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March 20, 2023

Antara Singh-Ghai

We've seen them everywhere on campus and online, ranging from the viral Marc Jacobs version to cotton ones you might get for free. Tote bags are having a moment, and Providence, RI is no exception. While they're probably not how the majority of students carry their stuff to class, it's very common to see professors and students alike casually carrying everything they need in their bags, as opposed to a backpack (or by hand). Even Angelina Jolie has been seen carrying her things in a tote, though her $4900 YSL bag is likely a tad out of reach for most of us.

When I first arrived on campus, a blue backpack securely strapped to my back, I was surprised at how ubiquitous totes were on campus. My only experience with something similar was an elementary school satchel years ago, which, while cute, left my shoulders aching and fit hardly anything. However, those carrying totes on campus didn't seem to struggle at all, regardless of how flimsy or small the totes appeared to be. And it does look better than a backpack, most of the time. The leather ones look professional, while the more casual canvas ones give any outfit some personal flair.

Still, at the end of the day, function must triumph over form when picking a bag for school. The tote-bag wearers must have a reason. Maybe it coincides with the increase of iPads and virtual textbooks and decrease in physical books and notebooks? Less stuff and weight to carry does make it easier to pick something smaller.

To get a better idea of why people carry tote bags, I asked a few people on F@B about why they carried tote bags and how much it hurt their shoulders. My suspicions proved correct: most of them didn't carry much around campus, and used a laptop or iPad instead of notebooks. Textbooks weren't mentioned, which makes me believe the majority of them are online. Surprisingly, only 50% of respondents said their tote hurt their shoulders, with some saying their backpacks hurt worse. Some respondents, like Sophie Thomas '25, did admit to using their backpacks when it was raining out, or when they had a lot to carry.

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At the end of the day, I caved too. While I don't think I'll be wholly abandoning my backpack any time soon, my new leather tote has been joining me on my lighter days throughout campus. So far, my shoulders are mostly fine–though yoga is definitely helping me. Wearing a tote bag is often seen as more casual than a backpack, but to me, it's the opposite. Instead, I feel more put-together. It goes with my outfits, and it makes studying feel a little more fun-more like Andy in The Devil Wears Prada than a miserable college student shivering in 30 degree weather on a walk to the Rock. 

Whatever the case, tote bags are here to stay-and I'm not a disciple.

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