A wallet, which had once been a name for a kind of sack, is a flat container used for carrying cash, credit cards, a driver’s license, identification, and sometimes checkbooks or change. Wallets as we know them today first appeared in the late 1600s, corresponding with the invention of paper currency and the innovation of sewing pockets into clothes. Shortly thereafter, thieves developed the concept of pickpocketing.

The first wallets, also called billfolds, were used exclusively by men, as women were not generally allowed to keep or spend money on their own. At first they were made of cow and horse leather, but eventually sewn canvas wallets became more feasible. During the Renaissance, wallets also included spaces to carry coins, and in the 19th century, men tended to carry wallets on their belts rather than in their pockets—they often carried dried meat in them, too.

It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that women began to carry a little bit of cash in their purses, although still not as much as men. Before then, women’s handbags were used for personal items like fans and perfume bottles.

In the 1920s, liberated flapper culture made it more socially acceptable for women to wear heavy makeup, to primp in public, and to smoke. Young women began carrying sleek, modern clutch purses to hold their face powder, lipstick, and cigarettes. In 1933, Van Cleef and Arpels introduced the minaudière, a chic metal box with secret compartments for cigarettes, money, and cosmetics.

These clutches and minaudières, the forerunners of women’s wallets, were replaced with larger and more practical shoulder bags during World War II. It wasn’t until the ’50s, though, that truly modern wallets were developed, along with the widespread use of credit cards and cars.

Novelty or character wallets featuring popular TV and comic-book characters like Hopalong Cassidy and Superman, sports teams like the Brooklyn Dodgers, and rock stars like the Beatles and Elvis also appeared in the last half of the 20th century.

At the higher end of the style spectrum, top designers like Coco Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Hermes, Gucci, and Coach made coveted wallets, usually out of leather, crocodile, ostrich, snake, or alligator skin—canvas wallets were often monogrammed with these designer’s logos. Designer wallets for women were made in styles, colors, and materials meant to complement a matching purse...

In the ’70s, the introduction of Velcro led to cheap, easy-to-open wallets made out of synthetic materials like nylon. The proliferation of pickpocketing in the 1980s and ’90s led to the popularity of chain wallets that could be fastened to belt loops. These were big with motorcyclists and skateboarders who wanted to avoid losing their wallets when they were on the move.

Other common kinds of wallets include bifold (one fold) and trifold (two folds) wallets, breast wallets (large enough to hold banknotes without folding them), and Jimi wallets (made of hard plastic). Moneys clips, too, are sometimes called “front pocket wallets” (the metal ones) or “wallet bands” (those made out of elastic), and small pouches designed to attach to shoes while exercising are called “shoe wallets.”

Popular vintage wallets include tooled leather cowboy-style wallets for men, with Western scenes burned into them, as well as elaborate embroidered needlepoint clutch wallets for women.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



Anna Checcoli's homage to the beauty and art of hand fans ('ventagli,' in Italian). Use the left-hand nav to browse… [read review or visit site]



Dr. David Fleishman's comprehensive spectacles site (over 3500 images), in collaboration with museums around the wo… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Authentic Vintage Gucci Zip Around Clutch Wallet Gg LogoBlack Chanel Vintage Tri Fold WalletAuthentic Louis Vuitton Damier Ebene Papier N61202 Wallet Purse Vintage 50916-%Beautiful Fossil Uk Luxurious Leather1970's Vintage Inspired Design Purse/walletAuth Vtg Lv Louis Vuitton Monogram Bifold Purse Wallet Ca 1926 - NrEarly Old Vintage 1960's Roberto Clemente Leather Baseball Glove Wallet AntiqueAuthentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Multi-pockets Wallet Old Vintage Free ShippingAntique Pre Civil War Era 19th C. Leather Billfold Wallet W/ Contents/ DocumentsVintage Obsolete Mahoning County Ohio Sheriffs Badge And Leather Wallet*old*rareFossil Brown Pebbled Leather Satchel Purse+fossil Vintage Butterfly Print WalletEmbossed Hot Coffee Shop Sign Diner Restaurant Java Beans Roaster Silver Set TeaVery Old Vintage Chanel Trifold Wallet Once Crossbody Chain PurseRolex 100% Original Vintage Leather Box, Passport Wallet, Calendar And PaperworkAuthentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Vernis Pink M9139f Purse Wallet Vintage 50908-%Authentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Sarah M61725 Wallet Purse Vintage 50972-%Vintage Dooney & Bourke Black Pebble Leather Zip Top Clutch Wallet Coin Purse Santa Fe Railroad Vintage Calendars - Lot Of 39 Tops, 33 Wallet CalendarsBeautiful Vintage Louis Vuitton Long Wallet In Damier PatternAuth Vtg Louis Vuitton Double Snap Monogram Bifold Wallet And Coin Purse #12110Authentic Gucci Wallet Vintage Logo Fabric Brown Leather Silver Clasp Vintage Antique Hallmarked Sterling Silver And Leather Wallet, Purse, Retro ItemBeautiful Vintage Black & Brown Pebbled Leather Dooney & Bourke Ladies WalletMens Leather Bifold Brown Wallet Coin Zippered Pocket Purse Vintage Style-mj3222Fossil Long Live Vintage Wallet Red LeatherLouis Vuitton Card Case Wallet Vintage Monogram Only $.99 Cents!!! No Reserve!Authentic Louis Vuitton Damie Ebene Multiple Purse Wallet Vintage 50911-%Antique Pre Civil War Era 19th C. Leather Billfold Wallet & Contents, Papers #2Authentic Louis Vuitton Epi Yellow M63549 Purse Wallet Vintage 50910-%Louis Vuitton Wallet Monogram Vintage With Box Only $.99 Cents!!! No Reserve!!Authentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Wallet Purse Vintage No Reserve 50921-%Authentic Louis Vuitton Monogram M61652 Purse Wallet Vintage No Reserve 50907-%Authentic Vintage Gucci Web Logo Tri-fold Continental Clutch Checkbook WalletVintage Prada WalletAuthentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Tresor Wallet M61730 Purse Vintage 50969-%Y5442e Authentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Vintage Wallet Hobo International Lauren Lilac Vintage Leather Double Frame Clutch Wallet Vintage Mens Genuine Leather Bifold Wallet Two Zipperd Pocket Purse-3222Louis Vuitton Men's Vintage Monogram Wallet %100 AuthenticVintage Fossil Clutch Wallet Multi Color Leather Very Nice Used ConditionMeeker : Vintage Genuine Alligator Men's Wallet / Billfold ( Nice Condition )Authentic Jimmy Choo Star Studded Wallet Purse Gold Leather Italy Vintage S00058Vintage Dooney & Bourke Beige & Tan Pebbled Leather Checkbook Wallet (vgc) W@w!Vintage Alligator Crocodile Leather Brown Mens WalletVintage Coach Dark Brown Leather Envelope Wallet/checkbook/ziparound Women'seRare Official Harley-davidson Motorcycles Vintage Leather Biker Wallet & Chain Vintage Bally Black Leather Mini Wallet, Never Used, Great Condition Anuschka Leather Hand-painted Clutch Wallet Premium Rose Antique Really Nice...Vintage Very Rare Coach Pebbled Leather Snap Checkbook Wallet White BrownSmall Vintage Coach Ladies Wallet.Christian Dior Cd Signature Brownish Green Vintage Gold Hardwear WalletVintage *** Southern Cowboy Western Handtooled Leather Clutch Wallet Nerd BohoMichael Jackson Dangerous Wallet Leather Mens Basic Wallet Rare Brown VintageVintage Balenciaga Eggplant Purple Leather Zippy Clutch Wallet GvcCoach Vintage Red Wallet Leather,i'd Holder,bifold,coin Purse,7x4,clutch,bohoAuth.hobo International Lauren Vintage’ Leather Wallet, Clutch Black Vintage 1980's Dooney & Bourke Awl Equestrian Wallet-organizerMens Vintage Leather & Suede Money Clip Wallet Name Business Card Holder, WhiteVintage Fendi Clutch Bifold Wallet Gold Tone Hardware Italy Vintage Women Id Credit Card Wallet Cash Holder Organizer Case Box Pocket PouchVintage Bottega Veneta Intrecciato Gold Leather Wallet Circa 1990's Rare Find!!