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where can i find a classy, preppy, *affordable* tote for all of my Big Red books? thanks!

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Totes!  Thank you for asking a question on one of my favorite topics.  I’ll warn you now – I could write volumes on the options, features, uses, construction, and societal role of The All-Important Tote.  I’m serious.  What accessory gets more use (and abuse) than a carry-all tote?  It is crucial.  It is life sustaining.  Therefore, I think picking out a tote demands careful consideration, and weighing the features most important to you.

First of all:  price.  I’m not sure what “affordable” is but, assuming you’re a student, it probably means “as close to free as I can possibly get.”  Luckily, there are plenty of sturdy – and even cute! – totes for super cheap.

Of course, there is the classic, totally neutral, goes-with-everything (though arguably devoid of all personality) option: the L.L.Bean Boat and Tote Bag.  I would definitely recommend springing for the zip top if you’re at all like me (constantly dropping things, knocking over my bag, and spilling and losing things all over the place and generally making a huge mess wherever I go).  Even with the zip top, this bag is still only $31.95 for the large or $37.95 for the extra large.  (Of course, you score bonus Prep Points with a monogram.)

If you’re willing to spend a little bit more, though, L.L.Bean also has some bags with a little more personality.  I’m particularly fond of the Leather-Handled Madras Tote, $49; the Camden Embroidered Tote (who doesn’t love critters?), $49; and the Town and Field Wool Tote, $99 (though with something this wintry, you’d have to shop again for a new tote come spring).

Now, generally, I am pretty cheap.  I don’t like labels splashed all over my clothes and accessories (tacky!), and I resent paying more for an item just because of the name sewn on the tag (which no one will see, anyway).  But there are also certain items where you do get what you pay for, and it might be worth it to lay out the extra cash.  I think a tote is one of them.  You use it practically everyday so, on a cost-per-use basis, even a pricier bag is really pretty reasonable.  And anyway, you don’t really save if you get a low price bag that is also cheaper quality and end up having to replace it pretty frequently.  (I learned my lesson on this the hard way – in college I was seduced by the bright colors and loud patterns of the ubiquitous Vera Bradley totes; I ended up having to replace them at least once a semester due to wear and tear and the frayed handles spilling their foamy cushioning everywhere – yuck.)

Does “Big Red” books mean you’re a Cornellian?!  If that’s the case, then I would definitely recommend getting a water resistant bag with a zip top.  You’ll be trudging through snow, sleet, and rain practically everyday, and wet, warped books are just not fun.  They tend to be a little pricier, but you can find some absolutely adorable totes made of sailcloth that are sturdy and will do a good job of protecting your books and laptop, even when it’s Ithacating outside.

My absolute favorite, though I admit it’s a bit of a splurge:  Ella Vickers One of a Kind Sail Head Tote in White Sailcloth, $296.  Each one is totally unique, because they’re made with pieces of reclaimed yacht sails.  (You can request specific sail numbers on your bag, but it’s not guaranteed.)

 Another Ella Vickers sailcloth tote that’s cheaper, and has a waterproof liner (crucial in Ithaca!) is the Blue Star Sailcloth Zippered Handbag, $98.  It also has 3 inside pockets, which is nice for keeping organized.  Also adorable by Ella Vickers:  the Snipe Insignia Rope Handbag, $98; San Francisco White Dacron, $158; and the Star Zip Handbag (the zip top and waterproof lining are key), $98.

Sperry makes absolutely adorable sailcloth totes, though sadly they don’t have a zip top: the Sperry Top-Sider Sailcloth Tote Medium, $150.  Or, for something a little more feminine and sophisticated, I like Tipsy Skipper’s Tipsy Totes, $75.

I hope that helps!  Happy toting!