The Free "Luxury" Tote Bags Of NYC

Designed by Elliot Salazar.
There’s a hot new handbag on the arms of New York’s chic downtown set and it doesn’t cost a full month’s paycheck or require that you add your name to a waiting list. It isn’t a Chanel or a Céline, a Balmain or a Balenciaga. In fact, the must-have bag du jour comes (gasp!) free with purchase: it’s the complimentary canvas tote.

The freebie tote is the bag of choice for gallery girls, Brooklyn cool kids, and the fashion set — and is nearly as ubiquitous as a designer bag among those who really care about keeping up with trends. It’s also not an entirely new development. College students on a shoestring budget and thrifty moms everywhere have been repurposing complimentary tote bags for years, and there was that briefly popular, wildly overpriced Marc by Marc Jacobs option that was on everyone’s Bat Mitzvah list about a decade ago. But this recent popularity begs to be noticed. The key difference is the emergence of the canvas tote as a cool kid fashion statement, rather than a frugal necessity.

But why exactly are trendy New Yorkers opting to toss their wares in a canvas sack to give their leather “investment piece” a break? Practically, it makes sense. There’s nothing more reasonable for the disgusting reality that is NYC than a bag that is essentially disposable. On any given day, a handbag may touch the most offensive surface imaginable: The ground. Whether it’s on the subway, a restaurant, a park, or — worst case scenario — the actual ground, a canvas bag makes sense. While it’s nearly impossible to clean a $2,000 leather handbag, a canvas tote is easily tossed in the wash after a day of encountering New York’s filthiest surfaces. Or, for the lazier lot, they’re just as easily tossed in the trash. Hey, it was technically “free” anyway, right?

And that’s not the only practical reason the New York set is coveting canvas. You see, contrary to popular belief, most New Yorkers have jobs (or blogs, at the very least), and nothing fits as snugly into a complimentary canvas tote quite like a laptop. Really — it’s as if they were made for the sole purpose to lug around those inconvenient slabs of metal. Most designer handbags don’t accommodate a laptop or a notebook or anything required to do, you know, work… which is ironic because they certainly cost a lot of money.

But, not every canvas bag passes muster. The “fashionable” canvas tote must also serve an aesthetic purpose. This complimentary carryall needs to be minimal, which frequently means monochromatic, and goes with everything. And, ultimately, they let others know where you shop without telling them how much you spend. Still, fashion thrives on exclusivity, and while this trend is financially accessible, these bags are only readily available to those in the right store at the right time, not to mention willing to make another purchase. When it comes down to it, there’s no such thing as a free tote.
1 of 5
Designed by Elliot Salazar.
Reformation is the go-to semi-affordable shop for cool New Yorkers. Attend any Fashion Week party, secret pop-up show, or hotspot opening, and you’re sure to see at least one or 10 gorgeous twentysomethings wearing a “Ref” romper, two-piece, dress, skirt, or blouse. So it comes as little surprise that the Reformation tote is the one for most fashion-conscious hip New Yorkers.
2 of 5
Designed by Elliot Salazar.
The Strand
The Strand is one of New York’s most beloved bookstores, so naturally totes from The Strand are the choice carryall for the intellectual (or the pseudo-intellectual) New York cool kid. This tote says you’d rather read a weathered paperback than a Kindle and you’d rather meet your match IRL than on Tinder.
3 of 5
Designed by Elliot Salazar.
The New Art Dealer’s Alliance is the hippest of the international art fairs (Basel is so mainstream), so it comes as little surprise that gallery girls, both downtown and in Chelsea, prefer the NADA canvas tote. Arguably the most aesthetically pleasing of the totes mentioned here, this one also comfortably holds the most stuff, as art folk often have to carry laptops, price lists, and occasional bundles of cash (we’re guessing).
4 of 5
Designed by Elliot Salazar.
For the environmentally conscious fashionista, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) canvas tote is the ultimate get. A CSA is an organization that allows do-gooders to purchase locally grown veggies, so carrying one of their attractive canvas totes signifies that you are very very interested in your health, and harbor goodwill toward the environment.
5 of 5
Designed by Elliot Salazar.
If brands were bags, Uniqlo would arguably be a canvas tote itself: practical, easy on the wallet, and inarguably good-looking without being show-offy — making a Uniqlo tote the pinnacle of effortless, functional handbags. The catch? They tend to only offer them when a new store opens. Even when it comes to complimentary tote bags, fashion has a way of maintaining its exclusivity.