The Incredible Shrinking Wallet – The New York Times

As co-owner of Billykirk, a leather goods brand based in Jersey City, N.J., Chris Bray has devoted the past 20 years to hand-crafting wallets, among other accessories. He can wax philosophical about how “your oils, your skin, your travels” affect the wallet that you carry around. But when Mr. Bray goes out at night, he takes just his ID, one credit card and a few business cards, tucked into a slim card case.

“Simplify your life,” he said. “Nine out of ten times, if you have a bi-fold wallet, you’ve got crap in there you don’t need. You’ve got a ticket stub from three years ago.”

This from a man who sells bi-fold wallets in four colors. But in recent years, the physical wallet’s central role in our lives has been greatly reduced, as have the size of wallets themselves. As tech companies have introduced mobile apps like Apple Pay and Google Pay in an effort to make the smartphone into a digital wallet, “real” ones — long a fallback of the holiday gift season — are shrinking, or disappearing altogether. Some are becoming gizmos themselves, as if to seem more current: popping out cards with the press of a button and offering benefits like locating services or radio-frequency identification (RFID) blocking, intended to protect against credit-card or identity theft.

For men, the classic multi-pocketed model is losing popularity to card cases like the one Mr. Bray carries. They aren’t much bigger than a credit card, and slip easily into a front pocket.

He added, “I’d say 65 percent of men don’t carry cash anymore. But some still do.”

In women’s fashion, leather and nylon belt bags by brands like Gucci, Balenciaga and Supreme, which leave hands free, are also reducing the need for bulky purses and long wallets.

“As bags get smaller, the easiest thing to take space away from is the wallet,” said Megs Mahoney Dusil, the founder of PurseBlog, which reviews bags and other accessories. “The shrinking of the wallet allows for more carrying of day-to-day essential items.”

Ms. Mahoney used to carry a continental wallet — the zip-around kind with room for receipts and even a passport — but switched recently to a Gucci card case, which she slips inside a Fendi “Peekaboo” bag.

“Micro mini,” or “toy” bags make plain the diminished role of cash, at least for celebrities and the rich. Last month, Lizzo showed up to the American Music Awards with a Valentino bag so small the strap fit one finger. The interior was big enough to contain a single mint.

The French designer Simon Porte Jacquemus sells a 4-5inch handbag called Le Chiquito, which might hold a change purse. The absurdly tiny Le Petit Chiquito, introduced during Paris Fashion Week last February and retailing for $258, barely holds a few loose coins.

For centuries, going all the way back to the introduction of paper currency in America in the late 1600s, the wallet has been a traveling bank vault and all-purpose file cabinet for men and women, a place to keep checks, cash and personal ephemera.

“I have Apple Pay on my phone, but I use it shockingly little,” Mr. Grossman said.

He still carries the Bottega Veneta bi-fold wallet that he bought in college, though he has streamlined its contents.

Mr. Grossman pointed to the way watches have remained a steady, if somewhat marginalized, accessory in the digital era. While wallets aren’t luxury status symbols in the same way, he allowed, “You develop wear and tear that gives it character like clothing. It’s part of your journey. It’s a staple of the wardrobe.”

Mr. Bray of Billykirk, who has a vested interest in the wallet sticking around, also argued for its indispensability. He said, quaintly, “You need a place to put your stuff.”

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