7 Ways to Choose the Perfect Work Bag

by Rika Nurrohmah

If you work, one thing you likely never leave your house without is your trusty work bag. It carries precious materials such as a notebook full of ideas and thoughts, pens to take notes and sign papers, a laptop with information for your afternoon presentation, maybe a book or a makeup bag, and just about anything you need to perform and excel at the office.

Because your work bag is part of your professional attire, it should be attractive and not flashy. It should also keep your work materials organized so it makes your job (and your life) easier, and it should be strong enough to haul all of your gear. We enlisted the help of style consultant Karyn Starr, who works with professionals in New York and Los Angeles, to guide us on the quest for the perfect work bag.

Ask yourself: How do you use your work bag?

Image: DenisNata/Fotolia

"We have clients ranging in professions from lawyers, doctors, artists, small business owners, restaurateurs... not all of these people carry the same bag," says Starr. Some questions to ask yourself include what goes in your bag to and from work? Do you travel a lot? Do you carry a laptop? Are you mostly using public transportation or are you driving a car? The stylist assures that answering these questions will help you choose between a heavy, durable satchel with lots of hardware embellishments, like this 3.1 Phillip Lim Pashli satchel or this Forever 21 version, and a streamlined tote like these from Creatures of Comfort and Old Navy.

Try Aldo Top-Handle Satchel Bag, $48, Amazon

Make an investment

"A work bag is definitely a good place to step it up and make a good investment," notes Starr. Your bag doesn't necessarily have to cost as much as your rent, but Starr adds that a high quality bag is very important. Invest not only your money, but also a little research into brands and the bags they carry to conclude what works best for you in the long run. The stylist chooses classic, chic styles that can adapt to any work setting. She directs clients to investment-worthy purchases like this Valextra Madison working bag, which comes equipped with zipper pockets, an exterior slip pocket for quick-for-reach items, and a cell phone pocket. It's also good to have a quality leather or clothing repair shop like Manhattan's Leather Spa, which can handle luxury leather, in your phone contact to keep your splurge in top shape. (Hint: While you're saving for the Valextra, this Zara shopper should do the job nicely.)

Try Kate Spade New York Cedar Street Maise Shoulder Bag, $368, Amazon

Look for shoulder straps

Image: Nordstrom

To ensure that your work bag isn't going to send you to an orthopedic office, look for convertible handles and straps. "I feel it's best if it [the bag] can be carried two ways: in your hand and over the shoulders," notes Starr. "You want to change the way you carry your bag or it will start to hurt one part of your body." This Rebecca Minkoff leather satchel is a great example of versatile features: it has detachable shoulder straps that can be tucked away if you feel so inclined to carry it off your arms.

Rebecca Minkoff Jules Satchel, $300, Amazon

Stay away from obvious brand logos

Jacopo Raule/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

A good work bag should stand the test of time and not look so, for example, "spring 2014," according to Starr. Oh, another thing: No logos! Not only is a large-print, embellished logo too conspicuous to flaunt at your board meetings, but you'll probably be over it within a few months time.

Try Nine West Scallop Tote Bag, $63, Amazon

For carrying it all, get a durable tote

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If you work in the creative field and find yourself lugging around all sorts of stuff on the daily like fabric swatches, sketchbooks, and yoga clothes, a durable tote is the perfect work bag for you. Look for a structured one with sturdy straps. For something lightweight, a thick leather, or high quality faux, body without the extra bells and whistles means that only the contents you put in your bag will be adding weight. Starr loves to suggest Mansur Gavriel tote bags to her creative clients because the lightweight design can carry just about anything you'll want to bring to work. "The design is clever because the inside is a different color, so it's easy to find your things." For a slightly less expensive option, check out these gorgeous Cuyana totes.

Try Isaac Mizrahi Leather Lillie Tote, $59.99, Amazon

Choose an interior that fits your needs

Image: Woe/Fotolia

A bag with an accordion interior separated into folder compartments isn't necessarily better than a tote with an open design. It all depends on how you use the bag. If you carry a lot of paperwork that you need to keep flat, the accordion compartments may work best for you, but if not, an open interior provides more flexibility. To keep things from getting too messy in an open tote, try carrying a Baggu bag on the side. "I like to keep my yoga clothes separate from my work paper, wallets, and so on," says Starr. To protect your laptop without adding extra weight, Starr suggest a "simple, chic sleeve" like this Jack Spade Waxwear slip (or this one from Amazon).

Baggu Reusable Shopping Bag, $9, Amazon

Leather Laptop Sleeve, $29.99, Amazon

Chained to your laptop? Get a fashionable laptop bag

Looking for a chic way to carry your virtual office around? Thankfully designers and brands have answered our prayers to spare us from the boxy, over-armored styles you find at computer shops. This Kate Spade Nylon Calista, a favorite among Starr's clients, is a puffed nylon laptop bag disguised as a cute cross-body shopper. For a more budget-friendly alternative, try this quilted tote from Target. We also love this Marc by Marc Jacobs 'Preppy Nylon' computer commuter bag, because it comes with a slimming exterior pocket that can hold notepad, pens, and other items you want to throw in.

Kate Spade Nylon Calista Laptop Bag, $263.88, Amazon

Try Overbrooke Nylon Laptop Tote, $29.95, Amazon