6 Key Tips for Choosing the Right Leather Tote Bag
Have you heard the horror stories? Your friend invested hundreds or thousands of dollars on a “quality” leather tote bag and less than six months later, the leather is cracked, the stitching has come undone, and maybe even the hardware has begun to rust. If you want to invest in a quality leather bag but aren’t sure where to start, don’t end up with regrets like your friend. Worry not, we’ve put together a list of what to look out for when shopping for a high-quality leather investment bag.
1. Look at the Type of Leather
Just like reading an ingredient label on food, what you put in your body matters, and the same applies to your future bag. The ingredients, or in this case type of leather, make a huge difference. Some companies will use a bonded leather. They pass it off as high quality, but don’t be fooled—these types of bags are actually pieces of leather put together. The makers use scrap pieces of leather, which almost always have been reworked with plastics and harmful chemicals, so that the bag you get will be a second-rate version of leather.
Plus bonded leather doesn’t age well nor does it have that distinct, special leather smell. Don’t let the salespeople in flashy online ads trick you. These are not authentic leather products. They may come at a low price, but you will pay for it in the long run. Only invest in a quality leather bag that uses full-grain leather like the Portland Leather Company classic tote.
Like leather shoes or that signature leather jacket you’ve wanted to add to your timeless wardrobe, you want to choose a tote bag that’s made of full-grain leather. It’s not only top-quality leather that ages better than your trendy aunt who just got Botox, but it retains its signature character and you will get that fresh leather smell.
The best leathers will develop a seductive patina. Patina is the weathered impression that creates a sheeny look when a material goes through the natural aging process. The higher the quality of leather, the better the patina. If your bag has been heavily treated, you can forget about long life or a quality patina. Avoid this by only purchasing products that use full-grain leather. It is the best leather you can buy and worth every pretty penny. Simply put, it is the real deal, and your future self will be happy you invested in quality—because, well, you deserve it.
2. Don’t Overlook Handywork and Craftmanship
Avoid leather crafted in factories by machines or in poor working conditions. The best leather bags come from craftspeople and artisans who love what they do. They understand they are not just creating a durable leather bag but a real piece of art. Their professionalism is their masterpiece. They see it as creation and want to bring more joy to the people who purchase the bag. When you are ready to invest in a quality leather tote bag, make sure you get your bag from a company that hires artisans who put love into their process.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the gorgeous 12,000-square-foot workshop of Portland Leather Goods in SE Portland. The soaring 28-foot ceilings, handmade workbenches and expansive windowpanes make for an inviting work center. It was clear this is a space that lets the artisans do what they do best—design, create and produce the best handmade leather products in the US.
I was surprised to see so many smiling faces. People genuinely enjoyed working alongside one another, doing what they love, creating quality leather goods they can be proud of all while in a beautiful factory space. Not to mention the furry welcome committee. The shop dogs frolicked around the workshop encouraging positive interactions and mental breaks
3. Look at the Hardware
Before you buy a leather bag, always inspect the quality of all the little parts, the small things that almost always get overlooked. These are the features you should pay close attention to:
- Metallic rings
- Shoulder strap fittings
- Zippers (metal zippers are of better quality than plastic zippers)
For bags you purchase online (which is a great way to go because you can look at the reviews instantly and avoid retailer-added costs), zoom in on the photos so you can check out the individual parts. Make sure the online photos show multiple angles of the bag, including the inside, just like Portland Leather Company does.
4. Look at Stitching
Many folks forget to look closely at the stitching, but the way the bag is sewn together will tell you a lot about the quality of the bag and company you are purchasing from.
Stitching can make or break a perfect bag. The level of detail is essential when investing in a quality leather tote bag. The stitching on your tote bag should always be straight. Make sure there are no crooked lines. Unless you are buying an almost perfect bag, you will want perfection. Not only does this show high quality but it shows extra care was put into your handmade bag. The thread should be barely noticeable, so when looking at your new bag, check to ensure there are no loose threads. Also, to be really savvy, check the inner and outer surfaces for the same smooth consistency. Some companies will make the threads straight on the outside but on the inside of the bag, you will notice imperfections, loose threads, crooked lines, uneven straps, etc. Avoid this as the level of care was not thought through.
5. Look at the Handles and the Inside
You really can judge a book by its cover, but it’s what’s inside that counts. And the same goes for a leather tote—the inside is just as important as the outside.
When shopping for your ideal leather tote bag, don’t forget to check out the handles on the bag. A high-quality tote bag will also have handles attached to the body of the bag through reinforced stitching or metal fixtures. Some companies will skimp on this step and glue the handles on. Avoid this at all costs. These types of bags won’t last long and won’t be as functional.
You want a timelessly professional, oh-la-la signature piece, not a frumpy, floppy, loose nonfunctional tote. Also finding a tote bag that has the right color handle can be just as important as the bag itself. Portland Leather Company has a variety of colored leather and handles to mix and match and choose from.
6. Pick the Right Color
When is the last time you thought about your favorite color? The same way color can say a lot about a person, it can also represent a tote bag. Most leather bag companies have very basic colors: usually light brown, tan, dark brown and maybe black. But getting your bag from a company that understands color not only makes a statement but represents you as a person and is a major bonus. At Portland Leather Company, the classic totes come in Grey, Black, Merlot, Deep Water, Saddle, Honey, and Cognac.
You will want to choose a bag color that matches your personality but also your desired needs. Black and Grey are great leather bag colors and two of the more popular choices for professional environments. If you have an upcoming job interview, this signature piece will complete your outfit and could maybe even help get your foot in the door.
These colors have meaning and can represent a sense of authority, presence and even power.
If you are a little more light at heart, you may prefer Merlot or Honey because these colors go well with a more casual or relaxed atmosphere. They also fit great into creative environments. Artists, writers, and creatives of all kinds often pick these enjoyable colors.
They are perfect for spring and summer but are also used all year round. Fall is a great time to balance your outfit with a signature classic high-quality tote and Merlot and Honey will help to pop up your style.
Cognac is one of the best-selling colors because not only does it age super well but it has a unique glow when the outdoor light reflects off it, giving it even more personality and character.
Deep Water is a color inspired by the Pacific Northwest and will definitely make a statement as you walk into your next meeting, date or party. This piece gets people talking.
Avoid bags that have more than two different colors or have stitching with a contrasting color. These bags are often made poorly. A single color shows high quality and creates a stellar look. But choosing a tote with a different hand
Tell us in the comments which tip helped the most.
This article brought to you by Portland Leather Goods. We make award-winning handmade leather products in Portland, Oregon, from the finest full-grain hides, creating personalized products to showcase your personal style.