Looking for an artsy, stylish yet functional business tote bag or messenger bag.
February 16, 2007 2:51 PM   Subscribe

Looking for an artsy, stylish, functional business tote or messenger bag.

I am having the hardest time finding a tote bag that is both *artsy* and stylish and "different" yet decently made and functional. I'm in grad school, so I carry around loads of stuff at all times: oversize notebooks, huge textbooks, pens, cell phone, wallet etc. So this bag has got to fit a lot of stuff. Since my back bothers me sometimes, I'd like something that has a nice, comfy shoulder strap.

Right now I use a backpack but it just doesn't look professional or attractive for those days when I'm at my internship. (Plus, I feel like a big kid bringing my backpack everywhere and can never find anything in there!!) I want something that is less "kid" looking and more sophisticated and fashionable. I hope to transition the same bag into a casual business environment once I graduate.

I'd like to spend $100 or less, although I'm slightly flexible on that.

I'm a woman, by the way.
posted by mintchip to Shopping (32 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps obvious, but Timbuk2?
posted by phrontist at 3:01 PM on February 16, 2007

I've been pining for one of these for while--after seeing a few of the open top messenger bags in person (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

Not sure if she ships internationally, if you're not in the US.
posted by thivaia at 3:05 PM on February 16, 2007

I covet these, but haven't purchased one yet because I'm cheap. Although I'll buy books and magazines and CDs and games until the cows come home that add up to way more than one of those bags. But that's just because I'm dumb. I want one of them Chrome bags real bad, even though they're all hipster like.
posted by pazazygeek at 3:24 PM on February 16, 2007

I've had good luck with bags from Franklin Covey - I used to carry a messenger bag that is still in perfectly good shape after close to five years, and just upgraded to a more professional laptop bag that I love, and get a lot of compliments on.
posted by librarianamy at 3:38 PM on February 16, 2007

I was having the same feelings as you for awhile. I look young enough without carrying a giant backpack. So, I started looking into shoulder bags, and tried carrying one to see if I liked it. I found that even a few hours of carrying something on just one shoulder with even one textbook in it made my back hurt like crazy, way more than even three textbooks in a backpack. Obviously, YMMV, but try walking around with a shoulder bag for a week before you drop the coin you'd drop on a Timbuk2 bag.

I ended up buying a smaller, more grown-up looking backpack (a Kelty Mica) that doesn't look quite as goofy on my small frame as the freaking giant Jansport backpack I had before. I came to the conclusion that if you have any back issues at all - at least of the sort I have - you really should carry something that distributes your load over as much of your frame as possible.
posted by crinklebat at 3:41 PM on February 16, 2007

Off the top of my head, Ill Parcel. I think that "lots of storage" and "professional" don't have a lot of overlap unless you want to get a rolling case.
posted by rhizome at 4:00 PM on February 16, 2007

Cydwoq. Specifically the Mail, Flap, and Post models. But not for $100.
posted by dobbs at 4:12 PM on February 16, 2007

Best answer: Some ideas:

cabby messenger bag
Queen Bee poppy trucker
Orla Kiely linear stem business bag -a little too pricey though, but maybe one of the smaller bags?
lotta jansdotter lisboa tote
Yak Pak Zephyr bag
posted by logic vs love at 4:27 PM on February 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

Check out Tumi . I was on a bag quest similar to yours a couple of years ago, got a Tumi messenger bag, and have never regretted it. They're sort of expensive, but durable -- I've had mine two years and it's still in excellent shape.
posted by hazelshade at 4:40 PM on February 16, 2007

Just to note, you can get the smaller but still roomy-looking version of the big Tumi expandable messenger bag for $95.

I promise I don't work for Tumi -- have just drunk the Tumi Kool-Aid.
posted by hazelshade at 4:43 PM on February 16, 2007

You could always get a plainer Marimekko bag. They're attractive, and if you want a wackier one those're available too.
You pretty much have to google the individual varieties, though, in order to find them for sale.
posted by zusty at 4:50 PM on February 16, 2007

I don't know how "sophisticated" the Timbuk2 bags are but they certainly are fashionable - I see plenty of young professionals (men and women) walking around downtown Chicago with them.

I bought one just because they are neigh indestructible and I would seriously, seriously, seriously kill a mofo over my Timbuk2 bag... I love it that much. Seriously.
posted by wfrgms at 5:40 PM on February 16, 2007

posted by fire&wings at 5:53 PM on February 16, 2007

The only thing under $100 at Mulberry is a cut-leather lobster- or wiener-dog-shaped key ring... cute as the dickens, but nothing to tote textbooks around in.
posted by Scram at 6:35 PM on February 16, 2007

I love my ID by Tom Bihn. Great company, nice folks, super well-made stuff.
posted by desuetude at 6:37 PM on February 16, 2007

Reload Bags
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:02 PM on February 16, 2007

i have a timbuk2 bag and i LOVE it. it has stood up to daily use on back of my motorcycle for 1 1/2 years and it is still going strong. i have a medium messenger bag and i can fit enough in it for an overnight trip and it is easy to balance on my back as i ride, freeway and side streets. you can get a medium bag for about $80 and you can design it yourself to pick the colors/features that best fit your needs
posted by maryruthless at 8:01 PM on February 16, 2007

i forgot to add, i had back surgery a few years back and my timbuk2 bag is great. it really balances the load and believe me i pack it to its limits. i am female also and it works great for me. the medium size will carry a laptop and books, etc.
posted by maryruthless at 8:05 PM on February 16, 2007

www.popgloss.com has a lot of great stylish bags (click on bags at the top). If you're looking for artsy, why not try the MOMA store or Chicago AI?
posted by B-squared at 8:14 PM on February 16, 2007

Jack Gomme, specifically these. US retailers.
posted by staggernation at 8:26 PM on February 16, 2007

I'll second the Queen Bee bags; mine has held up to a lot of use (though they're so popular in Portland that I sometimes see someone else with "my" design). They're good over the shoulders.
posted by lisa g at 9:01 PM on February 16, 2007

Best bag company bar none: Crumpler . Life time guarantee, v. stylish and trendy (much to the scorn of the company!)

I couldn't be more happy with my Barney Rustle Blanket (about half way along).
posted by oxford blue at 9:19 PM on February 16, 2007

Back up off my Timbuk2 bag! Like others have said, I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE mine. I have this size, and while I love it, it is too small for a laptop, textbooks, binder, and folders. I recommend going with the medium or large size bag. Also, check into their laptop bags. Also, if you're concerned at all, they custom make their custom bags in California. The same is NOT true of the purses, wallets, etc., which are made in China.

I LOVE Timbuk2. I will also beat you to death if you touch my bag.
posted by santojulieta at 9:19 PM on February 16, 2007

Let's maybe make a distinction here between "true" (or original, if you prefer) messenger bags and messenger-style bags? Where the former is designed to sit on your back? And probably has some sort of second strap that goes under your arm to secure the bag thusly? And then the messenger-style is (AFAI can tell from the wonderful links provided by the wonderful people) just something that goes over the shoulder in some fashion? And probably sits at your very lower back or side?


Because the messenger-style, when loaded down with stuff, can definitely cause or exacerbate back problems. And "true" messengers can cause the same problems if one wears 'em all low slung.

I'd suggest a "true" messenger and get accustomed to wearing it all tight and secure. Better ergonomics and o-so-hip. If you go that route, may I also suggest the buckle feature found on Chrome bags, among others (Reload, for instance, mentioned upthread)? It allows easy on and easy off, especially with heavy loads.

Thanks for all the awesome links, ppls! There goes my night to the browsing-for-bags demon
posted by wemayfreeze at 9:48 PM on February 16, 2007

The crumplers, at least most of their actual messenger bags, have a 'third leg'; i.e a special adjustable strap/buckle that let's you wear the bags as wemayfreeze suggests.

So one can adjust the main shoulder strap, as well as this extra strap so the bag can be as snug and ergonomically friendly as you please.

Whatever you decide make sure you physically try them on. Most good stores (The crumpler ones do) will let you bring all your junk to put in the bag so you can get a feel for them.

posted by oxford blue at 11:06 PM on February 16, 2007

nth Timbuk2. Bomb-proof and stylish. The only thing I own that's made as well as I would have made it -- if I knew how.
posted by turducken at 11:27 PM on February 16, 2007

Here's a third on Crumpler Bags. They are a bit expensive but quite stylish and totally indestructible. Beautiful build quality and lifetime warranty. They seem to be trendy and have funky names for the bags, if that matters to you.

I have no association with them other than buying an 7 Million Dollar Home and being quite happy with it. Pretty much everyone I know who's bought a bag in the last year (postgrads, the lot of them and the bags are for laptops, notes and cameras) has bought a Crumpler of some variety.
posted by polyglot at 11:28 PM on February 16, 2007

Crumplers be awesome, super comfy and well designed. I have three.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:22 AM on February 17, 2007

This discussion may be useful.
posted by paduasoy at 3:12 AM on February 17, 2007

I have two crumplers, a smaller laptop bag and a big one for the bike. Great bags, not showing any wear even after a few years of daily use (they go to work, they go into the field, they fly with me). I frequently get stopped and asked where I got them.
posted by bonehead at 6:32 AM on February 17, 2007

my quick thoughs:

- wemayfreeze is right. if you buy a messenger-style bag and plan to carry a lot of stuff, you ought to wear it 'right,' high up and secure the way messengers do, across your upper back, not slung low on the side or on your hips. this will do in your back. for this i'd suggest a bigger bag like a chrome. (i think chrome looks cooler than bimuk2, and everyone has a timbuk2 nowadays--i've had a timbuk2 for years and they're great quality, but the 'style premium' has decreased.)

- one solution is to carry less stuff. i'm also a graduate student and now i make a conscious effort to leave my books and laptop in my office. if you go with a smaller bag, you might want to look into filson or jack spade. i have a jack spade waxwear messenger which is great for small loads.

- have you looked at freitag bags? IMO they are the coolest, artsiest bags around.
posted by josh at 8:05 AM on February 17, 2007

I love my Vera Bradley messenger bag but I don't know if you'd consider that professional enough.

Eddie Bauer has some good messenger bags/briefcases. This bag looks roomy and can be carried like a briefcase, as an over-the-shoulder sling, or as a backpack. And it is well under $100.
posted by SisterHavana at 5:07 PM on February 17, 2007

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