Ask Belle Roundup: Vol. IV, No. Twenty

May 8, 2014

Since I announced that I was heading to law school next month, I’ve had a number of reader e-mails asking what bag I intend to use to haul my laptop, books, etc.  There have been so many, I thought I would just condense them into one answer.

My bag choice is a fluid situation.  I currently own two laptop bags: the Lo & Sons Brookline Tote and the Lodis Audrey Brera leather laptop bag.  I intend to use one or both of those to carry my computer, but as many of you can attest, I’m going to have to carry books as well.

I hate the idea of carrying two bags every day.  My shoulders are already giving me the side-eye at the mere mention of such a possibility.  So I’m hopeful that one bag plus a locker will get it done, but some of the lawyers and law students who read this blog have recommended a laptop backpack.  I looked to see if there was anything even moderately chic and found this navy backpack from Everlane.  This Herschel bag is a bit larger and has a similar style for those ladies who need to carry a lot.

In college, I carried a Timbuk2 messenger.  So if all else fails, I may go back to that.  But I’ll keep you posted.

Hi Belle,

What do you think of the J.Crew pumps with the thicker heel?  I kind of love them, but I’m not sure they’re a good investment.  Too trendy?

Love the blog, Aimee

I don’t mind the look of a thicker heel, and I’m always happy for more stability.  My one caution is that if you have a thicker ankle, a thicker heel can accentuate that.  So take a long look in the mirror before you choose to wear a thicker-heeled shoe. And while this is a bit of a trend item, if you like them, I don’t think they would ever be “out of style,” just hotter at some times than others.

Want the same look for less?  Ann Taylor makes a shoe with a thicker heel.  These Mellow Yellow pumps with a contrast heel are also cute.  But my favorite were these French Connection heels in black suede with leather accents.

My sister turned me onto your blog, and I love reading something that actually applies to my life.  (No rompers or crop tops, yea!)  I’m looking for a printed skirt in a full or a-line style so I can mimic the First Lady.  Do you know of any that aren’t Oscar de la Renta?  I want to spend $150 or less.

Blessings, Kayla

The full skirt can be tough to pull off, but done right, it’s so chic.  For the full skirt look, I found this Lucy printed skirt in black and white.  For the pleated, a-line look, I found this cool dot print from WHBM.

Struggling to style fuller skirts?  Here are two helpful tips: 1) a fuller bottom needs/requires a slim-fitting top, proportion will keep you from looking larger than you are, and 2) belting the waist with a wider belt to provide structure and re-emphasize the waist will give you a leaner, pulled together look.  Also, with a fuller skirt, length is critical.  So take the skirt to your tailor and experiment with different lengths until you find the one that looks best, usually right above the knee.

Hi Belle,

Can you recommend a body lotion that isn’t Kiehl’s Creme de Corps.  I love it, but I can’t afford it.

Sincerely, H

I just started using Burt’s Bees Milk & Honey body lotion ($8) and I really like it.  It’s moisturizing without being greasy and it doesn’t have a strong scent, which I appreciate.

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  1. M says:

    For cheap lotion also try looking at Whole Foods – I just got a giant pump bottle of really nice lavender lotion on sale for $7 (down from $9).

  2. D says:

    I ride a bike to and from law school so the laptop backpack has been a godsend. That and the lockers – ours are big enough to fit all the books and a backpack inside, so that helps for storing things. I like the Fjallraven laptop backpack. A bit pricey, but worth it in my opinion. Lots of colors to choose from too!

  3. Casey says:

    Most law schools (well, the two i’ve attended, and a lot that my friends go to) have lockers. They are a godsend, we never had them in undergrad so it was strange at first, but ended up being awesome…I’d finish at least one classes reading that day at school, so I didn’t have to schlep that casebook home with me. Before you invest in new bags, maybe find out if your school has lockers, and best of luck…if anyone can kick law school’s butt, it’s you!

  4. Erin says:

    I love Jergen’s Ultra Healing moisturizer. I actually discovered it through my fiancee (who has super dry skin), but it’s great for my regular skin as well — super moisturizing, and cheap for a huge bottle:

  5. Jenny says:

    My law school had lockers, but I still used a laptop bookbag. Not chic, and I didn’t NEED it every day. But it could fit the books for two or maybe three classes, depending on size, where I never found any other bag that could do more than one.

    At my school the profs expected us to have the books for class during class so we could refer to them and they could ask us questions about the previous night’s reading – I think that’s typical and wasn’t expected at my college. So if your bag only holds one book, and you want to go to class and then do the reading for a second class and then attend a third – you’re back and forth to your locker a LOT without a good bag. Even with my bookbag, I often found myself with books for two classes in the bag and one in my hands.

  6. MK says:

    Drugstores make some pretty decent body creams, in my book. I love Curel Itch Defense. Very moisturizing and not greasy. When I really need some intense moisture, though, I use Bath and Body Works True Blue Spa Shea butter “Lay It on Thick” body cream. I put it on at night, as it definitely needs some time to absorb, but it is *intensely* moisturizing. As good as Creme de Corps, for sure, which I also love but can’t afford. Creme de Corps absorbs more quickly, but Bath and Body Works is cheaper!

  7. A.J. says:

    I love Nature’s Gate lotions, particularly the oatmeal one. I have super sensitive, eczema-prone skin. I used to use Vanicream Lite as well, but I like the texture of the NG lotion better…plus it was easier to find where I live.

  8. Blythe says:

    I’ve made it through two years of law school (in NYC, so you know I’m walking around a lot) with my Michael Kors Jet Set Laptop Tote. My only complaint is that it’s open at the top (no zipper or clasp) but other than that I love that it’s my school bag, my internship bag, and my purse.

    Pretty sure this is it:

  9. Ms. P says:

    Highly recommend getting your books debound and carrying just the chapters you need. Any copy shop can chop off the bindings and 3 hole punch for you.

    • Belle says:

      This is a great suggestion.

    • Ms. D says:

      Don’t do this without really looking at the syllabus and the appendices. For many “big think” classes (Property, Fed Courts, Con Law, Admin, etc), you’ll need more than the chapter that the reading came from in class since discussions can move around a lot (especially later in the semester). For some of the black-letter classes (anything with a portable statutory supplement), this would probably work brilliantly.

      Also, think about whether you really need your laptop during the day. Handwriting class notes will help you stay engaged in class and you’ll probably spend the time between classes reading. Typing up notes is a great way to “outline” for exams as you go.

      • love it says:

        I can relate! It wasn’t until I got to grad school that I realized I would always prefer hand-taking notes on paper. I had purchased a super lightweight laptop and sleek laptop bag before starting my program, but after about a week I just ended up leaving my laptop at home and taking notes by hand. Apparently, I just love drawing arrows and underlining and drawing info graphs, etc. etc. 🙂

      • Kate says:

        Also, with all of the new tech solutions, carrying a laptop around seems to me to be really unnecessary. If I was going to law school now I’d carry an iPad mini with a Bluetooth keyboard and use Evernote. I remember watching so many people’s laptops get ruined by people tripping over the cords while trying to get to their seat, knocking over cups of coffee onto keyboards with giant backpacks, etc. I know it’s sort of weird to be advising against style on a style blog — but at least your first year, just find something functional. Tom Bihn backpacks are the absolute best. They’re not as sleek as anything made by Lo & Sons, but they’re indestructible and hold everything you’d ever need.

      • Yeah I don’t think I’d unbind my books.

  10. J says:

    For extremely dry winter hands I swear by Burts Bees Almond Milk but it’s kind of pricey since it $9 for just 2 oz. For everyday use, I use the Body Shop Shea Butter. It’s normally pricier at $20 for 6.75 oz but there are always huge sales – right now they are $10 each if you buy 3. I just do that and stock up.

  11. Anne says:

    I have really dry skin, and the best body moisturizer I’ve found is coconut oil. It has almost zero scent and actually absorbs really quickly, especially if I put it on right after the shower.

    • Addie says:

      Refined coconut oil had almost no scent but unrefined definitely smells like coconut, just a heads up for anyone who might try this and doesn’t want to smell like coconut

  12. Addie says:

    Belle, do the leather straps of any of your Lo & Sons bags leave black marks on light colored clothing? I use the O.M.G. as my work bag and I adore it except for this issue. I was just wondering if this was a common issue or if I got a flawed bag. It wasn’t a problem when I first got it.

    • Belle says:

      My laptop bag has a nylon strap. But I’ve had this issue with my Minkoff purse and my trench not playing well together. It’s a very common issue with leathers of all types. A dry cloth and a hint of woolite should take off any transfer, and you may be able to get your handles treated so they don’t bleed as much.

  13. Morgan says:

    A caution about law school and bags. My Lo&Sons bag survived DC commuting without complaint, but when I tried to use the bag at law school the strap broke week three. We even had lockers and I was rarely bringing casebooks home but I quickly switched to a backpack. Law School 1, Style 0.

  14. Lindsey says:

    The worst thing about law school is the ten million pieces of unsolicited advice you get. I apologize for adding to the pile, but here is mine – after 1L I implemented a rule where I refused to study at home and left all of my books in my locker (along with tea, oatmeal, and an extra sweater). It helped me keep my home a calm place where I could actually relax, and my shoulders thanked me.

    If I had to do it over again (yuck, I get freaked out just thinking about that), I’d have that rule from the beginning. It really helped my mental health to have a non-law infested place to go home to.

    • Belle says:

      I like the advice, as long as it is to not go to law school. Some of it has been really helpful.

      • Lindsey says:

        You have a scholarship and a plan for afterwards, so you’ve passed my tests on that front (not that it matters what this complete stranger thinks about your personal life decision). Good luck!

    • Kate says:

      I’ll second this. I’m now in the Foreign Service and I sort of treat language training this way (I carry vocab flashcards everywhere when I’m in training so I can use subway/cab/waiting for friends to get to the restaurant time productively). Treat it like a regular job — even if your first class doesn’t start ’til 10, show up at 8 to go over the reading for the day. Even if your last class ends at 3, stay ’til 4:30 or 5 to set yourself up for the next day. I confess that I went in at least on Saturdays my first year several times, but the suggestion does help cut down on dragging stuff back and forth.

  15. B says:

    I just bought the Timbuk2 “Q” Laptop Backpack, Rev Red/Cement/Gunmetal, Medium. I feel it is urban stylish and practical at the same time. At 40 yrs old my shoulders and back cannot do lopsided weight any more. Additionally, this is my third Timbuk2 bag. They are well made and last forever.

  16. Kjw says:

    I’d recommend this Aldo bag – it’s pretty simple, but I’ve been using it to carry all of my things to law school for over a year and it isn’t even starting to look worn (the advantages of vegan leather!). I’ve gotten many compliments on it.

  17. L says:

    I actually carry the Lo & Sons OG bag to law school–so do two of my classmates. It survives dragging books back and forth, and is enough for my gym clothes too (although that can get heavy).

    Highly recommend, even over the backpack (which I hated, even beyond the lack of style).

    Also chiming in for the recommendation on the locker. I do study at home, but it’s still awesome to not have to schlep all your books at one time.

  18. KC says:

    I used a Samsonite laptop bag similar to this one: and a backpack-locker combo for my books. I could also cram some books and purse items in it. I found it easier to keep all my purse-type items in my laptop bag since I always had it. It takes a little while to get in a groove to figure out what books you need to take home every night and what you can leave where. I carried everything back and forth for the first few weeks.

  19. The Aveeno daily lotion (the green label) has changed my very dry skin. I mix it with a few drops of argan oil scented with my perfume and it’s magical.

  20. Jamie says:

    On lotion, Mountain Ocean Skin Trip is amazing stuff. They sell it at whole foods. It is inexpensive, non-greasy, smells amazing (light coconut that does not last long or overwhelm). The only caveat is that it goes bad after 3 or 4 months, which is a good thing to me. It could mean there are less harsh chemicals.

  21. Shelby says:

    During law school, I lived and died by my Tumi briefcase (from the women’s line). It was expandable, professional, and above all else comfortable. Expensive? yes. Worth it? definitely. The only down side: no designated compartment for a water bottle. Despite being gifted a leather briefcase by my current firm, I continue to use my Tumi for my day to day commute. I reserve the other for court appearances and external client meetings.

  22. Karen says:

    If you’re planning to haul a laptop to/from class, consider investing in a super-light, portable model, like an Ultrabook or MacBook Air. You don’t need any extra weight, and it will actually fit on the desks at school (which were most likely installed in the pre-laptop days).

    • C says:

      Also consider the iPad/keyboard option. I’m in a part-time law program and have stopped hauling my laptop to school except for paper-writing.

      And on a related note, the Westlaw iPad app is pretty awesome.

    • I don’t know what the deal is now (I’m a little old these days)and my law school didn’t use a test/blocker software but I seem to recall Macs not being compatible. Same for some state bar exams.

      • TT says:

        Macs are compatible now, they were just becoming that way when I took the bar in 2011, so by now I’m sure they are.

        I took notes on my laptop, and it worked great – but disable the Internet while you’re in class otherwise the temptation is too much when the prof goes monotone.

        Good luck!!

  23. wex says:

    Some law textbooks are also available in digital form. I keep several in PDF form on my iPad.

  24. Jula S. says:

    Quick post hijack – I desperately need dressy tees or blouses that are washable and black or white. I need sleeves to protect my jacket, and would like a scoop neck to look sharper underneath my jackets. Ideas? I’ve tried WHBM, Loft, Ann Taylor, Gap, BR.

    Re: toting books – I’d give some thought to an iPad with a bluetooth keyboard – I have a case that I just pop my iPad in. Between MS Office, Google Drive, and CourseSmart, I’m all set. Speaking of which, most textbooks – including law books – are available for rent on CourseSmart. As faculty, I get free access so I’m spoiled, but you can highlight, annotate, etc. and not have to haul around multiple textbooks. I teach taxation, so my books are tomes – and having full access to them in an eBook format is fabulous!

    I do love my macbook air though 🙂

  25. Kay says:

    Your locker + a bag for your laptop should do the trick. I bought a big North Face backpack for my 1L year (that was ridiculous on my short frame), thinking I would need something large to haul my books around. By 2L year, I was putting my laptop in a sleeve, and then putting it in my tote and carrying whatever book I needed to the current class.

    • Kay says:

      This does work better if you’re not taking multiple books home at night, though. If you like to study at home, then a backpack would be helpful!

      • Mish says:

        Northface is really good bc they have backpacks made for women. Basically meaning the bags are made for people with smaller frames, especially smaller shoulders. So I suppose smaller men could carry them too as they look the same! Anyway, the straps on normal backpacks always slide off my shoulders but my women’s northface is awesome and fits my body.

  26. Lindsey says:

    I got the OMG bag at the beginning of my 1L year, on your recommendation of course. Multiple people have stopped to ask if it was in fact the OMG because they saw it on your blog. (Such a following in Alabama!) It has been perfect for my everyday bag-laptop, wallet, chargers, folders, supplements, etc. I usually carry my books in my hand versus the bag when I can help it. Luckily my school has lockers and the library is connected for easy travel. Between the bag, locker, and car, I’ve been fine.

    Best of luck as you begin law school! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! I’m looking forward to your stories!

  27. Heather says:

    When I was in law school I used a tote similar to this:
    I actually never used my locker and just planned out really well which materials I needed each day. I was also working so I wanted/needed something more stylish than a backpack to go back and forth from the office to class.

  28. Good luck with Law school Belle. As for lotion, I use Nivea from the drug stores/sams club and they work wonders. I dont think or believe investing in super expensive lotion is the only way out there to get good skin..some of these drug store ones work perfectly for me..

  29. Helena says:

    I used a big, ugly backpack during law school and I don’t regret it, but I went to school in New York City and lived off campus, so did a lot of walking and taking the subway with all my books and laptop. I felt like a turtle sometimes, but I considered it a workout and it really saved my back.

  30. kate says:

    I tried to carry a leather tote my 1L year; I switched to a Herschel backpack halfway through the year. Your shoulders (and back!) will thank you for the backpack…those casebooks are no joke!

  31. Joules says:

    I actually really like that Herschel backpack. I’ve got a bad neck, and I often worry that carrying my laptop in my Lonchamp bag isn’t the best idea.

    Style by Joules

  32. Sarah says:

    I carried a laptop in a shoulder strap bag with my college backpack. I used to get tangled up all the time forgetting which straps were on the bottom 🙂 Never used a locker. It wasn’t stylish, but I was still so college then bc I went straight through. This will sound silly and I started law school 10.5 years ago (OMG..that hurt to type), so it may be way out of fashion, but the people that seemed happiest had roller bags for everything. The rest of us looked like hunchbacks.

  33. Also, on the unsolicited advice front. Microsoft One Note – try to use it to take notes in class. Outlining is much easier that way.

  34. alana says:

    my gosh you always seem to post exactly what i’m thinking about . I’m going business school next week and have been struggling to find a nice chic laptop bag that’s highly also functional for a student. Thanks for these suggestions.

  35. L says:

    Good luck with law school! Im getting ready to head back to school as well and recently purchased this bag from lulu lemon:
    The bag is made to hold a lot (50lbs), has plenty of pockets (the version I have has a laptop pocket), and the one I have with leather straps is incredibly comfortable. It is a little big (I occasionally bump people on the bus accidentally). But all in all I have been extremely happy with it (I can essentially fit three bags worth of things in one) and extra clothes if I work out during the day. They change up the colors, and pocket types every few weeks so you can usually find one that works for your needs. Hope that helps!


  36. ACC says:

    I’m currently a graduate student in New York City, and I have the Everlane backpack. It is incredible! It has a padded laptop sleeve inside that can fit a 15″ Macbook, and is incredibly roomy. The straps are also very comfortable, and I’ve gotten lots of compliments on it here in the city. 🙂

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