A brief history of the tote bag (and how Haulier improves it)

Author: Nick Carvell

15 Nov 2020

Category: Featured

Even before face masks and antibacterial hand spray became mandatory, we were carrying more around with us than ever before: gym kit, kids’ stuff, laptops, KeepCups. We live an increasingly nomadic existence so carrying everything in the most practical and stylish way has never been more paramount. Cue the ever utilitarian tote bag.

Ultimately, where the tote bag reigns supreme lies in its history. Versatility and utility is not just baked into the accessory itself, but into the etymology of the name. While scholars can’t agree on an exact origin as a verb – some say “tote” comes from the Low German tüte (“bag”), some say the Finnish tuoda (“to carry, bear, bring, fetch, get”) and others surmise it came via West African slave communities in America, either from tota (“to pick up”) in Kikongo or tuta (“to pile up or carry”) in Swahili – they do seem to be able to agree that it first appeared in the English language as a way to say “to carry” in the late 17th century.

The transition from verb to noun came later. What we know as the “tote bag” began to be offered by a few stores in America as a way to carry home purchases in the late 19th century, but the term didn’t get officially coined until 1944. Intended as a way of transporting ice from your car to your freezer, this bag was cut from sturdy, heavy-canvas cloth with shoulder straps and reinforced seams - the key attributes of this carrier that still remain today.

The beauty of a tote bag is it’s fit for any day-to-day occasion. Its classic design, understated shape and capacious interior make it equally suitable for a day on the beach as a night at the bar, as fit for the school run as a business meeting.

However, every staple can be improved upon - which is where Haulier comes into play. Haulier tote bags are made from hard-wearing selvedge cotton-canvas but kick things up a gear in the personality department with bursts of colour, leather trimmings and brass hardware. The brand’s ethos is rugged yet refined, sensible yet chic, logical yet louche. Because if a bag is going to be with you 24/7, then it should be the best-looking bag you own - and Haulier has your back. Or should that be shoulder?