Although I don't really go in J. Crew as much as I used to, I was near one the other day and stopped in to look around. I feel like J. Crew has been really heavy in the whole "workwear" thing lately and has gotten away from the conservative, traditional ("preppy," if you will) clothes that I enjoy so much, so I usually don't see too much that piques my interest in the catalogs. Well, while walking around the store, I spotted the Bowery drafting tote and went in for a closer look. It is made of waxed canvas with leather handles, has a zip closure, and features a bright orange lining and several interior pockets. It is a pretty interesting shape as well in that it is fairly square (as opposed to rectangular). However, when I looked at the price and saw $98, I was initially put-off.
Going on the (pretty solid) assumption that most everything J. Crew sells nowadays is overpriced, I thought to myself, "I bet I could do a good blog post of comparable bags than can be found for a good bit cheaper."
However, when I sat down to do some research, I really couldn't come up with any good alternatives. On the cheaper side of things you have the Bean Boat & Tote, of course, and you have the Hunter's Tote, which is a pretty good looking bag for $25. However, neither of these bags are made of waxed canvas or have leather handles (or shoulder straps, for that matter), so I think that this makes them poor comparables. And while the Chubby Briefcase from Porter Street Bags (as previously mentioned on Disaffected Prep) does look pretty good, it is one-of-a-kind item and doesn't represent a readily-available option.
Above the $98 price, you can get a lot closer. Lands End has the Suede Snap Tote (labeled as a "woman's" product, which is it a bit of a turn-off) for $119. Then Filson has their Tote Bag With Zipper for $129.50. And LL Bean has their leather Town and Field Tote, but it also comes in at $129 and seems to be a bit lacking in the masculinity department. Then, of course, you can get into the even higher-end stuff like Billykirk and all of those Japanese things that all of those other bloggers gush over that can only be bought in boutiques in New York City. While this stuff is obviously well-made and good-looking, personally I find it hard to justify $300+ for a canvas bag that I'm just going to stick paper and books in.
So what does all of this mean? It means that if you are in the market for a new tote bag, the J. Crew Bowery drafting tote really does seem to be a pretty good item for the price. Though if you're willing to go up a little higher in price, you've got some good (and well-made) options.