The 5 best bags for work, life, and everything in between

Bag designers have to function as anthropologists: They study how people interact with the world around them and design tools that will make their lives easier to navigate.

As I worked on this annual list, now in its seventh year, I spoke with a range of designers to get a glimpse into what they’re seeing. And this year, the story is one of optimism. After two years of chaos due to COVID-19, brands are seeing people return to the things they enjoyed doing before the pandemic, like traveling, meeting up with friends, and working in coffee shops.

But this time around, the boundaries between work, family, and leisure are even blurrier than they were before. Even though offices have reopened, many people are only popping in a few days a week and working in their home office or an Airbnb the rest of the time. They don’t want work to get in the way of savoring life, so they’re tacking vacations onto business trips, and responding to work emails between cocktails with friends.

This year, designers have released versatile, multifunctional bags that allow people to move between these different spaces. They’re creating bags with enough space for a laptop or tablet that are equally well suited for the beach or a party. But designers have also worked to go beyond functionality, to incorporate beautiful details like monograms and woven leather. “After so many years of pandemic life, our customers want to take pleasure in their life,” says Coral Chung, founder and CEO of Senreve. “They want bags that don’t just meet their needs but also make them happy.”

We tested dozens of bags to arrive at this list. Here are the best work-life bags of 2022.

[Photo: Paravel]

From The Beach to the Office

Paravel’s Medium Cabana Tote, $175

Eco-friendly travel brand Paravel is known for its luggage made from recycled plastic. The brand’s Cabana Tote is great for taking on vacation and sitting atop your roller luggage, but it’s also a versatile bag that you can bring to work, brunch, or the beach. It fits everything you need for a day out, including a laptop, water bottle, books and a sweater, and the external pocket provides easy access to your phone. The canvas exterior has a protective coating that makes it stainproof (which was useful when my chocolate ice cream dripped on it). And to make it even more special, you can customize it with an embroidered, floral monogram designed by the artist Stephanie Fishwick.

[Photo: Mansur Gavriel]

From The Boardroom to Brunch

Mansur Gavriel’s Soft Lady Bag, $695

After years of living in sweatpants, many people are ready to dress up again. Mansur Gavriel’s Soft Lady Bag is designed to look appropriate whether you’re wearing a suit or a sundress. The brand relaunched this iconic silhouette with soft calfskin leather to make it a tad less structured and formal than its original version, and it looks even more casual when you carry it as a crossbody. It comes in a range of cheerful colors, including sky blue and mustard yellow. It comfortably fits an iPad and keeps a small profile even when fully packed.

[Photo: Leatherology]

Loyal Travel Companion

Leatherology’s Kessler Duffle, $195

Travel is back with a vengeance, and it’s taking many forms, from road trips to European vacations. Many people are looking for a new piece of luggage right now, but they want something that can be used in a variety of contexts. The canvas Kessler Duffle works well because it was designed specifically for three use cases: as a gym bag, for a daily commute, and as a travel bag. Its straps can expand to fit enough for several days away, but can also be collapsed to have a slimmer profile as an everyday bag.

[Photo: Senreve]

Small But Mighty

Senreve’s Cadence Crossbody, $645

During the pandemic, when we were stuck at home, most of us stopped toting around enormous bags, instead choosing smaller bags that were fine for short trips out. Many people have decided that they prefer to live light, which is why Senreve designed a saddlebag style that’s compact while still fitting in all the essentials, including a large smartphone or 6-inch tablet. It’s full of thoughtful details, like three compartments that open up like an accordion to keep your things organized, and a key leak. It comes in either leather or vegan leather, both of which are scratch- and water-resistant. And you can customize the bag by changing the straps, from the leather crossbody to fun chunky acetate to gold link chains.

[Photo: Clare V]

Best Of The Bunch

Clare V.’s Moyen Messenger, $495

If you want a bag that can do it all, Clare V.’s messenger-like bag is the way to go. It expands and collapses like Mary Poppins’ bag, and it can be worn as either a messenger bag or a shoulder bag. It works as a laptop bag, fitting a 13-inch computer and cords. But it also works well for the weekend and can handle a water bottle, sunglasses, and a book. The messenger bag comes in a range of designs, including handwoven Italian leather that will develop a patina over time.

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