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    

Vintage Chanel Black Caviar Leather Cc Logo Large Wallet Or Small Clutch PurseAuth Vintage Gucci Gg Monogram Tote Hand Bag Purse & Wallet 70s Antuque Rare VgcAuthentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Passport Cover Wallet Vintage Excellent 0808Vintage! Polo Ralph Lauren Crocodile Alligator Leather Bifold Wallet Card CaseVintage Authentic Gucci Of Italy Wallet Navy Red StripeAuthentic Vintage Gucci Logo Ladies Mens Unisex Bi-fold Travel Passport WalletAntique Chinese Embroidery And Kid Leather Wallet Purse, Dragon Motif And ClaspAntique Travel Chess WalletCoach Authentic 2 Rings, Bracelet, And Vintage Wallet PurseAuthentic Louis Vuitton Damier Ebene Papier N61202 Wallet Purse Vintage 51775-%Vintage Coach Chocolate Brown Leather Make Up Case Cosmetic Bag WalletAuthentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Multiple Men's Bifold Wallet M60895 Vintage 830Authentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Tresor Wallet M61730 Purse Vintage 51773-%Authentic Vintage Must De Cartier Bordeaux Leather Wallet Billfold Authentic Vintage Gucci Tri-fold Continental Clutch Checkbook Wallet Gg LogoRolex 100% Original Vintage Leather Box, Passport Wallet, Hang Tag And PaperworkVintage Gucci Suit Wallet (mens/black/leather/bifold)Vintage Coach Brown Leather Cosmetic Bag Case Wallet Zippered Never UsedAuthentic Vintage Gucci Mens Bifold, Brown Leather Wallet, Made In ItalyDooney & Bourke Vintage Kiss Lock All Weather Leather Wallet Black & BrownMichael Kors Wallet Gold With Mk Symbols Buckle Metallic VintageEmbossed Hot Coffee Shop Sign Diner Restaurant Java Beans Roaster Silver Set TeaVintage Roy Rogers Zippered Bi Fold Wallet Circa 1950'sAuthentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Men's Bifold Long Wallet M60825 Vintage 0841Vintage Obsolete Private Detective Badge "state Of Ohio" W/ Wallet Vintage 80's Gucci Anniversary Collection Black Tri-fold Wallet Vtg. Dooney & Burke Chestnut/british Tan Kisslock Wallet All Weather Leather UsaPrada Wallet - Vintage Coach Women's Vintage Envelope Wallet Clutch Black Leather Removable CheckbookMichael Kors Flap Coin Purse Wallet Vintage Yellow Genuine Leather NwtVintage Gucci Blue Gg Monogram Red & Blue Stripe Shoulder Bag & Matching WalletAuthentic Vintage Gucci Change Coin Purse Wallet Purse Bag HandbagCoach Baby Blue Leather Credit Card Coin Purse Wallet VintageFossil Long Live Vintage Brown Leather Wallet; DamagedAuthentic Louis Vuitton Damier Ebene Long Wallet Purse Vintage 46419-%Fossil Brown Leather Clutch Wallet Long Live VintageVintage Rare! Polo Ralph Lauren Crocodile Alligator Leather Card Case Wallet Vintage Brahmin Black Tuscan Envelope Clutch Wallet Fossil Dark Green Leather Turnlock "long Live Vintage" WalletVintage Longchamp Leather Clutch Wallet British Tan Made In France Vintage Aloha Hawaii Hula Girl Souvenir Leather Wallet Hawaiian Very Cool! Authentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Long Wallet Purse Vintage No Reserve 46420-%Vintage Gucci Black Leather / Signature Canvas Wallet Clutch CardAntique Alligator Crocodile Leather Men's Wallet Brown VintageMinnesota Vikings, Vintage 70’s, Bank, Belt Buckle, Wallet, Nfl, Lot Of 5 ItemsMens Vintage Leather & Suede Money Clip Wallet Name Business Card Holder, WhiteVintage Gucci Coin WalletRolex Vintage 70's Original Green Leather Wallet W/"rolex Oyster" Booklet&more!Dooney And Bourke Vintage Awl Pebbled Leather Planner,organizer,wallet,clitchHobo Vintage Euroslide Card Holder WalletVintage Coach Black Leather Cosmetic Bag Case Wallet Zippered .. UsedGucci Wallet VintageFossil Long Live Vintage Black Brown Trim Trifold Wallet Handbag Purse Bag Tote Vintage 1966 Tarzan Vinyl Wallet By Mattel-spp Billfold+coin Holder Rare Toy-nrVintage Pink Gucci Wallet Womens Purse Handbag Accessory Fasion ClutchVintage Dooney & Bourke Leather Wallet, Trifold, Color: Black/bristish Tan Trim Dooney & Bourke ~ Black Vintage Awl Leather Checkbook Organizer Wallet W04Auth Vtg Louis Vuitton Double Snap Monogram Bifold Wallet And Coin Purse #121101.8" Brass U Hook Fish Key Chain Ring Fob Hang Vintage Solid Belt Wallet LeatherVintage Native American Indian Beaded Trade Wallet. Estate Sale Find.collectible