Bye, bye big wallets: why it’s time to downsize your purse

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Suki Dhanda/the Observer</span>
Photograph: Suki Dhanda/the Observer

A big, bulging wallet used to be a status symbol. In our post-cash society, a dinky, stylish ‘wallette’ makes much more sense


It’s time to downsize your finances. I mean a permanent cutback, not just a post-Christmas squeeze. But this isn’t about tightening your belt; it is about shrinking your wallet.

These days, my wallet is more of a wallette. It is a glorified cardholder, really: just bigger than a credit card, with slots for swipecards and driving licence and the few store cards and membership cards that haven’t yet migrated to my phone. There is a press-stud compartment for cash, although I use this infrequently. In lipstick-red grained calfskin leather, with gilt YSL lettering, my wallette still has an air of importance. But it is a shadow of its former incarnations.

My wallette is small enough to slip into the front pocket of a pair of jeans, and I can take it out in an evening bag

By the time I got my wallet, its full-size predecessor was falling apart at the seams. I am not particularly thrifty, just too lazy to faff about with the tiresome mini-admin task of figuring out what to do with the flotsam and jetsam of receipts and loyalty cards that had accumulated. What tipped me over the edge to deciding it was time for a new purse wasn’t the scuff marks, but the fact that the wallet had become too big. Big enough to fill an entire jeans back pocket, it was an unwieldy relic, like carting around a brick-size phone. My wallette is small enough to slip into a front jeans pocket. I can take it out in an evening bag, instead of having to decant a debit card and an emergency £20, like I did in the big-wallet days.

And it’s not just me. The baby wallet is big news. For Christmas gifts, Zara did brisk business with a £59.99 boxed set of matching leather gloves and mini-wallet. At Matchesfashion, sales of cardholders were up 117% on last year in the run-up to Christmas. Bestselling at Marks & Spencer right now is a diminutive mock-croc cardholder with a starburst snap closure for £9.50. At Selfridges, the mini-wallet range has grown by a third: it reports that Le Porte, a unisex Jacquemus mini-wallet with a strap so that you can wear it cross-body, or lanyard-style around your neck, is a bestseller at £240.

At Mulberry, where wallets used to tend toward the size of a chequebook (remember those?), demand has also shifted towards the dinky. Its folded multi-card wallet, a palm-sized 8 x 11.5cm, is a hit, and slim cardholders are popular with those who have completely given up on coins.

Related: Wearing a suit to work now seems odd – which is why it’s so radical | Jess Cartner-Morley

I have predicted the death of the wallet before. Seven years ago, in fact. I’m not saying this to show off, though, because reading that article back, I realise I got it completely wrong. My outlandish prediction back then seems to have been that the chunky wallet would eventually die off with generation X, since millennials preferred smaller wallets and were daringly experimenting with the concept of paying for sandwiches and train tickets using their smartphones. At that point, it didn’t seem to have crossed my mind that cash would be close to obsolete so soon. For that I can blame the pandemic-hastened demise of cash, and with it the wallet, not just because of the practicalities – dirty notes and all that – but because it showed us that even ingrained habits can change – fast.

The rise of the mini-wallet is driven by utility, but is symbolic, too. A fat wallet is no longer a status symbol – not now contactless stealth wealth has come to the masses. A fat wallet once made you look rich; now, it looks like you need to save up for a wallette.

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