This Madewell tote has thousands of fans—and now I'm one, too
It's become one of my favorite bags.
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Purses and I have never gotten along. It seems like they're either so small that they’re essentially an oversized phone case—as my iPhone is the only thing that fits inside—or so big that I can never find what I need in the cavernous depths, thus defeating the point of carrying a purse at all.
I’ve long dreamed of a purse that fits what I need without making it look like I’m headed on a week-long trip. As Reviewed’s style editor, I’ve long been intrigued by the Madewell Transport Tote, having written about the $168 purse hundreds of times, read many of the thousands of rave reviews it’s received, and watched it sell out at Nordstrom time and time again. I’ve even seen it on the arms of celebs like Meghan Markle and Jessica Alba. But I had never tried it for myself—until now. Did it convert me to someone who carries a purse?
What I like about the Madewell Transport Tote
For appearance alone, I give this tote a 10 out of 10. The brown full-grain leather looks aged and worn right out of the box (in the best way possible), and feels that way, too. It’s soft and supple, not stiff and brittle like some cheaper bags I’ve purchased. I like the minimalist design—the only “accent” is the single exterior pocket. Plus, it has that classic leather smell that I wish I could bottle up as perfume.
In terms of functionality and convenience, the tote performs almost just as well. At 12.25 inches by 11 inches by 5 inches, the main interior compartment is large enough to hold my Macbook Pro, wallet, collapsible umbrella, notebook, jacket, hairbrush, and a few other things. The smaller zippered pocket on the side lets me stash my iPhone 8 Plus and keys so I’m not spending hours digging around in the bottom of my bag trying to find them. The pocket on the outside is big enough to slip in a book or a tablet—my iPad fits with little room to spare—yet lies flat against the side of the bag so it doesn’t add any extra bulk.
I also like that the tote comes with two sets of handles. You can carry it by the shorter top handles, or by the longer shoulder strap, which is adjustable via a belt-like buckle. While I typically carry totes on my shoulder, I almost prefer carrying this one crossbody-style—most totes don’t have this option and I love that it keeps my hands free and doesn’t slip off my shoulder.
What I don’t like about the Madewell Transport Tote
My only complaint about the tote is that there’s no zipper closure on the main compartment. This means that if I use it on a rainy day, my things aren’t protected from the elements (though the leather would also get spotted, so I suppose that’s a, er, wash). And, more importantly, if my bag tips over in my car or on a coffee-shop table, everything is liable to spill out. Not cool. Turns out Madewell offers a zip-top version of the Transport tote, so that’s on me for ordering the OG one instead.
Is the Madewell Transport Tote worth buying?
Would I usually spend this much on a purse? Absolutely not—I’m a fast-fashion fan through and through. But would I make an exception for this tote? I’m surprised to say I would. It’s the Goldilocks of bags—not too small, not too big, but just right—and I can wear it with almost any outfit for almost any occasion. It’s trendy but also timeless, so I imagine it will remain in style for many years to come.
If you aren’t sold on the original Transport tote—or if you already own it and want to try something new—Madewell offers plenty of variations on the theme. There’s a larger version, a smaller crossbody, and even one made of canvas (which reduces the price by nearly $100). You can choose from a bunch of neutral colors and earthy tones for either material, including brown, black, cognac, and olive.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.