back to Change

Hi beautiful people, 

If you’re anything like me, you have a myriad of work-appropriate bags in your closet – mostly inexpensive ones that you picked up at Target. In the fall of 2014, I decided it was time for an upgrade. I needed something a bit more stylish. A grown-and-professional-broad kind of bag. 

With my 35th birthday approaching, feeling more grown-and-professional by the moment, I scoured the internet and found the perfect tote. The Tory Burch Robinson Pebbled Square Tote. The tote is beyond gorgeous, complete with double zippers, pebbled leather, ample compartments and chic detailing. 

In the weeks leading up to my December b-day, I stalked the bag online, wishing and hoping it would go on sale. And wouldn’t you know it, the bag went on sale – but on Black Friday, when I was all protesting vis-à-vis #blackout. My conscious prevailed. Alas, I just couldn’t click the “buy” button. 

But before I made a final decision on the purchase, I engaged in self-study regarding all things work tote-related. In the process, I learned a few things from my stylish internet/professional women blogs that I’ll pass on to you. 


1) Think about the impression you want to make.

Select a tote that compliments your personal style AND work environment. What message do you want to send to your coworkers or customers? Here’s an example from my life: since the publishing of this Atlantic piece, I’ve been personally more aware of how my attire may impact patients’ perceptions of my work ethic, drive, and open-heartedness. The author, Dr. Reisman, is a physician who writes that upon seeing another female colleague in a corporate suit with high heels, she thought, “Would the stiletto-wearing doctor squat down to examine a sore on a wheelchair-bound patient’s foot, or roll up her linen sleeves in preparation for a Pap smear? I suppose she would. But I’d rather see someone whose clothes didn’t leave me wondering. Give me a warm-hearted doctor with an open, interested expression, and I might not even notice what she’s wearing.”

Sigh. While I disagree wholeheartedly with the author’s sentiments, Dr. Reisman’s words and the comments that followed have been embedded into my subconscious, leading me to gauge my attire on an arbitrary scale of approachability. For better or for worse, our attire and accessories send a message. Think about what you want and need that to be, given your professional sitch.

2) Before your purchase, read the reviews and comments, no matter how minor the impact on your wallet!  An inexpensive tote that falls apart quickly may not be worth the price tag. Roam the blogsphere (and YouTube) to find details, complaints, or raves about your potential match. Personally, I’m obsessed with reviews; particularly engaged YouTubers or bloggers may answer your questions directly, too. I find Jean from Extrapetite to be great at offering the right amount and flavor of assessment and commentary regarding potential purchases; from her comments on my potential Tory Burch purchase, I learned that a) people are really opinionated about how much you spend on a bag, and b) one issue with a double-zippered bag is forgetting which zipper you put your stuff in, leading easily to a “wait, did I check this pocket? No wait, maybe it’s in the other one” type of scenario.

3) Look for less expensive alternatives to your favorite tote. Your favorite bloggers may also have insight into “dupes” or less expensive duplicates of your bag. I also pay attention to the alternative suggestions on retailer websites to find less expensive alternatives, so check out the “you may also like” or “others have purchased” section of the website. 

4) Save to the “wish list” or “watch list.” Major online retailers allow you to save your item to a wish list. The most sophisticated of these may even notify you if your item’s price has changed. 

5) Consider the “what if?” scenarios. If you purchase an expensive bag and the zipper breaks, is there a warranty you can lean on? If not, can you find a bag repair specialist in your area?  


OK, back to me. I couldn’t pull the trigger. It was out of my comfort zone to spend that much on a bag. Instead, I purchased an Ann Taylor tote that was on sale, happily investing the less-than-60 bucks on it. Now, I’m thinking about how to make this less-than-perfect tote work for me.

1) If you compromised on features, improvise. My main issue is that I traded price for compartments, and now I must face the consequences. There are zero compartments in this bag – just a small zippered pouch – so while carrying big things is easy peasy, smaller things get lost in there. Check out the bag abyss: 


Happily, there is a solution that I’ve since purchased. With the help of the internet, I found a handbag organizer, which is essentially a portable bag compartment. Here it is, fully opened: there are 2 zipper compartments, a main compartment, and multiple outer slots/sections for smaller items. 


 Here it is, placed in my bag:


 I found the compartment on Amazon. I opted for a smaller size so that I could use it in smaller bags.

2) Sagging bag? Prevent it before it starts. There are ways to help your bag keep its shape.

3) Zipper broken? Even my non-DIY self thinks I can handle doing this if one of my zippers breaks. 

 All right, there you have it: the Lisa Jones Guide to Upgrading Your Work Tote. Happy shopping! 




Dr. Lisa Jones is a physician and the Editor-in-Chief at CurvyGirlHealth . At CGH, she discusses her personal battles with self-care and documents her journey to seek insight and make life-long changes. read more about