Wallets and money clips are go-to gift ideas for men, but it can be challenging to decide which would be best for the particular man you’re shopping for. You might even be wondering what the difference is.
A wallet is a folded case — traditionally leather — that can hold cash, cards, receipts, etc. A money clip, by contrast, is a clasp designed to securely pinch folded bills, keeping them from getting wadded up when they are in a pocket.
I’ll dig into the styles and form factors available for wallets and money clips in this post. I’ll also survey some things you should remember when deciding which is the best.
Wallets have taken various forms throughout history, and for a time, there was little distinction between a purse and a wallet. Both were cases that were used to carry personal documents and money. In the 1800s, Americans began referring to pocketbooks as wallets. It became a fashion norm for men to carry their wallets in their pockets, whereas women continued carrying them in purses.
Traditionally, wallets were made from either full- or top-grain leather, stitched to form a case with sleeves or pockets that could hold paper money and other necessary items. While leather wallets remain popular, they can be manufactured from various materials, including carbon fiber, faux leather, polyester, etc.
The classic wallet design is that of a billfold, which has a long pocket specifically intended to hold currency. This type of wallet folds in half, keeping the bills organized and securing them from falling out. Usually, it has two or more additional, smaller pockets or sleeves that can hold IDs or credit cards.
Wallet Form Factor
While leather billfolds can come in various sizes, they are typically about 4 to 4.5 inches wide and 8 to 9 inches long when unfolded. Bulkier wallets have a more prominent external form factor and can hold more items. While this can seem convenient, a wallet intended to be kept in a back pocket shouldn’t be more than approximately 0.87 inches thick. Sitting on a wallet wider than that can lead to severe back pain.
Most modern wallets are smaller than those used in earlier decades. While many retain the primary form of a billfold, they have trimmed down the amount of material used and eliminated unnecessary slots.
I pulled out a ruler and measured the leather wallet I retired a year ago, and it was 2.75 inches wide, 4 inches long, and about 0.75 inches thick once I placed all my cards back in it. This is a fairly typical size nowadays, though there are functional and durable alternatives, such as carbon-fiber minimalist wallets, which are even slimmer. For many men, the thinner the wallet, the better. In addition to being easier on the back and small enough to slide into a front pocket, minimalist wallets are highly fashionable.
Money clips are much older than wallets. They were one of the first accessories developed for carrying paper currency or banknotes.
Promissory notes, the precursors to what we now think of as a banknote, were developed during the 2nd Century BCE in both China and Carthage, and genuine banknotes began to be issued in the 7th Century CE under the Tang Dynasty.
The first money clips were used to attach promissory notes, receipts, and banknotes to the holder’s clothing. Money clips of the sort we are now familiar with began to be used by at least the 17th century, and these are sometimes available on the antiquities market. In 1901, Benso G. Deovich filed a patent for a “safety holder for paper money.” The money clip became a popular accessory among affluent men during this time.
Money Clip Design
While there are numerous types of money clips, two designs are most commonly used by manufacturers:
- Tension money clips are usually made from a single piece of steel, titanium, or another metal formed to make a clasp. However, carbon fiber or other rigid materials can also be used. The tension in the metal secures folded bills without requiring an additional mechanism or magnet.
- Magnetic money clips can be made from various materials, such as leather, canvas, or carbon fiber. A strong magnet is sewn into one end of the material, and a metal plate or another magnet is sewn into the other. The magnetic force holds the bills in place.
While money clips are often highly minimalistic — some are brushed stainless steel or polished titanium — they can be engraved or adorned with decorative elements. Very high-end tension clips will often feature elegant reliefs or inlays.
Money Clip Form Factor
Characteristically, a money clip is narrower than a bill — between 1 to 2 inches in width —and is usually long enough to extend about halfway down a folded stack of bills, about 2.5 inches.
Unlike wallets, money clips do not feature additional storage. However, credit cards or IDs can be placed inside a folded stack of bills.
Gauging Your Needs
Wallets remain the most common way people carry and organize their currency. A money clip is often intended and interpreted as a display of affluence. As you consider which is suitable for you, I recommend bearing a couple of things in mind:
- Wallets are bulkier than money clips. By design, a money clip is more minimalistic than even the slimmest wallet.
- Wallets are more versatile than money clips. While I don’t recommend carrying excess items in your wallet regularly, using a wallet at least gives you the option to secure an unexpected item, such as a business card, receipt, or so forth. Moreover, it will keep the various items you store within it organized. A money clip, by contrast, holds everything together as a unit.
I recommend a minimalist wallet if you want something to use every day. They are slim enough to place in a front pocket when the need arises, but they also provide a degree of organization that a mere money clip cannot.
However, if you are looking for something to use on special occasions, a money clip can be an elegant and functional accessory. I have found that a money clip is preferable to a wallet when I attend formal affairs and wear a tailored suit.
Finally, bear in mind that there are hybrids. You can, in a sense, have the best of both worlds. Many slim or minimalist wallets are designed to hold cards in the main case, but also they have an attached tension clip on the outside to hold cash.
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