion accessories in your wardrobe.






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