Picture this: you’re talking to a small group of people. Things are going great–in fact you feel this could really lead to something big. Then someone asks for your business card.
You reach into your pocket and pull out……a huge lump of nylon and duct tape with tattered receipts and dozens of dollar bills sticking out from the corners. Fumbling through the tightly wound ball of “important” items carried “just in case,” you finally manage to find a card after 5 minutes of searching. It’s marked up and bent, but hey–it’s a card, right?
Not a great impression, eh?
If you’ve had the same wallet since seventh grade, perhaps it is time to invest in something a little more mature and appropriate.
A gentleman’s wallet needs to be two things:
Both of these have a lot to do with what you’re carrying, so get ready to clean house.
Functional: What Your Wallet Needs
If you’re guilty of carrying around a George Constanza wallet, one that’s stuffed to the brim, waiting to explode and blow all your “important” papers to the wind, then you really should consider going through your wallet and stripping it down to its bare essentials. Because not only does an overstuffed wallet look kind of silly when you pull it out in public, it also does a number on your clothing and appearance when it’s being carried around in your pocket. A giant wallet in the back pocket of your pants makes sitting down uncomfortable and your backside look like it’s growing an unsightly tumor. Carrying an overstuffed wallet in your coat pocket weighs you down on one side, making the jacket’s shoulders a little lopsided. And regardless of the pocket you put it in, a heavy wallet will create creases that shorten the lifespan of the garment.
So if you want to streamline your wallet, how do you figure out what should stay and what should go? Here are some suggested guidelines:
Items Every Gentleman’s Wallet Should Have
Cash – Although credit cards and other forms of electronic payment have become dominant in how we exchange money, cold hard cash is still widely accepted and in some instances preferred. It’s fast, convenient, and from a vendor’s perspective has no processing fee (which is why you see discounts occasionally). Cash is king when it comes to tips and paying for quick services where electronic payment forms require extra time and you would rather just pay and be on your way.
Identification – Stick to the bare minimum here. A driver’s license/state identification card should be your default. You may need a second ID for your job or school, but try to stop there. No need to carry your international driver’s licenses or passport unless you’re in a foreign country. And even then I prefer to keep a photocopy and leave my original in a hotel safe or other secure area.
Credit Cards – Carry 1-2 credit or debit cards. Here is where a lot of people go overboard–in fact the average American has 7 cards! You do not need to carry your Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, and 3 fuels cards with you at all times. However, I do like to carry both a debit and credit card. Although my debit card can be used as a credit card, certain companies will not allow you to use it as a deposit card (car rental services when you are out of state–my experience). Also the better credit cards offer a wide variety of protections not offered to debit card purchases.
Business Cards – Have them with you at all times–even if you’re unemployed or at a social event. People want to connect, and no successful man is an island. If you don’t have a specific title or position, get a set of calling cards with your name, phone number, and e-mail. You don’t usually need more than a few in your wallet, as the ones here are for random opportune moments. If you expect to be handing out more than 3, carry a business card case. Carrying more than 5 cards in a wallet can build up bulk fast. Although there are apps out there making business cards obsolete, adoption of the technology is still in its infancy. Even at tech savvy events like SXSW in Austin I found less than 5% of people using the technology.
Photos of Loved Ones – A great personal motivator and reminder to carry close, the only warning is that anything you carry in your wallet should be a copy–never the original.
Items to Leave Out of Your Wallet
Discount, club membership, library, and medical cards should be left at home unless you’re making a specific trip and know you’ll need them. My wife and I actually have a system where we keep all these cards in our minivan (we have 2 vehicles–but I rarely use my truck). In the event we need them and forgot to bring them in, we simply walk back out to the vehicle and retrieve them.
Social Security Card – This isn’t just wasted space; it’s a bad idea. You don’t ever need this for I.D. purposes, except when you’re actually proving residency status for legal reasons. Keep it somewhere safe at home–not in your wallet.
Condoms – Keeping condoms for long periods in your wallet only damages them. If you need to have some on hand, store them in your vehicle.
Coins – Unless you’re in a country where coin usage is a larger part of society for transportation (I feel for you guys over in Europe)–leave the coins at home. An exception to this is if you’re headed out to a bar and may possibly run into another military man–then carry a military coin so you can brandish it and have the first round bought by your new (or old) friend.
Receipts – If you like to keep them for your records, transfer them immediately from your wallet to a folder as soon as you get home. Week to year old receipts don’t have any place in your pocket.
Just because I do not carry the above items does not mean I do not have access to the information. Using my smart phone, I keep scanned copies of important cards and files on a secure cloud-based service which I can access from anywhere. Just the other day I had a receptionist make a photocopy of my daughter’s medical insurance card that was displayed on my iPhone via Dropbox. There are many ways to do this–just remember to think through the security of the system you set up. A lapse of security here could easily lead to identity theft.
Presentability: What a Good Wallet Looks Like
The Right Wallet for the Right Job
Not all wallets are created equal. Your slim day-to-day billfold won’t hold larger papers and tickets when you travel. A polyester and velcro wallet with your alma mater’s football insignia is fine for shopping on a Saturday but won’t make the best impression at a business lunch.
A quick overview of wallet styles–and yes, a man can own various styles that suit his particular needs:
Billfolds – Your basic bi-fold or tri-fold wallet in plain black leather is a reliable workhorse. It’s perfectly acceptable in just about any social or business setting and holds the daily essentials year after year. Simple, elegant, timeless. Your go-to wallet.
Below is a neat one from an Esty craftsman who will customize the handmade wallet with a quotation of your choice:
Sport Wallets – Usually made from a synthetic weave, these wallets are made in brighter colors and with features for men who need to ensure the contents of the wallet stay put. They also can feature straps to secure them to the individual, can be water resistant, and utilize velcro and zippers. Reserve these wallets for times when their functionality is a requirement–not when wearing a dinner jacket.
Super Slim Wallets – Recently I’ve seen the rise of simple and slim wallets. Some are made from leather, but can only hold at most a few cards and bills. Others are made from paper-thin, ultra-strong materials and are almost an empty form given shape by the wallet contents. The goal is the same–make the wallet smaller and a man will by necessity carry less. A good philosophy, and one I recommend for those who can’t seem to keep their traditional billfolds slim.
Money Clip – Often underrated, metal clips are even slimmer than wallets and can be eye-catching if you find a good one. They also fit better in a jacket pocket than most billfolds. If you’re looking for one that’s truly unique, search Etsy.com for hundreds of interesting handmade options. There are even money clips out there like the one below that double as knives!
Travel Wallets – These are usually built larger to accommodate tickets and international passports. They also come with an attached clip or neck thong to help prevent theft or misplacement. Travel wallets aren’t practical for daily use, but they’re invaluable when you travel, especially as a family man carrying paperwork and IDs for 5 people.
Wallet/Phone Case – You’ve got a handkerchief, pocket knife, wallet and goodness knows what else in your pockets (seriously, check out what AoMers carry in their pockets each day)…add in having to carry a phone as well, and things start to get pretty bulky. That’s why a wallet that doubles as a phone case can be a smart move.
Stylistically, each of these wallet types comes in an almost infinite range of builds and colors. Your tastes might run anywhere from alligator skin to recycled materials, but just remember the darker and simpler the wallet, the more formal it is.
I recommend at least a plain leather billfold; beyond that let your personal tastes be your guide. A little character never hurt a man’s wallet — as long as it’s kept functional and stylish.
Have Tony talk you through the post:
Last updated: February 2, 2016