The £25 canvas bag our Shopping Editor can't stop wearing
As a half-American, half-Brit living in London, I've always got one eye on what's trending both sides of the Atlantic. And in the last year-ish, I've noticed an unexpected, old-school Americana accessory start gathering online buzz again. I'm talking about (drumroll please) the structured canvas tote bag. Last year there was a TikTok-fuelled renaissance of the bag in America, but it didn't gain any traction in the UK outside of the fashion press - until now. All of a sudden, I'm seeing them pop up on the tube, perched on sunny cafe tables dotted with Aperols, and on the arms of London's laid-back Cool Girls. And the best part? They are ultra affordable.
Bit of fashion lore for you - the L.L. Bean Boat & Tote is the OG, most famous version, though a few brands make similar styles. The hallowed canvas L.L. Bean bags have been hand-crafted in Maine since 1944, and they were originally designed for fishermen to lug heavy loads of ice around. By the 1990s, they had become hugely popular in the States with everyone from students and sorority girls to busy mums. Literally every mum I knew, including my own, had one in the '90s - typically embroidered with their initials (which adds to the preppy aesthetic.)
Despite the prices maxing out around £50, the intersection of heritage outdoor brand clout + the bag's clean nautical style + the option to customise it with a preppy monogram all adds up to give these bags a timeless feel. Everyone knows they're inexpensive, but they've become an acceptable normcore staple that transcends class, the same way comfy New Balance dad trainers did. This is one 'ludicrously capacious bag' that everyone can agree on, mainly because it is the opposite of try-hard. (Sorry, Tom from Succession.)
This preppy accessory is an oxymoron: it somehow manages to be both *very* affordable (mine was just £25), but also associated with the 'old money' aesthetic TikTok is obsessed with rn. You know, 'quiet luxury' and all that. (See: Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy on a boat with one in 1997. Reese Witherspoon toting hers to pilates in the 2010s.)
The driving force behind last summer's craze was largely down to Gracie Wiener, the American creator behind the @IronicBoatAndTote Instagram account. She started sharing images of her and her friends' bags, creatively embroidered with tongue-in-cheek phrases instead of monograms. (Think: "Psycho," "Sertraline," "New Money," or "Gay Panic," for starters.) TikTok took the humorous customisation angle and ran with it, prompting a whole new generation of tote fans. Some people are even sharing how they unpicked the stitching on their mum's old tote, and sent it off to get re-embroidered with something new. We love a full-circle fashion moment.
In my opinion, the 'trend' is here to stay - because at the end of the day, it's still a classic item, despite the recent hype. I've got some old L.L. Bean ones from my uni days stored at my parents' place in the US, but then last year I picked up the £25 Small Zip Top Canvas Tote Bag from Lands' End. (They have a UK site, which is v handy for avoiding pesky international shipping.) And TBH, I can't stop carrying it. The girl on the till in a Very Trendy East London Boutique last week wanted to know if I had bought it in America (I didn't!). My fashion influencer pal was cooing over them last month, and a girl stopped me in my neighbourhood yesterday to ask me where I got mine. (Lands' End, babe!) And it cost less than my Saturday night Deliveroo.
I'm wearing it with my simplest outfits - loose carpenter jeans, a rumpled cotton pyjama top, suede Adidas Spezials and a trench coat. I'm obsessed with the fact that it zips up securely (essential when you are cramming onto the Central line like a sweaty sardine), and I like that it is soft, washable, and small. (But still big enough to fit the day's essentials, plus my 500 ml Nalgene water bottle.)
Whether you pick up a small one with your initials on it, or get a giant one with a lols phrase, I think this is one item you'll get a hell of a lot of wear out of for years to come.
Follow Maddy on Instagram.
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