With so many options, making the perfect choice is a key part of any Cambridge student's morning routineAnna Metzger with permission for Varsity

My term time morning routine is normally characterised by alarm-snoozing, coffee acquisition and throwing the entire contents of my wardrobe on the floor in the process of deciding what to wear. Yet, perhaps the most important factor in establishing the mood for the day to come is the daily act of tote bag selection.

“The whimsy of the tote bags lie in their ability to make us feel something”

Like so many others loyal to the tote bag lifestyle, a tote bag full of lovingly-folded tote bags hangs on my doors. In there, I treasure an eclectic assortment of designs fit for any mood or purpose. Some merely bear the emblem of a long forgotten brand logo (these are undoubtedly the least favourite children of my tote bag family, only coming out once every while to transport the obligatory grocery shop). Others have become some of the most treasured pieces of my fashion repertoire.

Tote bags are often directly communicative in a way that few other fashion items are. I’d never wear a t-shirt with a vagina on it that said in big letters “my body my choice,” but somehow this bluntness suits the tote bag style. These pretty average cotton canvas bags offer the potential to verbally and visually curate our self image in a way in which clothes can’t. More often than not, tote bags are a memento to a place or event that we may have visited. When I carry my Girton Spring Ball tote bag across Sidgwick site, I’m making something known of my own life experiences that fashion wouldn’t usually allow.

’Tote bags are often directly communicative in a way that few other fashion items are”

In reality, I can’t imagine that members of the student body spend too much time admiring what specific tote bag I’ve selected on any given day. In fact, my William Morris print or Fra Angelico Annunciation tote bags are probably at best seen as pretentious and at worst as a bit ugly. Nevertheless, it is on the canvas that the tote bag offers that I feel best represented. What I read, the art I love, where I’ve travelled, my political beliefs - all make themselves known through the functional method of self-expression that is the tote bag.

'Tote bags are often directly communicative in a way that few other fashion items are'Fleur O'Reilly with permission for Varsity

Students’ obsession with this simple, affordable item of transportation is therefore understandable. Practically, the tote bag can hold anything you would possibly need for the day, including that book I’ll never read, three unnecessary hair accessories and a granola bar in case you get hungry. In this way, the contents of the tote bag makes me feel a warm buzz of cosy preparedness.


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More than just being useful there’s something democratic and universal yet infinitely unique and customisable about the tote bag. In an easy, unobtrusive way, the Shakespeare & Company bag that you see everywhere might communicate to the world “I am an intellectual”. Yet it’s not just about what the outside world thinks of us. The little world of my tote bag collections holds dear memories that, as absurd as it may sound, offer me a small slice of self understanding and protection as I go about my day. Whether for ourselves or the outside world, the whimsy of the tote bags lie in their ability to make us feel something. As much as they may hurt my shoulder and refuse to stay on my shoulder over any type of coat in winter, if someone wants to really know me, all they’d have to do is take a look at my emotional support tote bag collection.