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Tote vs. Shoulder Bag: What's the Difference and How to Choose

BY Buffalo Jackson Insight
BY Amanda Uher

Revised 10/20/20

What is a tote bag? Or, do I need a shoulder bag? When debating between a shoulder bag vs tote, there are a few distinguishing factors that could be quite important to your decision. Let’s take a look at the difference between a tote and a shoulder bag. 

Tote Bags vs. Shoulder Bags


Straps are the simplest distinction between a shoulder bag or tote: a shoulder bag normally has one strap, and a tote bag has two. The appearance of one or two straps may not matter to you, but the function likely will. Consider how you want to access the contents of your bag, whether retrieving what’s inside or adding to it, like while shopping. A tote will typically open much wider and more easily than a shoulder bag. Also, consider how you want to carry the bag (on the shoulder, in the crook of your arm, or both), and be sure the length of the strap or straps is appropriate (or adjustable).


When it comes to interior organization, a shoulder bag will likely offer more options than a tote bag. A shoulder bag—also often called a handbag—will almost always include inside pockets, zippered and otherwise.  On the other hand, many tote bags are just a single open carry-all space. There are, however, some beautiful tote bags with inside pockets to help keep your smaller items organized, while still providing a large, roomy interior.


Whether you choose a shoulder bag or tote, the list of fabrics and materials to choose from is practically endless. Be sure to choose a material that is durable. Both shoulder bags and totes are extremely practical bags—that means both will get a lot of use, so they need to be made of something that will last. It also means it’s worth choosing something that suits your personal style and that you will enjoy carrying. (Your bag doesn’t have to be PURELY functional, right?) Our two favorite materials (for both shoulder bags AND totes) are high-quality leather and waxed canvas. Both materials are classic, durable, and stylish. True, they’ll be more of an investment than the cheapest nylon bag on clearance, but they will last practically forever (and look good doing it).

Now that you can spot the differences betweentote bags and shoulder bags, explore our collection ofwomen’s bags and find the perfect one for you!

Related Articles:
What is a Tote Bag?
What is the Best Purse for Travel?
Waxed Canvas vs Leather
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