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On city streets, tote bags are a badge of honor that showed off personality way before the current Pinvasion. Just got back from a recent trip to London? Boast about your life-changing European experience with a London Review of Books canvas tote. Just visited a new exhibit at the Met? Make sure everyone on your commute knows via your new canvas totem.
Tote bags fit everything you need (a wallet, your keys, a snack or two, that laptop that’s really getting pretty heavy nowadays) and are relatively low-maintenance when it comes to cleaning them — but let’s face it, it’s what’s on the outside that matters. Below, the canvas bags you’re most likely to see in New York City, ranked by high school yearbook superlatives.
OG Tote Bag: NPR
If you have a closet full of canvas tote bags, you can thank NPR for starting the craze. What started as a fundraising incentive — donate to NPR and get a free tote! — became a cultural phenomena with men and women alike donning NPR’s ubiquitous tote to grab groceries, go to work, and everything in between. Once people had a taste for tote bags, they had to have more and other brands started producing their own bags for devoted clientele. Sticking true to its charitable roots, buying a NPR tote today still donates money to fund valuable public radio programming.
Most Bookish: The Strand
The Strand means business when it comes to books. The essential NYC store boasts “18 miles of books and counting,” not to mention non-books like Strand-branded canvas (and, in the above case, nylon) bags. And luckily for those who abuse their totes, the store constantly updates its cheeky selection so that you can get something new every time.
Most Old-School: Zabar’s
Zabar’s on the Upper West Side is a New York cultural institution. Whether you learned about it from You’ve Got Mail or stumbled upon it while tracking down the infamous Banksy, there’s no way you haven’t stopped in for a bagel, some lox and babka to finish — and tote bags let everyone know about it.
Most Hipster: N+1
The New York-based literary magazine basically screams that you have applied (or are planning on applying) to that MFA program and own a fixed-gear bike. If you don’t have the latest issue for your subway commute, you might as well have the tote bag to carry your clear-rimmed glasses and that badge of literati-honor.
Most Wannabe French Girl: A.P.C.
Striped shirt and flats? Check. The A.P.C. tote bag is next. Whether you love the store for its subtle basics or raw denim, make sure to leave with a tote bag. Sadly, you'll exit at of the brand’s downtown stores and find yourself that you’re still in New York, but at least you’ll look ready to take the next direct flight out of JFK to Charles De Gaulle.
Most Skater-Cool: Supreme
Right now, streetwear having its moment. Thrasher tees and Vans are the new off-duty model uniform, and sometimes a stroll down the block can look like you’ve stumbled into a skate video shoot on the Lower East Side. Carry all the essentials minus the deck with this tote — just avoid the insane lines when trying to get it.
Most Well Read: New Yorker
You might secretly have a pile of last month’s New Yorker magazines stacking up on your bedside table, but nobody has to know that while you’re carrying this tote.
Most Original: Muji
Japanese-transplant brand Muji has already infiltrated every other part of your life, most likely. At most stores, you can pop in, choose a bag, and decorate it to your heart’s content with creative stamps (or pick up a store-exclusive style). For those true minimalists, leave with a plain canvas bag.
Art Class Star: MoMA
There might just be one thing better in the art world than the constantly-rotating exhibits at the MoMA, and that’s the MoMA Design Store. The museum’s gift shops constantly restock with new tote bags that each show off design elements of the latest exhibits.
Best Dressed: Margaret Howell
Cool kids across the pond love Margaret Howell’s minimalist designs, and the British designer’s wares are finally hitting the hipper-than-thou Brooklyn set. The clean typeface practically demands that you don’t get this canvas tote dirty.
Most Creative: Verameat
Verameat has shops in the East Village and in Brooklyn and comes out with new tote bag designs all the time. Working with an in-house illustrator, founder Vera Balyura makes sure to never disappoint; past tote bag runs boast cartoons of celebrities as far-ranging as Parker Posey and Bill Murray.
Most Popular: American Apparel
Everyone and their mother has shopped at American Apparel, and despite recent troubles, that hasn't stopped people from using their free-with-purchase tote bags to transport everything but the kitchen sink.