Sometimes my bag is just a bag. Sometimes, my bag is a window into my soul.
A quick glance down at the contents of my tote can foretell the day I’m about to have. After a hectic morning, if I find myself digging around for my keys while staring into a tangled web of cords, stray Post-its, and business cards, I generally begin the day in the wrong state of mind; I start off feeling overwhelmed, out of control, and a step behind. On the other hand, staring down into a neatly organized bag, where everything has a place and is clearly visible, makes me feel ready to take on whatever happens that day.
The way our bags impact our psychology is not lost on designers. Take Dianna Pozdniakov, the founder of bag startup Sofia Fima. She used to be a professional architect in New York. As she took the subway to work every day, she wondered why so many women toted around multiple bags, and why it was so common to see a woman struggling to find some item that was lost deep in the abyss of one of the bags. She’s decided to turn her architect’s eye to creating bags that are both beautiful and full of thoughtful design features that help women stay organized. “A good bag should accomplish a lot,” she says. “It should look elegant on the outside, but inside, it should help you stay on top of your life. Women have too much on their plates to waste time finding stuff in their bag.”
I’ve scoured the market to find the best work bags that not only look professional and on trend, but that will also help you find your things easily and feel more on top of your life.
Best in class: Sofia Fima, the Main Squeeze ($465)
Sofia Fima bags have a distinct structured silhouette, with clean lines that designer Dianna Pozdniakov, a former architect, designed on 3D animation software. All the bags are made using Italian leather in American workshops, and the quality of the craftsmanship is obvious. The Main Squeeze is one of the most functional bags I have ever tested. The genius of the bag is that it comes with different inserts that suit women with different needs: one is perfect for a woman carrying a laptop and notebooks, while the other breaks the spacious interior into three segments, making it the perfect diaper bag or gym bag. Once the insert has been clipped into the bag, it stays in place. Some Sofia Fima customers actually buy both inserts and switch between them.
When I tested this bag, I always felt organized and on top of my work. It is full of plenty of helpful features, from a lanyard that holds your keys, to water bottle holders that protects the rest of your stuff from leaks. It was also fun to carry around with its feminine, interesting shape.
Lightest: MZ Wallace, Crosby Tote ($365)
This bag is ideal for women who hate carrying around extra weight. It is the ultimate lightweight bag made from high-quality nylon, but manages to look luxurious, thanks to little details like the leather trim and gold hardware. This bag gets top marks for its interior: It has six interior pockets so you can immediately find your cards, pens, and whatever else you need. It has four exterior pockets, which are very handy for things like your office key card and subway reading. It comes with a lanyard for your keys, plus a little purse, which I used as a wallet. This bag was a pleasure to tote around because it never weighed me down, and I never once had to waste time finding my things.
Most versatile: Bartaile, C12 Bag ($195)
This bag is designed to look slim, even though it is packed to the brim. It can be worn as a backpack, which makes it fantastic for bike commuters or women who want to distribute the weight evenly, but it can also be converted to be a satchel or a crossbody bag. It’s specifically designed to carry your laptop, with a padded sleeve that can accommodate up to 15 inches, so you can work on the go. It has an interior pocket for your cords and a special microsuede pouch for your sunglasses, but it also has a great exterior pocket for easy access to your stuff as you rush around town. This bag was designed to be practical: The exterior is made of water-repellant nylon, so you don’t have to worry about your computer getting damaged during a downpour. The leather trim on the bag makes it a beautiful, luxurious piece.
Most structured: Cuyana, Work Satchel ($475)
Cuyana’s founders are known for their Apple-like testing and prototyping of each product that they create. All of this was at work when they created the Work Satchel, a bag specifically designed for the needs of professional women. One of the most striking features of this bag is how slim and structured it is, yet it can carry a lot. It has a special sleeve for a 13-inch or 15-inch laptop, plus plenty of space for cords, your wallet, and an exterior pocket for cards and your phone. But no matter how much you put inside it, it maintains it beautiful shape, making it suitable for women who are in more formal professions, who need to look polished and put together.
Most spacious: JEMMA, Emma Work Bag ($398)
This bag was specifically designed to fit everything you could possibly need for the workday. Besides the 15-inch laptop sleeve in the middle, the widest part of the bag, it also has a 10-inch wallet sleeve on the back wall. But the bag can fit so much more than your tech accessories. It’s roomy enough for you to carry an additional pair of shoes and a water bottle without making the bag look overstuffed. Since this bag might end up being heavy, since you’re likely to carry a lot of stuff in it, it can be carried in many different ways, including as a cross-body and over the shoulder.
Most minimalistic: Linjer, Soft Tote ($359)
Linjer, a leather goods startup with a cult following, spent months creating men’s briefcases that went on to become one of the best reviewed men’s bags. When the founders turned their attention to women’s bags, they came up with the Soft Tote, made from high-quality leather that is both pliable and structured, and it has generated a 1,000-person waitlist. Unlike the other bags on this list, which are full of pockets, part of Linjer’s emphasis on minimalism is that this only has one hanging pocket, which is at just the right height for your phone and cards. It is large enough to fit a 13-inch laptop, and since there is only a magnetic closure, you can look down and see all of the contents of the bag at one glance. Linjer targets people who love minimalism–products have almost no external branding–and this particular bag is very carefully designed to encourage the user to carry as little as possible. Given the aesthetic and silhouette of the bag, I found that I tried to travel light with it, carrying the bare minimum I needed for the day. And interestingly, I found that most days I didn’t need very much at all.
Most fashionable: Hammitt, the Shawn Satchel ($595)
Los Angeles brand handbag brand Hammitt has made a name for itself for creating highly functional bags that are also totally on trend. The Shawn Satchel features stylish textured leather and silver hardware, and will appeal to women who love luxury bags. But unlike many other fashion-forward brands, Hammitt’s designers have put a lot of thought into how this bag will be used. The interior of the bag is made of red suede, which makes finding your stuff easier. There’s an abundance of handy pockets, including a perfectly sized cell phone pocket on the outside, plus one for cards on the inside. If you want a fashionable, luxurious bag but don’t want to compromise functionality, this one is for you.