What is a Tote Bag Used For?

What is a Tote Bag Used For?

Read Time: 4 Minutes


09 Dec 2022

Tote bags are becoming increasingly popular, both among shoppers and businesses thanks to their winning combination of functionality and fashion. Not only do they make practical shopping bags with the durability and capacity to carry heavy items, but they also allow consumers to advocate their favourite brands by literally carrying around their logos on a daily basis. On top of that, they’re one of the most affordable pieces of merchandise for businesses to create – all in all a recipe for success!

To give you the ins and outs of the humble tote bag, including how to use this popular accessory and its history, we’ve compiled this ultimate guide.

women walking with a graphic printed tote bag


What is a tote bag used for?

Tote bags have many different uses for both brands and consumers. Here are the most popular ways they’re used.

1. Shopping bags

One of the most popular ways to use tote bags is as a replacement for single-use shopping bags. Thanks to their sturdy qualities, tote bags are an eco-friendly option for reusable shopping bags and are suitable for carrying just about anything you buy from the grocers. 

woman using a tote bag to hold vegetables

2. Handbags

Tote bags are incredibly fashionable and being able to personalise them makes them a popular option for handbags. Add your own design or pin badges to your tote bag to show off your personality and make a fashion statement.

3. Gym bags

Not only are tote bags large and strong enough to hold your gym kit, but if they get dirty, they’re also really easy to clean. Most tote bags are machine washable, although it is recommended that you wash them inside out to keep the tote bag design in tip-top condition.

4. Storage

If you’ve acquired more cute tote bags than you know what to do with, using them as home storage is a great option. You can hang them on coat hangers in your wardrobe to store scarves and gloves, hang them on a hook in the bathroom to store spare toiletries, or even use them in your office to tidy away stationery on your desk.

5. Take on holiday

One of the biggest benefits of custom tote bags is the ability to neatly fold them up in your suitcase. Compared with big, bulky handbags, tote bags take up minimal suitcase real estate, allowing you to pack more essentials (or extra clothes!) when you go away.

6. Laptop bags

Hybrid working has become the norm for many office workers, meaning the safe transportation of your work laptop is key. Tote bags provide a strong and supportive way to carry your laptop around – bonus points if your tote features your company’s logo!

7. Weekend bags

If you’re visiting someone for the weekend, you can use a tote bag to carry the spare clothes and toiletries you’ll need for a couple of days. Standard tote bags are the perfect size for travelling light, but you can get bigger sizes if you want to take more.

8. Lunch and picnic bags

Unlike paper and plastic bags, tote bags are a reusable option for taking your lunch to work or school. This is a particularly effective choice if your lunch consists of multiple items, like a sandwich and a piece of fruit, as they won’t get separated in a communal fridge.

9. Book bags

Classically, tote bags and books go hand in hand as this type of bag is strong enough to hold a whole haul of literary tomes. The link between book lovers and tote bags is so intrinsic that book publishers like Penguin have even released whole lines of book-themed tote bag designs.

black and orange tote bag filled with books

10. School bags

From textbooks to stationery, making sure you’ve got all of your essentials for school means lots of carrying around. Tote bags are popular amongst students of all ages as a way to keep all their school supplies together.


Are tote bags unisex?

Historically, tote bags have largely been used by women, however, there has been a recent trend of men using this type of bag as well. Traditionally, men’s bags have been associated with business, with men throughout recent history sporting briefcases. Bright and casual bags were reserved for women.

black and white photo of a man wearing a tote bag

However, as fashion becomes increasingly casual, men are more and more inclined to pick up the iconic tote bag.

The history of tote bags

Although the etymology of the word ‘tote’ meaning to carry can be traced back to the 1670s, it wasn’t until the 1940s when outdoor brand L. L. Bean brought out a canvas ice bag designed to carry ice from the car to the freezer.

Versatile and resilient to wear and tear, it wasn’t long until consumers realised the bag’s full potential, becoming a staple utility bag for 1950s housewives who used their tote bags for groceries and household chores.

In the 1960s, L. L. Bean redesigned their iconic canvas ice bag, giving it a more feminine shape with stylish new features such as a coloured trim. It was during this time that the tote became more than a grocery and chore bag; it wasn’t unusual to see it being used as a handbag. This style of bag truly stood the test of time and is still available to buy from Bean to this day.

L L Bean tote bags being sold in a shop

The 1980s saw New York City bookstore The Strand launch their own version of the tote bag, made with a natural cotton finish and interior lining. These early tote bags inspired other iconic bags and purses of the time, like the Birkin.

Nowadays, the tote bag is popular for a number of reasons. Some see it as an eco-conscious statement, swapping their plastic shopping bags for something natural and reusable. For others, like The Strand, it’s used to boost brand recognition. Wherever you go, you’d be hard-pressed not to see the humble tote bag being sported – either as a functional shopping bag, or handbag!


How to make your own tote bag

One of the reasons for the tote bag’s ever-increasing popularity is just how easy it is to customise. With the rise of online printing, personalised tote bags are no longer reserved for big brands – anyone can create a custom design and get it professionally printed onto a tote bag. Print your own tote bags online today!


About the Author

Hi, I’m Ally and I’m instantprint’s PR Lead. I enjoy writing content to help small businesses succeed and inspire them to get creative with their print marketing.