What is a Tote Bag and How Did it Come About?

In our world, tote bags have become our essential companion. They are not only versatile and stylish, but they have seamlessly integrated into our everyday lives, from our wardrobes to our shopping trips and even our work environments. Have you ever wondered what is a tote bag and how it came about?

In this article, we will explore the origins of tote bags, what is a tote bag used for, the difference between a tote and a handbag, why they are called tote bags, and whether they can be used as a handbag. So, let's dive in.

What Is a Tote Bag Used For?

Tote bags are versatile and practical accessories that serve various purposes for companies and customers. Whether you need a reliable shopping bag, a stylish handbag, or a convenient way to carry your belongings, tote bags have got you covered. Here are some of the most common uses of tote bags:


One of the most popular uses for tote bags is as an eco-friendly alternative to single-use shopping bags.

With their durability and spaciousness, tote bags are perfect for transporting groceries and other purchases from the store. You can reduce waste and contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle by opting for reusable tote bags.

Gym Bags

Tote bags are large enough to hold your exercise gear and are easy to clean if they get dirty. Most tote bags are machine washable, and it is a good idea to wash them inside out to preserve their design.

With a tote bag, you can conveniently carry your workout essentials and maintain a clean and organized gym bag.

Check out our leather tote bags and canvas tote bags


Tote bags offer a customizable option for fashion-conscious individuals. You can personalize your tote bag with pin badges or your own artwork to showcase your style and make a fashion statement. With their versatility and trendy appeal, tote bags make for excellent handbags.

School Bags

Tote bags are popular among students of all ages for carrying their school supplies, such as stationery and textbooks. With a tote bag, you can keep all your school essentials in one place and stay organized throughout the day.

Book Bags

Tote bags have a long-standing association with reading due to their sturdy construction. They are perfect for carrying a large collection of books, making them a favorite among book lovers.

Some publishing houses even offer tote bag designs with a literary theme, allowing you to express your love for books.

Lunch and Picnic Bags

Tote bags serve as a reusable alternative to disposable paper and plastic bags for carrying your lunch to work or school.

They are especially practical for packing various foods, like sandwiches and fruits, as they won't get separated in a shared fridge. With a tote bag, you can enjoy your meals while reducing waste.

Weekend Bags

When visiting someone over the weekend, a tote bag can be your go-to option for transporting extra clothing and amenities.

Standard tote bags are ideal for modest travel, but larger sizes are available if you need to bring more items.

Laptop Bags

In today's world of hybrid work, safely transporting your laptop is essential. Tote bags with sturdy construction and brand identification are a great choice for office employees. They provide a reliable and stylish way to carry your work laptop.


If you have accumulated more tote bags than you know what to do with, you can repurpose them as home storage.

Use them to organize stationery on your desk, hang them in the bathroom for extra toiletries, or store scarves and gloves in your closet by hanging them on coat hooks.

Travel Bags

Tote bags offer the advantage of being foldable, making them perfect for travel. They take up less space in your luggage compared to bulky purses.

This allows you to bring more essentials or additional clothing. Personalized tote bags can be a stylish and practical companion on your holiday.

Grocery Shopping

By using reusable tote bags instead of plastic supermarket bags, you can contribute to environmental protection. Tote bags can withstand the weight of a gallon of milk without ripping, making them a reliable choice for carrying groceries.

Look for a tote bag with handles that you can hang over your shoulder for easy carrying when filled with items.

Knitting Bags

Tote bags are excellent options for knitters as they provide ample space for yarns and needles. You can knit or crochet anywhere by filling your tote bag with your preferred supplies.

Some tote bags even come with pockets for smaller knitting accessories like scissors, stitch markers, and measuring tapes.

Storing Old Media

If you have a collection of outdated DVDs, videos, or CDs you're not ready to part with, tote bags can be handy. Store them in your tote bags to save space in your home.

Whether in the garage or a vacant closet, tote bags offer easy access to your old media whenever you feel like reliving memories or enjoying your favorite classics.

What Is the Difference Between a Tote and a Handbag?

Knowing the differences between a tote and a handbag is essential in choosing the right bag for you. These two bags may look similar, but they serve different purposes and have distinct features. Let's explore the variations between a tote and a handbag:

Size Variation

One of the most noticeable differences between a tote and a handbag is their size. Generally, a handbag is smaller in size than a tote bag. Suppose you are attending a formal location where you must only carry the appropriate accessories. In that case, it is a wise idea to choose a purse.

On the other hand, if you need to transport a lot of items across long distances, a tote bag is the greatest option. Due to its greater size and versatility, it will provide additional space for all your belongings.


The purpose of a bag is to protect your accessories, and the choice of material is crucial. If you are carrying easily damaged or delicate items, it is recommended to use a tote bag.

Tote bags are firm on the exterior and will provide greater protection. Conversely, a handbag would be the best choice if you are carrying formal stuff and want a more polished look.


Both handbags and tote bags are made of expensive materials, and the materials used in their construction are largely identical. However, handbags are often made of soft material, which gives them a luxurious feel.

On the other hand, tote bags are often made of strong material, making them effective at shielding your accessories from harm. Before making a purchase, it is important to consider the materials used in both bags.

Pocket Design

Each bag has a varied amount of pockets. A handbag would be a suitable choice if you prefer having multiple pockets for your belongings. Tote bags typically have only one pocket, which makes them a decent option for those who don't require much room for other items.

Additionally, stylish and opulent tote bags are available for those times when you need a nice bag but don't need to carry a lot of items.


Handbags are designed for formal settings, such as business meetings and events, where you need to remain organized and at ease.

Conversely, tote bags are practical for casual occasions, like parties or when you need to carry a lot of accessories for children. Carefully consider your needs and circumstances before selecting the appropriate bag for your usage.

Interior Design

When it comes to organization, handbag interiors outperform those of tote bags. Handbags offer several compartments and zips, making locating your belongings easy when needed.

Tote bags, on the other hand, typically have one larger pocket that can fit all of your accessories at once. While carrying many items may be advantageous, locating your belongings quickly in an emergency can be challenging.

Space Provided

If you need to carry a lot of items at once, a tote bag is the best option as it provides more space for your accessories.

But, a handbag has a limited capacity due to its formal usage. Choose the bag that suits you best depending on your needs and the use you have in mind.

Variations in Straps

The difference in straps is another significant distinction between tote bags and handbags. Most handbags carry a single, long, flexible strap, while tote bags have two straps. This strap difference may not seem important, but it can affect how the bag functions.

A tote bag offers the same benefits as a shopping bag, providing convenience and easy carrying. Both bags have various purposes due to the varying straps on each bag.

Why Are They Called Tote Bags?

The term "tote" originates from North America and is derived from English. It typically means "to carry" or "to transfer," often about a substantial weight or burden. Interestingly, similar terms exist in other languages as well; "tota” in Kikongo translates to “to pick up,” and “tuta” in Swahili means “to carry.”

The exact origin of the term is unclear, but it was first documented in Virginia around 1677. The term “tote bag” made its public debut approximately in 1900.

The renowned Ice Bag was first introduced by the outdoor clothing company L. L. Bean in 1944. The name was derived from its primary use - to assist in transporting ice from one’s car to their freezer. However, the utility of the bag extended beyond just carrying ice, prompting L. L. Bean to introduce new colors and designs.

Can a Tote Bag Be Used as a Handbag?

Yes, a tote bag can certainly be used as a handbag. The primary function of both is to carry items, making them interchangeable depending on your needs and the occasion.

Tote bags are typically larger and more durable, making them ideal for carrying a larger number of items or heavier objects. They’re often used for shopping, travel, or work because of their spaciousness and sturdiness.

On the other hand, handbags are usually smaller and more compact, designed for carrying essential items like a wallet, phone, keys, and makeup. They’re often chosen for their style and are used to complement an outfit for more formal occasions or everyday use.

So, while tote bags and handbags have different designs and purposes, you can use a tote bag as a handbag if it suits your needs and style. It's all about choosing the right bag for the right situation.

Summing Up the History of Tote Bags

Tote bags have come a long way since their beginnings. Today, they are not only functional but also fashionable accessories that have become a staple in many wardrobes. With their spacious interiors, sturdy materials, and stylish designs, tote bags offer the perfect blend of practicality and style.

Whether you use a tote bag for carrying groceries, packing for a beach trip, or simply as an everyday handbag, its versatility makes it a must-have accessory. So, next time you're in need of a bag that can hold it all, consider reaching for a tote bag.

Key Takeaways

  • Tote bags, known for their versatility, practicality, and style, have become an integral part of our daily lives.

  • These bags serve a multitude of purposes, from being eco-friendly shopping bags and gym bags to serving as handbags, school bags, book bags, lunch and picnic bags, weekend bags, laptop bags, storage solutions, and travel bags.

  • Totes are typically larger, more durable, and designed to carry a variety of items. In contrast, handbags are smaller, more formal, and intended for carrying essential items in a refined manner.

  • Originating from North America, ‘tote’ means ‘to carry’ or ‘to transfer.’ Its exact origin is unclear but dates back to the 17th century. The term ‘tote bag’ gained popularity in the 20th century.

  • Totes can replace handbags for carrying essentials depending on the occasion and personal preference due to their larger size and versatility.

Shop our collections of:

School Tote Bags | Travel Tote Bags | Luxury Tote Bags | Teacher Tote Bags | Leather Tote Bags | Brown Leather Tote Bags | Black Leather Tote Bags | Cute Tote BagsCanvas Tote Bags | Black Canvas Tote Bags | Green Canvas Tote Bags | Brown Canvas Tote Bags | Large Canvas Tote Bags | Small Canvas Tote Bags

Related Posts:

Sur chaque commande, tous les jours !

Nous apprécions votre sécurité

Garantie de remboursement de 30 jours

Prise en charge de l'identifiant Skype : LeatherNeo

Your cart is currently empty