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Radley Stories

Style Notes

The Most Luxurious Leather Tote Bags in Fashion: How to Wear a Big Tote

07 July 2023

Wear with anything, room for everything. There are so many benefits to having a trendy tote bag in your wardrobe. It’s why they’re one of our favourite handbag styles. But have you ever asked yourself, why is it called a tote bag? Or wondered how to style one of those throw-everything-in large tote bags for work? Look no further – we’ve got the answers.

What Does Tote Mean?

This stylish carry-all silhouette has truly earned its name. So, why is it called a tote bag? To understand this, we need to know what it means.

To tote means to carry. It’s a term derived from the Swahili word ‘tuta’, which has the same meaning. And the reason it’s been given to this bag is because of the expansive space it offers, allowing you to carry all of those extra everyday essentials.

When referring to a tote, we mean a bag that is typically large in size with two parallel handles that are long enough to wear on your shoulder. Some more modern styles offer extra functionality with a detachable cross body strap too, so it can be carried hands-free. In terms of how to wear a tote bag, it’s quite easy. And thanks to all the varieties available, there’s one to suit every outfit. We’ll look into this more later.

Some may confuse a tote with a shoulder bag. While the latter is also designed to be carried the same way, it’s often smaller than a tote and is likely to have just one strap, rather than two.


Are Tote Bags in Fashion?

The simple answer: yes. Every season, they’re so popular that totes will never go out of fashion. If you ask the people who carry one, they’ll all say how indispensable this bag is and how handy it is for carrying their life around, no matter the occasion.

Stylish tote bags for work are very popular due to their spacious interior, which allows the user to hold plenty of items, including their laptop – an important benefit in an age of hybrid working.

For weekends, lots of interior pockets make organising a breeze, as they provide dedicated spots to store earphones, keys, a phone and more of your mini essentials. 

Here at Radley London, trendy tote bags are always in fashion. Every month, we bring out a new collection, which always includes one or two (or probably more), all designed with the season’s top colours and details – just like the styles seen on the most recent catwalks. This might mean they're soft and slouchy one season, then structured and boxy the next; perhaps they appear pared back for a while, before oversized versions start to dominate the runway, and everyone begins looking at how to wear large tote bags.

True to our Radley London DNA, each of our tote styles is expertly crafted by our talented artisan partners and made using our last-a-lifetime materials. Whether it’s our gold-standard leather, recycled polyester (made from plastic bottles) as part of our Radley Responsible range, or even our recycled cotton canvas.

The History of the Tote Bag

It was the 19th century when the term ‘tote’ was first used to define a bag. But it wasn’t until the 1940s that it became an everyday household item. Unlike the stylish leather tote bags we use today, this early version came in the form of a heavy-duty canvas bag that was used to carry ice between the car and the freezer.

Similar to the quick-changing perspective of denim, people soon noticed how this canvas fabric stood the test of time. It wasn’t long before people stopped thinking of it as purely an industrial material.

The ‘50s were the first time we began to see tote bags in fashion. Designers began experimenting with the shape and colour, before using new materials to craft its familiar shape. Trendy tote bags were now being seen on the arms of style icons, such as Grace Kelly, and this type of high-profile sighting led to the creation of new, luxury staples.

It doesn’t just appear in female fashion – although it’s arguably more popular with women. The practicality of big totes is something that can’t be resisted by other genders. As they’re large enough to hold spare clothes, sports equipment, books and laptops, it’s no surprise that spacious men’s totes have become a staple.

It also helps when they’re given out for free; lightweight, cotton varieties are often gifted as a way to promote a company or charity. There are also patterned foldaway bag styles, which are sold as reusable, sustainable alternatives to plastic shopping bags at supermarkets.

Different Tote Styles

Canvas bags

This is one of the earliest designs, which is still widely used today. Canvas is known for being durable, washable and timeless. They could be carried as a casual, everyday bag, but may also be folded flat and tucked into a pocket, ready to pull out if needed – most likely when shopping as they’re a sustainable alternative to single-use plastic bags. As for our canvas totes, they’re crafted using recycled cotton, as part of our commitment to sustainability.


Reusable shopping bags

Much like canvas styles, reusable shopping bags are perfect for supermarket trips, as they fold down to a pocket size, ready to be pulled out at the tills. They match our umbrellas and even come with a press stud that keeps them tucked away neatly. However, unlike canvas tote styles, they’re made using a thinner, more lightweight fabric. 


Leather totes

If there are tote bags in fashion (which they always are), there’ll be lots of options crafted in leathers. All high-street stores and top fashion brands will have their own versions, available with a range of different details. Make sure you know how to spot the difference between Real Leather vs Fake Leather to make sure you’re always investing in quality that will last. For example, our leathers are always a by-product of the food industry and are sourced responsibly. Smart and structured, or soft and slouchy; when crafted in leather, they all make the best stylish tote bags for work.


Non-leather totes

Growing in popularity over the past few years due to increased awareness of sustainability, fabric bags are also a popular choice on the market today. Here at Radley London, we don’t just use any material. We have eco-friendly totes crafted using responsible materials – recycled polyester and BCI cotton are just a few of the ones we use.


Beach bags

Often a popular style for beach days and vacations. This is due to their larger size, which is perfect for storing towels, a book and sun cream. The best trendy tote bags for beach holidays are crafted with summer materials like straw, raffia or canvas, as these are more resistant to sun, sea and sand than natural leathers.

How to Choose the Right Tote For You

Truthfully, you can never go wrong with a stylish leather tote bag. But to find the most perfect option, there are a few things you can think about before investing.

What are you using it for?

Most trendy tote bags come in larger sizes, making it easy to carry everything you might need during a busy day. This is why many people choose these bags for work. If you do, consider those with a padded pocket that will fit and protect a laptop.

As they offer lots of secure, interior space, people also choose casual totes for travelling. Much like a holdall, they have room for all airport necessities, so it’s great if you’re looking for stylish luggage. While away, it can also be used to carry a towel, book and suncream to the beach.  

However, if you’re looking for a style to carry on weekends, you could get away with a smaller option. One that fits all essentials, and still has room for reusable water bottle and spare cardigan.

Where are you taking it?

If you’re going to be using your bag outside, it would be better to go for one that’s made from a waterproof or water-resistant material that will protect it – and the items inside – from rain or snow. Natural leathers and coated fabrics are the best for this.

If looking for a special occasion bag, a stylish leather tote bag will generally look smarter than other materials and is easy to keep clean if you have the right leather care products. Certain fabric or canvas options are often machine washable too, so if you are worried about your new accessory getting dirty, consider a material that you can easily clean. 


We think that’s everything you need to know. If you were wondering about any other handbag style, check out our guides on Radley Stories al about the Best Cross Body Bags and Backpacks In Fashion. Of course, you can shop all bags at Radley London, including those from our new collection.