The-best-brown-leather-tote-you-can-buy

Disclaimer: I totally used the clone stamp tool on that picture. No, not on the bag, but on the bird poop that was on the bench.

Second disclaimer: I struggled with whether or not I should post this, but I had written well over a thousand words about a bag, so I’m going to let it free, if only because perhaps you are brown leather tote obsessed like me.

I have a lot of opinions on brown leather tote bags. In fact, there’s a chance that if you’ve carried one in my presence in the past year or so, I’ve been able to identify the brand and the model, and I’ve asked you how you felt about your Madewell Transport Tote or your Fossil Sydney Shopper.

I’m not generally that concerned with clothing or shoes or bags. But since I’ve started teaching at OU, I’ve made a real effort to not look like one of the students. Generally, I think I’m doing a good job with my pencil skirts and open cardigan combos, but when I’m in the copy room, there’s still some older professor that comes in and reminds me that students can’t be in the copy room. Then, I have to explain what I teach and who I am, and this professor will skeptically walk away. So, part of my desire to research brown leather totes has been so I can have a professional-looking bag that holds everything I need and doesn’t make me look like a student. (Though, to look like a student, I’d need to wear Lululemon leggings and a baggy t-shirt every single day.)

I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve put more research into brown leather totes this past year than I have into anything else. But this is what happens when you are out of school and you feel like you need the perfect bag. You use those research skills for everyday applications rather than determining the sociopolitical significance of a literary work, or determining the grand scheme effects of the digital divide.

So, this being the case, I didn’t make my brown leather tote purchase lightly. Momentarily, I considered buying a faux leather tote from Old Navy or G.H. Bass. I touched one in both stores, and knew that wasn’t going to be an option. I lightly pulled on the handles of the bag in the Bass store, and watched as the stitching almost instantaneously ripped the weird plastic-like material. Generally, I’m not against cheap bags and I own a few myself. But my brown leather tote would need to be a bag that wouldn’t abandon me in my hour of need. I live in fear of the moment when I’m walking the quarter of a mile to my car, and suddenly the strap of my bag breaks, leaving me to walk the rest of the way, cradling my bag like some sort of broken baby.

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No sir. Mama wasn’t having that.

Because of this fear, I knew I wanted a sturdy brown leather tote with rivets that secured the handles to the bag (which knocked Madewell and Fossil out of the running) and I also knew I wanted a pretty sizable handle drop (sorry ’bout ya, Whipping Post) so I could still throw it over my shoulder even if I had multiple layers of clothing on. I looked through Etsy, but none of the sellers had pictures of their brown leather totes in use, which made me uncomfortable purchasing one of their bags since I didn’t know if it would hold up under the sort of duress I wanted to put it through.

Note to sellers: Stage your products better. Sure, that brown leather tote looks great just nestled next to some potted succulents, but literally no one buys a leather bag to nestle it next to some potted succulents. I need to see what the bag looks like on the shoulder of a human, preferably the shoulder of a human who is wearing a coat, because the armpits of coats have a real negative effect on one’s ability to toss a tote on the shoulder. Also, please show me what kind of laptop you can shove in that bag. And how many trade paperbacks will fit in there. And journals and notebooks. And water bottles.

Seriously. I’m buying the brown leather tote to use it. I want to know that it can be put through its proverbial paces. And I really carry a lot of crap.

(I realize I just have a picture of this bag sitting on a bench. But I’m not trying to sell it.)

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I’d been eyeing the Chic Sparrow Rustic Tote for a while, but wasn’t sure. Even though I’m a super fan of Chic Sparrow notebooks, I didn’t know if the bag was going to be THE bag. (Clearly I turned my need to research a purchase into some sort of neurosis. I couldn’t just make the purchase. I had to ask every last possible question anyone could ever ask about a brown leather tote.)

I took myself to the Chic Sparrow Fans group on Facebook. I have a lot of mixed feelings about this group, because I love Chic Sparrow products and finding out about sales before the general public, but man. If you put a lot of people together on Facebook, they tend to get ugly. So, if you can handle hordes of grown-ass women complaining that the owner of Chic Sparrow gives preferential treatment to YouTubers, then you can handle this group.

I posted a question in the group, asking if anyone used their Rustic Tote to carry a laptop and textbooks, and how the bag holds up under that pressure. I got a lot of unhelpful comments from non-bag owners, telling me to measure the stuff I wanted to carry and to compare those measurements to the bag’s measurements. But I knew it would all fit. I was asking how it would hold up. Then, a woman told me all about how her daughter puts rivets on airplanes and if rivets can hold airplanes together, then they can hold a bag together.

I’m sure Chic Sparrow uses airplane rivets on their brown leather totes, and that no one has ever recorded any wear and tear on the Rustic Tote’s rivets.

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(I have since left the group. I feel like I can enjoy my Rustic Tote and traveler’s notebooks more when I don’t have to interact with other humans.)

On Cyber Monday, I finally pulled the trigger on the Rustic Tote. And overall, I’m very satisfied with the buy. It’s a great bag that I can carry to campus. I needed a professional bag that didn’t make me look like a student and a bag that wouldn’t be too heavy if I needed to run into CVS or the grocery store after work. Sometimes I feel like it isn’t big enough, though, truth be told, I probably need to stop carrying around so much crap. That having been said, if Chic Sparrow ever makes a larger tote, I will be the first in line to buy it. And if that extra large tote could be made of the Outlander Jitney Red leather, well, I’d be one happy camper. (Also, I’m pretty sure that the Rustic Tote leather and the Outlander Jitney Red leather are the same thing.)

But I digress.

It’s been almost three months since I bought the bag, and I’ve used it as a laptop/book bag for work and as a carryon when we went to Universal Studios. I’ve carried it in the rain. I’ve set it on the floor of restaurants. Rosie has scratched the hell out of it when she jumps on me when I come home. And it’s still as good as new. Though, admittedly, it no longer smells like brand new leather, but Robert Frost did say, “nothing gold can stay.”

So, tell me about your brown leather tote. Do you have a hella professional bag you take everywhere? Let me know in the comments!

43 Responses

  1. You had me at Brown Leather Tote. I have a Coach leather messenger style bag that I used to carry every now and then when I worked in an office but it’s so beautiful I’m afraid to use it. So it just sits in my closet gathering dust. I should get that thing out. I also have a leather Sac back pack style bag. But when not used as a back pack it slips off my shoulders and that makes me angry when I’m trying to decide which fruit snacks are the least unhealthy and my bag keeps slipping from my shoulder. That bag is now gathering dust in my laundry room. Maybe I need to check out Chic Sparrow.

    1. That Coach bag sounds divine! And I’m trying not to enable people to purchase from Chic Sparrow, but I love it so stinking much that it’s really hard.

  2. Thank you for this thorough review. I want to purchase it, but am worried about the strap length. Carie may be just over five feet, but I am five nine and I don’t think a 10″ drop will go over a jacket. Are you happy with the drop?

    1. I am. I’m around 5’7″ (on a good day) and it’s just about right. It sits so that I can slip one strap off my shoulder and rifle through all my junk when necessary. If you do decide to get one and it doesn’t work out, you can always post it in the Chic Sparrow Buy or Sell Facebook group. The Rustic Totes go super fast in that group.

  3. I complete relate. I own and run an on-line gently used high-end purse store (Coach, Michael Kors, Kate Spade etc). I have 200 various bags in my home office…what do I carry daily? My brown or black rustic tote, black more then brown I’ll admit. I love that I never, ever worry for a second that it will let me down. Made to last. Made to look better with use. Made to keep the innards safe and sounds. All this AND the most comfortable bag I have carried.

    As far as the group, there are many really wonderful gals there. There are also some NOT really wonderful gals. I enjoy seeing the Sparrows and enjoy the “nice” crowd. I have become friends with the block button. Those negative nelly”s I just block so I do not see their posts. Hoping you’ll come back to the group and ignore the Nelly’s. 🙂

    1. Running a purse store sounds like my dream! And I’m jealous that you have the black and the brown tote. A black one is on my list.

      And I know what you mean about the block button. There are definitely a lot of really nice people in that group, but I left on a day when people were being particularly awful. I may come back…some day…

  4. Thank you for this wonderful review. I purchased, well my husband gave me the credit card to make my purchases for Christmas, the black tote. Its beautiful. I used it almost immediately, then he got a slight scratch and I put him away. I can’t seem to want to mess with his beautiful color. I can say this, the bag can hold its weight!

    1. It can definitely carry a lot! And I’ve found that if you scratch it, the only way to get that scratch out is to keep using it. Oddly enough, the more the leather weathers, the smoother and prettier it gets. I accidentally snagged mine on a nail once and thought I was going to die. But the discoloration wore away within a couple of days. There’s a slight gauge, but nothing too noticeable.

  5. You are so right about pictures of the totes. I don’t think I’ve seen one photo of it on a person. I think that would be so helpful – have no idea how it looks, falls on the body, etc. People love to post their totes but never carrying it! I find that so frustrating!

    1. Yes! Though, in writing this post, I tried to get one, and well…now I understand why no one has that picture. I could not get a good one for the life of me.

  6. I’m confused as to why you would go with this bag and it’s 10″ straps, when the Whipping Post Tote has 11.5″? I just received my first ChicSparrow went with the CB deluxe and love the leather. But my WhippingPost Tote is my fave bag. Love your writing style!!!

    1. Thanks, Debi! At the time I ordered this, I think the Whipping Post Tote only had the 9-inch option. I’ve seen that they have expanded their tote selection though, so I may have to wander over there and take a peek!

  7. Great review. And entertainingly! I love my brown rustic tote as well. I cram all my crap in there and go! I did treat it with a leather conditioner before using it. The color remained the same but it seems to scratch a little less or run out easier. It’s a fairly light tote for the thickness the of the leather. You didn’t mention the interior…..the side pockets and key finder are great. I can appreciate a tote that has some sort of interior organization. I find this to be another aspect lacking on etsy sales….a picture of the bags interior! Anyway, thanks for your review. I truly enjoyed reading it.

    1. Thanks, Christina! And the key finder is definitely a lifesaver! I use it every single day because I’m the type to lose her keys at the bottom of a bag.

  8. You should check out Emil Erwin. His totes are AMAZING! Two sizes- the Porter is HUGE, the Market more of an EDC size. His leather is specially made for him by Horween and you don’t need to worry about it getting wet. The leather dries beautifully. Plus the more beat up the tote gets, the better it looks. Don’t get me wrong, though. You’d have to use the tote for a LONG time for it to look aged. I’ve seen pictures of totes used daily for years and they are still just as gorgeous as my relatively new ones. EE’s stuff is made in the USA in TN. and I can’t recommend his products highly enough. They are pricey ($595-$695) but so totally worth it. As in you will NOT need another bag for years. Also, they LOOK like quality without being showy. You can tell they cost a pretty penny, but they doesn’t scream for attention and the logo is unobtrusive. Can’t stand a bag that has the company’s initials all over it. For a more rugged tote, I’d recommend one from Love 41 or Saddleback Leather. They are owned by a husband and wife team. Their products in Mexico and are made to be used and abused and still look great. Full grain leather, rivets, quality stitching, etc. The price point varies dramatically- the simple tote from Love 41 is $169 while the SBL tote is $519. Koch Leather also makes a fantastic tote. Josh’s totes are made in AZ. by him and his wife, Jen, and a few helpers. He uses full grain leather, generally Horween, but he does have some veg-tan and a chestnut that looks incredible. I have two of his totes and couldn’t be happier with them. Plus, Josh is a bit more flexible than Emil when it comes to special requests, I think. Just basing that on some comments made in a FB group I belong to. Josh’s totes will run you around $165-$200 depending on customazation. Here are the names of a few other companies to check out if you’re interested: Whipping Post (don’t have their tote, but I’ve heard good things), Norm Cahn on Etsy (IMPECCABLE workmanship), Go Forth Goods (I love it, but I love my others just a bit more), J.W. Hulme (love their stuff), Satchel and Page (veg-tan brown leather that is amazing- they’re actually having a sample sale right now and their tote is only $125 which is 50%, I think). I could go on and on. I may have a problem with totes…

    1. Wow, Johanna! You’ve done even more research than I have into brown leather totes! I almost pulled the trigger on the Saddleback, but then decided I was going to save up for one of the Saddleback satchel-type bags for when I travel.

      1. You have no idea! Don’t ask me why, but one day I decided that the sack I was using for a purse was no longer cutting it so I set out on a mission to find the perfect bag. I’ve found the perfect tote, but the quest for the perfect bag continues. Lol I wish there was some sort of, I’ll say forum because I can’t think of the right word, where we could securely send out bags for others to try. Purchasing online is such and gamble especially when, as you state correctly, the staging is inadequate. Sometimes I’ve been pleasantly surprised and others terribly disappointed. Especially when it comes to bags that I’ve had to save and save for!

        What size SBL satchel were you looking at?

        1. Oh man, I like a lot of them. I love the Dry Bag, which I guess is technically luggage. Also love the Front Pocket Briefcase, and the Book Bag.

          1. I’ve never had the front pocket brief, but I did briefly own a medium regular. I’m 5’7″ and it looked huge on me. Plus it was heavy. I mean really heavy. I’m used to heavy bags and it’s usually not an issue, but I sold it. With all the stuff I carry with me everyday, it would have been at least 10 pounds! I was afraid if I used it a lot I’d wind up being lopsided when I got older. I’ve never had the book bag, I carry too much. I do have a medium dry bag that I love, but it doesn’t get much use except for when we go camping. Then it’s very handy! Personally I like the medium satchel, Love 41’s Shopper Tote, the Simple Tote and, if you’re looking for something on the smaller side, the tablet bag. I sold mine and kind of wish now I hadn’t. For briefcases, the ones I’ve seen the best reviews for are Norm Cahn and The Leather Shop. Both are absolutely gorgeous!

          2. That heaviness is why I never pulled the trigger on the Saddleback briefcase. I was afraid it would add too much weight all the crap I carry. And those Norm Cahn totes look amazing.

    2. I cannot tell you enough how helpful your comments have been! I have a Whipping Post Vintage Tote, but I *really* do not like the name Whipping Post, and while I initially thought they were made in Texas, I have learned they are made in Mexico. It’s a very well-made bag, but I clearly did not do enough research. I looked into all the companies you mentioned and they are making so many beautiful things! Just bought an Emil Erwin Porter in black, (despite being a brown leather junkie) as it looks very impeccable!! The Mahogany color looks too red-leaning for my taste. I also just got a Go Forth Goods Avery in Saddle for more casual days. So excited!

      Marisa, I have been enjoying your blog immensely. Thank you!

  9. I bought the Chocolate Silk tote from 3 Speckled Fawns. It has similar dimensions to the Whipping Post tote and I LOVE it. I use it to carry my laptop as well as everything else.
    The Chic Sparrow looked great, but I needed the longer handles.

    1. I’ve never seen this Chocolate Silk tote, but I have bought from 3 Speckled Fawns before. I’ll have to check it out.

  10. Have you looked into Emil Erwin’s Market Tote in the Mahogany leather? Impeccable and you can always reach out to them to ask them to increase the strap drop.

      1. Do! I’ve got both of his totes (black & mahogany). The leather screams quality and the attention to detail is fabulous. I’ve packed everything AND the kitchen sink in it and it holds up perfectly.

        1. Oh! I second The Leather Shop! Love their dark brown tote and the number of pockets make it stand out from other totes. That and the two sets of handles. Being able to carry on my wrist or over the shoulder is a big plus.

  11. Fun review. The Rustic Tote was on my shortlist as well, but ultimately I went with the Lifetime Leather Tote Bag from Duluth Trading Co. That thing is a beast. The top zipper is a necessity for me; no one likes the avalanche of personal bits tumbling out of an open top bag, say, when one must slam on the brakes. I love the side exterior pockets, with an umbrella in one, and sunglasses in the other.

    There’s even a video included on the product page, showing a bag that’s accrued several years of daily use.

    This had the form and function both for me, and it’s comparably priced to the Rustic. Months in, no regrets at all. It really will be a lifetime bag lol!

    1. Oooh! That top zipper is a great selling point. I went without the zipper because I stuff my bag so full that there’s always stuff peeping out of the top anyway.

  12. Hi
    I wish I had read this 3 mos. ago. I got a WP tote and I wish I would have went with a Chic Sparrow. I really do not like the tote I have.
    Like another comment above, I thought it was made here in the US but it is actually made in Mexico. I dont think that bothers me so much since 90 % of the things we buy are from China, but do think the website should be more transparent in stating it.
    The leather is not stiff but also not soft. And although tons of people have spoken of the glorious leather smell, mine actually smells like a cheap rubber ball. I feel like crying after plopping down 200 bucks on what appears to be a well made tote asthetically but is in no way the supple leather tote bag I thought it was.
    I do know they have a very loyal fan base and I hate to be so negative, but this is my real life experience and I think others should know that not everyone will recieve that glorious tote they see all over youtube and the internet and some will be saddened by this.
    I see now, and after reading this, that my gut instinct was right and shame on me for ignoring it. Now Im out 200 bucks and a tote because I cannot use it for anything I wanted to use it for. My clothes would stink like rubber if I were to put them in it and my canvas art supply bags, my wallet, the whole bunch would all smell like cheap rubber after hanging out in that tote.
    I almost feel like I was lied to. First by the company then by other users because I just hated this bag from the get go and couldnt understand how I could be so wrong about it. But I am also old enough to know that I should have done more research like you and that not all that glitters is gold.

    Saving up for a chic sparrow now.

    Thank you for this post.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that, Mercedes! That really sucks. I will say that if you get on the Chic Sparrow mailing list, you’ll receive notifications when they do their flash sales, which are always great. Also, if you don’t mind buying used, there’s a Facebook group dedicated to buying and selling Chic Sparrow products, and occasionally a Rustic Tote will come up there for about $50 cheaper than the brand new price.

      As for your Whipping Post tote, I’m sorry it doesn’t live up to the hype. But maybe you could sell it to one of those rabid Whipping Post fans. I’m sure someone would snatch it up fast!

  13. Delighted to have found you post. Also a professor wanting to look professional. Also a Chic Sparrow owner/fan of their notebook covers. Also bullet journal. Also have been been obsessively researching buying a large leather tote. Was seriously debating the Chic Sparrow Rustic Tote, but in the end, knew that a zipper closer was a must for me and I prefer a slightly longer handle drop. I think I have settled on Go Forth Goods Avery Tote in Large. Saddle color or caramel. Just haven’t pulled the trigger yet… maybe tonight! The owner has been amazing about answering all my questions. Thanks again for a great read I could totally relate to!

    1. I’m so glad you found this post! Us leather-loving professors gotta stick together!

      And now, I’m going to spend all day reading up on he GFG Avery Tote. This is the first time I’m hearing of it, so I’m excited to have a new leather good to obsess over!

      1. I did order the Avery Tote, large, with zipper. The owner, Nathan, is amazing with answering questions via facebook. I am so excited to receive it. While the Chic Sparrow ones look lovely, I prefer the security of the zipper which GFG offers- also then allows me to use on a plane. Now the waiting….

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