Over the last two years, we’ve presented our picks of the best “work-life” bags that are versatile enough to take a woman from work to cocktail hour to hanging out with friends on the weekend. While our annual list is popular, shelling out $200 or more when you’re on an entry-level salary or when you are trying to save money can be tough.
After several weeks of rigorous testing, here are our picks of versatile work-life bags that are all under $100.
We tested a wide range of bags to suit different lifestyles. Some are equipped for a laptop, but others aren’t, since many women no longer need to lug a computer or a tablet around with them anymore. Some have compartments for sneakers, for women who like to spontaneously pop into a fitness class. Others can be converted from satchels to totes to backpacks to go from one activity to another. We tested many bags and these were the ones that made the cut.
Convertible: Modcloth’s Stop, Rock, And Roll ($69.99)
If you’re looking for an everyday work bag that looks professional, Modcloth’s Stop, Rock, and Roll is a good choice. It is a satchel that comes in black or brown that packs everything you might need to get through a workday. I packed it with my 13-inch laptop, plus a few magazines, notebooks, and a pocket umbrella, and it managed to retain its shape. It has two pockets on the inside, which I used to store my keys and wallet for easy access, plus a divider to separate your laptop. The best part about it is that it goes from a satchel to a cross-body to a backpack just by changing the straps.
It is made of a thick suede and leather, which made it durable through the daily wear and tear of carrying a heavy bag around. It looks perfect for work, but in the backpack or cross-body modes it manages to look slightly more casual, allowing you to wear it when hanging out casually over the weekend.
From Work To Weekend: Everlane’s Dipped Zipped Tote ($60)
If you’re looking for a tote bag that you can take everywhere, Everlane’s Twill Zip Tote is a good bet. It is perfectly sized for you to carry several devices including a 15-inch laptop. But the bag keeps its shape if you decide you want to travel light: The wide base sits flat on the ground and the stiff twill is firm.
Everlane has spent a lot of time designing the bag to last a long time. It is made from a combination of leather and cotton, which makes it very light even when it is full of stuff. The leather strap can bear a lot of weight, while also staying firmly in place, which is an improvement over cotton stops that wear out and get misshapen over time. The twill is water resistant and the base of the bag is screen printed 11 times for extra durability, so that it doesn’t get wet or dirty as you go about your life. It has one pocket on the inside, so you don’t lose your wallet or sunglasses, and the entire bag can be zipped up.
I found the bag very useful. As a mother of a toddler, I packed the tote with baby stuff on the weekend (sippy cups, snack boxes, Elmo) and the bag looked perfectly casual. But when I needed to bring it to work, it also looked structured and prim, even when it was packed with my computer and a packed lunch. It comes in a wide array of colors: Tthe black is great for more formal workplaces, while the yellow or green are great if you’re in a more casual environment.
For The Traveler: Herschel Novel Duffle ($84.99)
If you travel a lot for work and pleasure, it can be hard to find a functional, affordable but also attractive bag to tote around. The Herschel Novel Duffle does the job very nicely. It’s a spacious, lightweight bag that you can carry over the shoulder or with reinforced handles. I packed three days’ worth of clothes, an extra pair of sandals, and a couple of paperback books for a short trip and there was still room to spare, while not feeling too heavy.
The bag comes with several thoughtful pockets. It has a special shoe compartment, which means it can function as a gym bag, plus a mesh sleeve on the inside to stash sweaty clothes.
It comes in a wide range of colors and designs, but if you opt for a muted color combo, like apricot blush, or black (both of which come with a contrasting brown handle), the bag can work well in a professional context. The great thing about it is that it works equally well if you’re going away for a casual weekend, eliminating the need for two travel bags.
Fun But Practical: Ban.do Amigo Circle Bag ($95)
Sometimes, you want a bag with a bit of personality to carry to the office that still looks professional and does the job of carrying all your stuff. If this describes your particular predicament, Ban.do’s Amigo bag might be a good fit. It’s a circle bag that is on trend and comes in black, cream, and a playful pink. But it still manages to look appropriate with formal workwear, if somewhat ’80s inspired.
This bag is large enough to carry everything you need to get through an entire week. I stuffed it with my everyday items–wallet, keys, sunglasses, business card case–plus notebooks and other documents. On a weekend to the beach, I was able to add a swimsuit, small toiletries kit, and even a pair of flip-flops wrapped in a bag. The two shoulder straps are sturdy and the leather exterior is durable. The bag manages to keep its shape no matter what you put inside.
Small But Mighty: Timbuk2 Adapt Cross Body ($89)
If you’re in the market for a small purse that can do everything, you should consider Timbuk2’s cross-body option. It’s small and lightweight, but it can pack a lot. I was able to fill it up with my phone, charger, wallet, hardshell sunglasses case, a small notebook and pen, and a small pouch for headache medication. There was still room to spare for the odds and ends you pick up as you’re out and about.
The bag is made from the durable neoprene material that Timbuk2 is known for in its iconic messenger bags. I found this very useful when I was out in the rain, or when my toddler decided to drool or color on the bag. The flexible straps were also handy: It worked well as a cross-body, but looked nice as a regular handbag as well.
In my research, I’ve found that many women no longer need to carry many devices with them as their going to work. This is the ideal bag for the woman who just needs to have her cellphone handy and doesn’t need to be too formal at work. It’s the perfect bag to carry into the weekend to avoid the awkward bag-swapping hustle.
Compact Backpack: State Bags Slim Lorimer ($90)
I’ve found that many women, particularly in casual office environments, are looking for a backpack, but don’t want one that looks to large or masculine. State’s Slim Lorimer is a good bet. It is designed for a woman’s back, since it has a smaller silhouette.
It is also not too bulky, but has a special compartment designed for a 13-inch laptop. I found that it could pack my computer and several notebooks, plus all my other daily items, like my wallet and sunglasses, without losing its slim shape. This backpack will be particularly handy for women who commute long distances with their laptop or those who commute by bike. It is made of a lightweight, waterproof material, for those days when you’re traveling in the rain.
The bag comes in a range of fashion-forward colors, ranging from feminine purples to neutral blacks.
Casual And Convenient: Sakroots Campus Tote ($48)
If you’re in a more casual industry, or spend a lot of time working in a coffee shop, you might opt for the Sakroots campus tote. It’s small and light, but holds a 13-inch laptop. It’s designed to be worn over the shoulder, but also as a cross-body or as a messenger. It is made from denim and canvas that comes in a range of boho- and hippie-inspired prints, giving it a far more relaxed look than some of the other bags we’ve included on the list.
It’s a great everyday bag. I stuffed it with my computer, several magazines, and books: It bears a lot of weight. But I found that I didn’t have to change bags when I took my daughter to a playdate over the weekend. It’s perfect for the woman who spends a lot of time out of the office and needs to tote around a lot of stuff to get through the day.