Since the advent of the modern wallet in the 1950s, men have often debated which type of wallet reigns supreme. Form vs function, style vs sensibility, bifold vs trifold?
This article attempts to settle the debate once and for all, but also explores if the debate is one worth having, or is it a fashion faux-pas?
A Quick History of Wallets
Wallets have been around for far longer than most people think. In ancient times, wallets were closer to “coin purses,” which were large containers that held precious metals or other items that could be used as a medium of exchange.
Prior to the 17th century, most money consisted of large and bulky precious metal coins that wouldn’t have fit in the wallets we think of today. Paper currency was introduced in the Western world at varying points in the 1600s, and shortly thereafter, wallets became commonplace.
In North America, wallets really started to take off in the 1800s, though at first they weren’t used solely for carrying paper money. Early wallets would also be used to carry dried meats and other “treasures” that a man wanted to bring with him. Originally, carrying a wallet in your pocket was considered ill-mannered, as such wallets were larger and worn strapped to the belt.
It wasn’t until around the mid-1900s in the United States that wallets began to take on more of a form that fits a modern reader’s expectations. With the invention of credit cards in the 1950s, wallets shrunk down to pocket-size and included a bill and coin holder along with multiple card slots. The belt wallets at this point were thankfully relegated to the bins of history.
It was around this time that wallets became synonymous with style. No longer confined to simple unpatterned black leather, designer brands took to the stage to create styles to suit every man’s stylistic sensibilities. Sharp dressing became a staple for the mid-century businessman, and the wallet found its place as a must-have accessory for both form and function.
Types of Wallets for the Modern Man
Dozens of global brands now create men’s wallets in varying colors, styles, and prices. It can be easy to dismiss a wallet as just something to store money and cards in, but that would ignore the stylistic application of a well-built wallet.
Men don’t have that many options when it comes to accessorizing. Outside of watches, belts, shoes, and sometimes sunglasses, a wallet is a key piece of a man’s wardrobe.
The sheer array of wallet types can be totally overwhelming, from travel wallets to neck wallets to wrist wallets to traditional wallets, where do you even start? First, you need to decide between the two basic wallet styles: bi-fold and tri-fold wallets.
A traditional bifold wallet is the older of the two major designs — it’s a simple design with a single fold down the center and two flaps to hold credit, debit, and business cards. These wallets tend to be much slimmer since there are only two flaps that make up the entire wallet, but this comes at the cost of less storage space for cards.
Trifold wallets on the other hand have a double fold resulting in three main sections for card storage. The extra flap gives them a bulkier appearance and can be uncomfortable to have in your pant or jacket pocket, but there is also more room for card and cash storage.
Outside of the design differences, leather remains the overwhelmingly most common material wallets are made from. Fabric wallets did exist alongside leather in the early days, but this was mostly due to the limited availability and expense of leather.
Today almost all wallets are leather, though vegan-friendly alternatives are starting to come onto the scene.
A quick note before continuing — there is a rise in the “cardholder” design as paper money is starting to become a thing of the past. Like the subway coins of old New York City, paper money isn’t as widely held as it used to be.
A cardholder or card wallet is like a bifold wallet cut in half. The single flap excels with its minimalist, slimmer design, but still hasn’t reached anywhere near the popularity of the classics. Even if the wallet isn’t being fully utilized for its original purposes, there’s no denying the stylishness of classic wallets over a cardholder.
Major Buying Considerations for Your New Wallet
Since almost all wallets are made from the same material, what are the main differences between bifold vs trifold designs? It really comes down to personal preference between the extra storage afforded by trifold wallets against the slim ergonomics of a bifold wallet.
While bifold wallets do retain the edge in overall popularity, that shouldn’t deter you from at least looking at trifold designs if you carry a lot of credit cards. That said, if you have a desk job that has you seated for most of the day, the extra bulk can cause a lot of discomfort. Thankfully, in 2022, comfort and style usually go hand in hand.
The trifold wallet debate is usually centered around the increased carrying capacity. Minimalism remains trendy and likely won’t change anytime soon, especially with the rise of digital payments. Men are carrying fewer cards on average, thus nullifying the capacity benefits of larger wallets.
The biggest benefit bifold wallets offer is that they are more compact and slim. While they won’t totally eliminate an achy back or hip if you’re sitting on one all day, a slimmer wallet is usually more comfortable than a bulky one.
Slim wallets are rising in popularity in 2022. These usually take the form of an ultra-slim bifold design or a single flap cardholder wallet. Cash is becoming less common, which has caused many to question if carrying cash is still important.
Even if you don’t carry much cash, a cardholder-only style will greatly reduce the number of cards you can carry compared to a traditional wallet. If the ultra-slim design is appealing, then it’s probably best to stick to a slim bifold that provides the best combination of comfort and extra space.
The last major factor is price. The good news is quality wallets can be found to fit literally any and all budgets. Between designer and generic brands, there’s no shortage of options to fit any man’s style and budget.
Some possible brands to consider for a stylish wallet that doesn’t break the bank are Tumi and Ralph Lauren. Ralph Lauren offers beautiful wallets usually in a pebble leather design. Pebble leather has a grainy, textured appearance that sets it apart from its smooth leathered cousins.
Tumi is a veteran of the travel accessory industry, and their quality goods extend to the wallet world as well. Primarily focusing on smooth bifold wallets, Tumi has a classic design that will stand the test of time.
Vegan Material Alternatives
For the vegan or animal-welfare-minded reader, it’s worth making a note of the rapidly growing vegan-friendly wallet market. Vegan leather is generally made primarily of polyurethane (a type of plastic) mixed with plant fiber materials. These plant fibers can come from various plants but are usually taken from the waste products of fruits.
One new, exciting trend worth keeping an eye on is “cork” wallets. Made from cork wood, these sustainable and animal-friendly alternatives look like polished wine corks and are a great choice for vegan-minded men.*
Vegan wallets can be found in all major styles, so choices for ethical wallets are not limited.
Bifold vs Trifold: Has the Debate Finally Been Settled?
This is one debate likely to never have a clear-cut winner. Remember that trends come and go, especially in the world of fashion. Since both wallet styles of course perform their primary purpose, which is being a convenient holder for money and cards, how can we declare a clear winner in the bifold vs trifold debate?
The answer to the great debate largely lies with personal preference, and each design has its die-hard fans who will never admit defeat. That said, for now, the overall edge in popularity goes to the bifold. While increased carrying capacity can be quite useful, men today are preferring sleek, minimalist designs over bulkier ones.
While trends and popularity are great, the best part of personal style is that it’s personal. You can decide which wallet is best for you. From the number of flaps to the brand, the perfect wallet to complement you is out there somewhere.
Lots of fashion debates rage for decades simply because both sides are equally right! There’s no sense in constraining your style just to fit a trend that could be gone next year.
As with all things in life, buy the wallet that makes you happy, and the rest will take care of itself. If you need more help getting started, our top wallet reviews are a great place for more information.