The six best work-life bags of 2020

The pandemic has transformed our daily lives. These bags are perfectly designed to fit into our new reality.

The six best work-life bags of 2020
[Photo: courtesy Cuyana]

The pandemic has transformed every part of our daily lives—including our relationship with our handbags.


Every year, we scour the accessories landscape for thoughtfully designed bags, then test them for weeks to see how they make our busy lives easier. Just last year, designers were crafting large, multifunctional bags to get us through our busy days, which involved rushing from breakfast dates to the office to the gym to PTA meetings. But overnight, our lifestyles changed. We’re largely homebound and only stepping out to make quick trips to get some fresh air, pick up groceries, and perhaps stop by the office for a short while. “Before, our customer organized her life around going to work,” says Karla Gallardo, CEO of Cuyana, a fashion label known for its durable leather bags. “These days, she plans her day around errands. Even going to the office feels like an errand.”

The good news is that bag brands have quickly responded to our needs. Brands have launched smaller bags that accommodate our new daily necessities, such as hand sanitizer and extra masks. And since we’re now more aware of germs, there are more cross-body silhouettes on the market, which limit how much hand contact we make with our bags. Functionality is now at the forefront, but designers have found ways to create bags that are also beautiful and luxurious. And given that the pandemic will be with us for months to come, and will transform our lives in permanent ways, the current handbag aesthetic is likely to be the norm for a long time.

Here is our selection of the best work-life bags of 2020. Each has been rigorously tested to ensure they get us through the pandemic but are versatile and durable enough to use for years to come when normalcy begins to return.

[Photo: courtesy Caara]

Caraa Sling Bag

Belt bags have made a comeback over the last few years and are arguably the perfect pandemic bag, since they keep your hands free. Caraa specializes in sports bags and is best known for its studio bag, designed for transition from gym to work. But in our new reality, Caraa’s ultra-lightweight sling bag is ideal for getting exercise outdoors, such as taking long walks or hikes. It is made from water-repellent nylon, and the side that makes contact with your body is made from a mesh that allows airflow, reducing sweatiness. It has six pockets of all sizes throughout the bag, which are useful for tucking away your headphones or credit card into, and a key fob inside, so you don’t have to dig around for them. It comes in a wide range of fun colors.

[Photo: courtesy MZ Wallace]

MZ Wallace Bowery Crossbody

MZ Wallace’s Small Bowery Crossbody is a study in practicality. It’s made of recycled nylon that feels almost weightless, but like all MZ Wallace bags, it has leather trims that create an elevated look. It features an exterior pocket for easy access to your phone, along with five interior pockets, which makes it easy to organize and locate what you need quickly. The bag comes with two straps. The nylon crossbody is perfect for walks and trips to the grocery store, while the leather-wrapped shorter strap makes it a shoulder bag for a socially distant coffee date.

[Photo: courtesy Leatherology]

Leatherology Alex Work Bag

Not everybody is working from home: In some industries and some parts of the country, people are returning to the office every day, and the compact Alex Work Bag is designed to make that transition easy. It allows you to tote around your laptop along with all the cords and tech accessories, without losing its shape. Leatherology specializes in customizing leather goods, offering a wide range of monogramming options at an affordable price. Starting at $40, you can personalize this bag with hand-painted letters in whatever color palette you choose. This bag makes a great gift, particularly to someone who has just graduated or is starting a new job.
[Photo: courtesy Cuyana]

Cuyana Messenger

This messenger bag is not like any other you’ve seen: Thanks to its carefully designed proportions, it looks sleek and structured, and it’s made from luxurious pebbled leather. It’s also very versatile, since it can be carried over the shoulder, giving it a more formal look, or as a more casual cross-body. This is the ideal work bag for our current lives. If you need to step into the office or occasionally work from a patio or park, it has a laptop sleeve and plenty of room for your work stuff. But you’ll also want to use this bag for many other purposes both now and into the future. It is elegant enough to carry to date night, and functional enough for a busy day around town.

[Photo: courtesy Mansur Gavriel]

Mansur Gavriel Zip Bucket Bag

Mansur Gavriel is known for its bucket bag silhouette, which has now become iconic. Its latest iteration, the zip bucket bag, is perfectly designed for pandemic life. At 10 inches high, it is perfectly proportioned to tote around everything you need to step out of the house these days, like your wallet, sunglasses, and a paperback to read in the park. (If you’re looking for something smaller, the brand has a miniature version of this bag that is 7 inches high and costs $465.) The bag is meant to last years: It is made in Italy from soft calf hide, and its classic design, clean lines punctuated by gold buttons, will outlast trends. This is likely to be your go-to, everyday bag for years.

[Photo: courtesy Senreve]

Senreve Midi Maestra Bag

Senreve launched with the mission of making luxury bags that are also versatile and functional. Its hero silhouette, the Maestra, has now become iconic with its structured, geometric design. It is arguably the ideal bag for the way we live now. It comes in three sizes. In my experience, the medium version–or the ‘midi’–is perfect for everyday use. It can be carried in four ways (as a backpack, a crossbody, a shoulder bag, or a satchel) and looks beautiful in each of these silhouettes. It’s made from hard-wearing Italian leather that is scratch-, stain-, and water-resistant, so you don’t need to worry about it showing wear if you bring it with you everywhere. It is the ultimate investment piece because it will serve you well for as long as the pandemic lasts, and it’ll be ready for you when you’re preparing to head back to the office, on a plane, or out to brunch with your friends.

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts