Reader Request: Professional Work Bag

by - Friday, May 13, 2011

Reader A emailed me asking if I can help recommend a stylish work bag. She is a 5'1" law student who will be working at a firm over the summer. Her requirements are a sensible, professional, yet fun work bag that is big enough (but doesn't overwhelm her frame) to fit shoes and preferably a laptop, for no more than $150.

I was thrilled when I saw A's email because bags are one of my favorite topics of conversation :) At the same time, a bit unsure because I know next-to-nothing about law firms and lawyers besides the occasional Law & Order episodes. My impression is that the legal industry is highly conservative, so I would veer away from overly logo-ed loud bags and stick to classic styles and colors.

(1) Fossil Executive Center Zip ($148 - buy here) / (2) Fossil Executive North/South Tote ($148 - buy here) / (3) Giani Bernini Glazed Swagger Tote ($128 - buy here) / (4) JP Lizzy Luxe Society Tote ($98 - buy here, here) / (5) Merona Microfiber Tote ($30 - buy here) / (6) Piel Slim Tote (on sale for $143 - buy here) / (7) Marc Fisher Dress for Success Flap Tote ($98 - buy here) / (8) Leatherbay Leather Commuter Bag (on sale for $135 - buy here, here, here)

Style - For a professional environment, I would recommend a structured bag. Totes would be my first choice. They are the most practical with many size and design options. I would pay attention to strap drops -- making sure they fit easily over your shoulder and are thick and sturdy (don't want laptop remains splattered over your feet!) I'd also suggest broadening the search to include diaper bags. Yep, you read that right. Most have the shape of a shopping tote, but roomier, so if space is important, they could be a good alternative. I also like the look of satchels (but some may be hand-held only). Bag #7 is a great example of a feminine-looking briefcase-type bag that would look great in the courtroom -- am I idealizing again? Last time, I promise :)

Color/Design - With the legal industry being as conservative as it is, I would want to blend in as much as possible. Sticking to neutral colors (black, brown, gray, etc) may seem boring, but you can find ones with fun textures (ie, quilted, crocodile print). If that is still too blah, I'd expand the search to dark colors (ie, burgundy) but keep the design plain. Men wear red ties, and it's supposedly considered a "powerful" color, so I would think a dark red bag would be the equivalent for women. I would also try to pick bags with minimal hardware. Less is usually better.

Material - Most people's first choice would probably be real leather. Of course that usually means shelling out more money, but it is possible to find bags with real leather without turning to designer names and still staying within budget (ie, bags #1, 2). Faux-leather is also a possibility, with many feeling as soft as real leather. However, I would be careful of chemical smells. Bag #5 is made of nylon, but I like how the shape and overall look of the bag is very sleek. Depending on the environment, this could be a good choice.

Where to shop - Personally, I prefer to shop online for almost everything. The options are endless and it's pretty easy to compare products and get feedback through reviews. While browsing for A, I found many options at eBags and Zappos. If bag #6 is up your alley, Piel has more great selections. For shopping in person, I would recommend stores like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, and outlets for bags at great prices. If there is a particular designer you're after, sample sales (in person) and online through sites such as Hautelook, Rue La La, and Gilt Groupe are great options.

A also asked if I have any tips/success stories at bag shopping in thrift stores. I'm afraid I can't help her out here, but if anyone is willing to share their experience(s), we'd greatly appreciate it :)

What are your thoughts on work bags? Do you have any recommendations for A?

*Images 1-2 courtesy of Zappos / Images 3, 7 courtesy of Macy's / Images 4, 6, courtesy of eBags / Image 5 courtesy of Target

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  1. ooohhh #7 is my favorite. it looks trendy/stylish but professional at the same time. and it looks expensive!

  2. This is a great post, as I am always balancing that line between fun and professional.. maybe that is why I capriciously play dress up in my closest all the time... lol
    I especially like bags 2 and 3.

    I am vising DC near the end of June, any tips on places to go, vintage/consignment stores, etc?

  3. I love bag #7! It's so feminine and so powerful. Great post on bags Cee!

  4. I love #4....very Chanel-esque :D

  5. I like #7 too - it has a great shape and texture! I know this isn't a popular option, but I still believe in eBay as long as you get everything authenticated (either officially through someone like caroldiva or unofficially through tPF).

  6. I agree w/ur recommendation on having a structured work bag. No hobos. sadly. and I think burgundy is a great way to add color. I say any color can work, as long as it's not too bold. You can always add a scarf to add individuality to your accessories.

  7. i love a good structured bag for work and really like the ones you picked out. my fave is probably #2 or #3. i love the classic shape and the look of soft leather. great post, cee!

    cute & little

  8. i like 1 and 3. i also think that adding a scarf is a great way to dress up the bag but still look professional.

  9. Definitely #7, it looks plush, sophisticated and suitable for her profession.

  10. I adore # 2 and #7. Great picks Cee!

  11. great work bag tips! i like just a roomy simple black patent structured bag for work :)

  12. Oh what a nice post the forth and seventh are my favourites but i recommend the Longchamp too in a dark colour it goes with almost anything and it's really practical i have 3 of them and they are a life saver ;)

  13. If A reads this - I am a law student myself. 2 things: 1) you likely will not be carting papers back and forth at your internship, so you really dont need to have a big bag unless your employer wants you to bring your laptop to work every day, and 2) I do have to bring my laptop most days so I just use a cute vineyard vines tote bag, however, when going to court that bag is WAY too casual, so if you are going to court you need something like the above, dark, not too flashy. i personally use a kate spade bag (got mine on sale probably half off) that fits papers and my computer, similar to this:,default,pd.html?dwvar_PXRU2152_color=001&start=67&cgid=handbags-leather

  14. @SewPetiteGal - I forgot about eBay! Though I haven't had experiences with buying bags from there, you aren't the first one to sing their praises, so thank you for bringing that up. tPF is such a valuable resource!

    @AubreyOhDang!, @purses and puppies - How did I forget about scarves!? Great ideas to transform a bag into one of your own.

    @Elissa - I was hoping a law student/lawyer was going to chime in (the law friends of mine are all guys, so they're no help, haha). Thank you for sharing your experiences, Elissa!


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