The Great Wallet Roundup

January 18, 2011

The Great Wallet Roundup

Lately the trickle of wallet inquiries we regularly receive has turned into a torrent. What precipitated this trend I cannot say, but there can be only one appropriate response: a Great Wallet Roundup.

First of all, let’s address what type of wallet you should carry.

I’m generally an advocate of the card case. Generally speaking, there’s no need to carry more than ID, a debit card and a credit card. Perhaps a health insurance card for emergencies. Anything more than this (say a store credit card or a club store card), you can grab them on your way out the door. The advantage of the card case is size. It can easily fit into a front pants pocket if you’re not wearing a coat, and will not create any visible bump if worn in a coat pocket. Cash can simply be carried in the front pocket, with or without a money clip, as you prefer.

Bi-fold wallets are a reasonable alternative for those who insist on carrying more cards with them at all times. These should nonetheless be modest in size. Jacket wallets, longer and thinner, roughly the size of a checkbook, are generally suitable only for those who always wear a jacket. Someone classier than me, in other words. Tri-fold wallets, as the Monty Pythons might say, are right out.

Wallets should be worn in the jacket pocket whenever possible. It’s better for your back, more difficult to steal, and given a reasonably-sized wallet, is the best choice aesthetically as well. In a pinch, a front pocket will do. I usually reserve the back pocket for blue jean days, and generally move my wallet to sit or (especially) drive.

As for the question of brown or black, it is a matter of personal preference. I generally wear brown shoes and so I generally wear brown wallets. On the rare occasion I wear evening clothes, I just pull out some cash and cards and use a money clip.

Wallets are available at a million price points, from Hermes to nylon-and-velcro. I’ve tried to put together a little range of possibilities, and hopefully you’ll find yourself something you like. Wallets often go on sale, and can easily be found in the vintage and second-hand market, but we’re focusing on new stuff at retail.

If I could have any wallet in the world, I’d likely have something made by April in Paris. This San Francisco-based company makes truly bespoke leathergoods. Beatrice, the owner, trained at Hermes, and welcomes you to visit your item as it is being made. Almost any design or skin is available. They’re also quite expensive. (Oh, and you could do a lot worse than the similarly expensive Hermes, who are one of the few big-name luxury companies who haven’t sacrificed quality in the pursuit of profit.)

On the inexpensive side of things, Saddleback Leather offers a bifold card case for only $15. The quality should be excellent, but if you’re looking for something with somewhat more refined aesthetics, Hartmann offers a handsome alternative for $35. I’m not nuts about ID windows, but what can you do?

Speaking of rough-hewn aesthetics, the recent Americana revival has hit the world of leather goods, as well. When I asked about wallets on Twitter, we had multiple recommendations for options from Tanner Goods (of Portland) and Billykirk. Tanner Goods’ choices tend towards “outdoorsy casual,” and Billykirk’s towards “axe-wielding.”

I’m a big fan of the leather-and-canvas choice from Duluth Pack of Minnesota, which offers a lifetime guarantee. They’ve also got a nice money clip bifold which is only $20, and a simple credit card wallet. In the past, I’ve recommended Filson wallets to those looking for something casual and durable, and, well, I still do.

If you’re looking for something “fun,” check out the selection at Jack Spade. They really get the silly trendy stuff right, with simple aesthetics and cool touches. They also come up regularly on sale and on Gilt Groupe for very reasonable prices.

My overall champion, though, is Swaine Adeney Brigg. The quality is exceptional – they are made in England and bear a royal warrant – and the prices, while high relative to the more mass-produced options, are not crazy high. Hermes may charge you $1500, but Swaine Adeney will likely be under $200. Indeed, the simple card case (the design of which is pretty much perfect) is available for $95. In fact, I’ve got myself so pumped up about it I may ask for one from my wife for my birthday.

Regardless of what brand you chose, my advice is simple: simplify. Your back will thank you, and so will the line of your clothes.