photo2The New York Times, in one of their half charming, half roll-your-eyes stories, reports that you can now put away your fancy leather purse and instead carry a nice cotton tote. Of course, this being New York, not just any tote will do. The glitterati (and literati) are showing their stripes with just the right schlepping bag, preferably given away at a fashion or literary event in numbers no more than 300.

Seemingly democratic and certainly affordable (if not free), the tote might be the ideal carryall for these post-luxury recessionary times. The tote’s status is stealth. It telegraphs not money but access, ethics, culture — encapsulating the idea psychologist Daniel Gilbert popularized that happiness grows more through experiences than purchases.

This is true. If you believe that you can’t buy your way to happiness (say, with a Birkin), but ascribe to the New York notion that fulfillment is found in attending the latest cultural event within your particular sphere, then a tote bag proclaims this loud and clear. Indeed, lately I have been proudly using my organic cotton ABC Carpet and Home bag before I even knew this was a supposed trend. Yes, it came from a store and not some exclusive event, but it says, “I have good taste and I shop at stores with fair trade and sustainable wares. Bitches.”

Now the resurgence of the environmental movement, coupled with the graphic design boom and lowered screen-printing costs, has helped make totes ubiquitous. Anya Hindmarch, in 2007, designed the popular “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” canvas satchel, publicized on Oscar nominees with the help of Vanity Fair. Boutiques supporting young designers and sustainability, like Bird in Brooklyn, began giving away logo bags with purchases: the perfect size for the laptops we all have to lug hither and yon.

And today, for my trek out to Brooklyn, I chose an older, worn cotton bag from Olive & Bettes. I sort of liked the bag before (it’s a forgettable NYC boutique), but of course my esteem of it jumped up a notch when I saw the same one sitting at the desk of my ever-so-chic editor in chief.

So, do you ever carry totes instead of a fancy purse? What’s your tote of choice?