Even before I became a Vassar student, I had a favorite tote bag: a purple and red tote with an intricate, edgy design. It’s equally fashionable and practical: I love the pattern on it and its ability to hold endless items, like books, hair clips and snacks from the Retreat.
As it turns out, many other students here had the same idea, and I’ve definitely spotted a number of tote bags that I’ve admired. One of the reasons tote bags became so popular is because they are an eco-friendly alternative to plastic grocery bags. In addition to their environmental perks, tote bags are also a fashion statement, but they can mean a lot more.
The variety of designs on these bags can say a lot about someone’s personality. Many students display them as a form of self expression. A good amount of Vassar students in particular use clothing as ways to express their individuality, and a bag can say just as much about someone as their outfit.
Miley Lu ’25 owns a beautiful tote with an image of the Lovers’ tarot card painted on it. The bag displays two of her passions: tarot cards and art. “I was looking for a new tote bag, and I saw this one at Needle in the Haystack and sort of knew immediately I wanted to paint something on it,” Lu shared. She added, “I just adore tarot cards and The Lovers is one of my favorites.” The lover’s tarot card represents love and relationships, and its gothic design pairs very nicely with the tote bag.
Another student, Ruby Garcia ’24, has a colorful tote with the image of “Goodnight Moon” on the front. She told me, “This is probably my favorite tote bag that I own! I got it over the summer at a bookstore, and it makes me so happy because it reminds me of reading “Goodnight Moon” all the time as a kid.” Garcia added, “I think the images on it are so fun to look at, and it always ties my outfits together nicely when I use it.” Personally, I also get nostalgic when I think of “Goodnight Moon,” so I adore how this bag both reminds Garcia of her childhood and is a fashion statement.
Within the tote bag trend, a considerable amount of students own New Yorker tote bags. However, Kai Speirs ’25 has sought to make his style more original.
“Boring, I know, but I think mine is a bit cooler than your average one,” he said. “I have an assortment of pins that I attached to my bag. Some of my favorites are a super old Lenin pin that my mom got in Georgia and a pin that still refers to Hong Kong as part of the British Empire. I’m a big trinket collector, and putting pins on my bags is a great way to make use of them!” Speirs has found a way to spice up a basic bag by showcasing his creativity and interest for pins. Many students like him have been able to add pins or artwork to more plain bags to show off some items that they feel passionate about or their art. This is what’s so amazing about these bags—they can be used as a blank canvas for the wearer to decorate.
Another student that I interviewed carries around a bag that tells a sweet story. Charlotte Robertson ’25 has a reddish-orange tote with a Vermont Book Shop logo on it. “I bought this bag at a bookstore in Vermont,” she explained, “I was on a road trip with my family, and we stayed in this really creepy bed and breakfast.” Robertson added that the bag still makes her laugh thinking about the trip. Along with being a convenient pop of color to add to an outfit, the bag reminds Robertson of a time she spent with her family.
These tote bags not only tell stories about people’s lives, they hint to us the personalities and fashion styles of those wearing them. Ultimately, a bag can act as an accessory but also as a window into a person’s personality and sense of style. Tote bags are like canvases; students can use them to display their unique artwork. In addition, they’re very practical for the busy Vassar student who has to carry one too many textbooks, and they’re durable and versatile. So, if any students out there haven’t already succumbed to Vassar’s tote culture, I’d recommend them as a fashionable and climate-friendly addition to your wardrobe.