Found: The Best Leather Tote Bags For Your Capsule Wardrobe

To take you from Pilates class to the office and rooftop happy hour.

Gili Biegun wears a beige leather trench coat by InWear, an extra large black leather bag by Demellier London, golden colored glitter pump pointed shoes by Balenciaga, sunglasses by Celine, during a street style fashion photo session, on March 24, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Let's be honest—no matter how many chic bags you own, the bag you reach for most often is a sturdy leather tote. It's the unsung heroine of our bag collection. I enjoy different types of bags as much as the next fashion-loving woman, but a leather tote is the most essential when it comes to my day-to-day lifestyle. No other bag can double as a gym bag, a work bag, a brunch go-to, and more. 

Whether you’re a corporate girl on the hunt for a tote that doubles as a laptop bag or a trendsetter in need of a practical-yet-stylish carryall, the best leather tote bags will serve you well. Nowadays, leather totes come big and small in a variety of shades and materials, including faux, vegan, and genuine leather. Whatever your taste, needs, and preferences, there’s a tote bag out there waiting to be your next favorite purchase. 

To get the lowdown on the best leather tote bags, I spoke to some leading ladies in the field: Jenny Lei, founder of Freja New York, and Karla Gallardo, co-founder and CEO of Cuyana. Keep reading to learn everything there is to know about the best leather totes, and to shop our favorite picks.

What to Look For in the Best Leather Totes

When on the hunt for the most perfect leather tote bag to suit your needs, Gallardo and Lei suggest considering these factors:

  • A bag’s feel and texture are major, according to Gallardo. “A good leather tote bag should be soft and supple,” she says. “You should always look for a grainy, pebbled feel.”
  • Lei recommends looking at a bag's features such as: “comfortable straps, good structure, lots of pockets, a classic silhouette, and the ability to go from day to night and blend into any environment.” 
  • For both women, a brand’s processes, transparency, and story are key when making a purchase. Gallardo argues that making educated decisions (i.e. researching a brand’s materials and sustainability certifications) is the most critical step. “Transparency from brands and third-party certifications are key to identifying the authenticity and quality of a product,” she says. Lei is in a similar boat in that a brand’s story is particularly crucial to her, adding, “It’s important that every item I invest in was made consciously and for a purpose.”

The Best Leather Totes

The Best Faux Leather Totes

Faux vs. Genuine Leather Totes

Nowadays, you may pick up what you think is a leather tote bag and quickly realize it’s not made from real leather at all. Alternative leather tote bags are becoming increasingly popular, as they're often cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Faux leather is made from synthetic and/or natural materials to mimic the look and feel of genuine leather. “Vegan” leather also fits into this category and is made from materials such as pineapple leaves, cactus, cork, and fruit waste. Genuine leather, however, is made using the skin of animals. 

It’s a matter of personal preference whether you opt for a faux, vegan, or genuine leather tote. If eco-friendly materials are an important factor for you, you may want to consider a vegan leather bag. On the other hand, Gallardo says, “Genuine leather is unmatched in its quality, beauty, and natural finish,” adding that genuine leather bags are investment pieces. 

According to Lei, though, genuine leather and faux leather can run the spectrum of low to high-quality, so it’s a topic that should be approached with nuance. She adds, “The durability, look, and feel of vegan leather has come very far in the past few years so there’s really no compromise there.” 

If faux or vegan leather sound like the best option for you, Lei recommends avoiding totes made primarily with PVC and to look for products made with recycled plastics and natural resources like cork and apple. 

Meet the Experts

Jenny Lei
Jenny Lei

Jenny Lei is the founder and designer of Freja New York. After taking a detour from her original plans to pursue UX design, she decided to take a chance on herself and launch Freja to create functional foundation pieces for people to support their big life moments—something made ethically and responsibly with a story behind it. Functional, but still elegant. Jenny holds a Bachelors and Masters from Cornell University and currently resides in New York City where she has personally shipped every Freja package to date, adding a personal touch to every order.

Karla Gallardo
Karla Gallardo

Along with Co-founder Shilpa Shah, Karla Gallardo created Cuyana in 2011 to create high-quality and sustainably sourced accessories. Starting her career in investment banking, Karla holds a Bachelors in Applied Mathematics and Economics from Brown University and later added business expertise to her background with a Masters of Business from Stanford. After meeting Shilpa in late 2009, she then decided to combine her creativity and analytical brain to create Cuyana. The brand was inspired by Karla's childhood in Ecuador where she was taught to invest in quality pieces and saw traditional artisanry firsthand. Alongside her duties as Cuyana's CEO and Co-founder, Karla spends time mentoring other women who can relate to her story. 

Brooke Knappenberger
Associate Commerce Editor

Brooke Knappenberger is the Associate Commerce Editor at Marie Claire, where she specializes in crafting shopping stories—from sales content to buying guides that span every vertical on the site. She also oversees holiday coverage with an emphasis on gifting guides as well as Power Pick, our monthly column on the items that power the lives of MC’s editors. She also tackled shopping content as Marie Claire's Editorial Fellow prior to her role as Associate Commerce Editor.

She has over three years of experience writing on fashion, beauty, and entertainment and her work has appeared on Looper, NickiSwift, The Sun US, and Vox Magazine of Columbia, Missouri. Brooke obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism with an emphasis on Magazine Editing and has a minor in Textile and Apparel Management.