I often get asked what to look for when buying a leather wallet so I put together this easy guide to help you.
(1) What do you need the wallet to carry?
This might sound basic, but this fundamental question is essential. So to expand on this question for you:
- Do you actually need all of those cards in your wallet?
- Do you need to carry all those receipts? (Let’s be honest you’ll only go and shred them when your wallet is too full anyway, the important ones are already on the fridge!)
- Do you carry coins, if so, roughly how many on average? (If you are lugging around 5p’s or less, get a charity jar in your kitchen and donate them to a good cause instead?)
- Do you carry notes, again how many on average?
My best advice, open your wallet and take out everything, and I mean everything and put it all on your kitchen table. I want you to move the things you have used in the last few months to a ‘keep’ pile on one side and move everything else to the other, yes even that Blockbuster membership card.
You know what to do next…
Now you have had a good clearout you could move onto that kitchen drawer we all have. You know the one! 😉
(2) Where do you carry your wallet?
This naturally follows on from the first question, but now you know what you actually need to carry, you need to work out physically where you carry it.
Do you carry your wallet in your:
- Trouser pocket
- Coat/jacket pocket
This dictates the maximum size of the wallet you can comfortably carry. A small wallet gets lost at the bottom of your bag, and a big coat wallet doesn’t fit in your jeans.
(3) Design of wallet
The old phrase ‘keep it simple’ is still with us for an excellent reason. The more things you add, the more it is likely to go wrong. A minimalist design might sound boring, but it works for a reason. Plastic card inserts just break, fact.
As to the physical design of a bi-fold, tri-fold or simple cardholder as well as horizontal or vertical cards, that is now just a personal choice.
(4) Where is it manufactured
This is one that most people don’t think about because most manufacturers don’t want you to. Let me take you through a few things to consider.
Made in the UK. This is more than just a marketing term. There are many reasons to buy things made in the UK. The most common ones are:
- Staff are paid fairly.
- Safety laws are followed.
- Local taxes are paid.
- Quality can be controlled much better.
- Lower supply chain risk.
- Lower transportation impact.
- Reduced delivery times.
- Your money goes back into the local economy.
But there are other more subtle ones too, but no less critical.
- We keep our traditional skills alive. (You may not know, but this home of cricket can no longer hand make cricket balls. We have lost this expertise in the UK, many more are critical and endangered.)
- The traditional craft of leatherworking will be maintained and supported by you as a fundamental part of our country’s living heritage.
- You maintain and support the amazing supply chain of material manufacturers.
(5) Type of leather
There are 2 main methods to produce leather:
- Chrome tanning – 80% of the leather in the world is known as ‘chrome-tanned’. This means that the animal hides are tanned using a chemical (such as chromium sulfate), and it takes about a day to covert the hides into leather. It is cheap and quick to make and allows a wide range of colours in the final leather. The downside to this is the fact that chromium sulfate is an extremely toxic chemical to both the environment and the tannery workers and in some countries, where there are less than adequate checks and measures.
- Vegetable tanning – Vegetable tanning (or veg-tan) uses the naturally occurring tannins, from bark and leaves of many plants to convert the hides into leather. This process takes several weeks to months depending on various factors and is very reliant on the skills of the tanner. The downsides are that Veg-tan leather needs to be broken in, and sometimes the colours aren’t as vivid as chrome tanned. Veg-tanned leather will also develop a patina, and it will improve over time, growing darker and softer with use which means it will become as unique, and as an individual, as you are.
I’m not counting vegan leather as a type of leather as technically leather is tanned animal hides and skins. While great strides have been made in creating a valid vegan alternative to leather, we are still a long way off in my view. The reason I say this is because of all the main options so far are actually plastic and these come with their own host of environmental and human issues. That said there are some fascinating possibilities using mushrooms, cactus, fruit and even flowers!
PU leather or pleather
These are other terms you will see used, and these aren’t leather at all but are plastic. PU leather is a polyurethane coating on a cloth backing and pleather is a portmanteau of “plastic leather”. They have a place, and that in my view is in the bin.
(6) Leather quality
Does your current wallet say Genuine Leather?
That’s great but sorry to be the one to tell you but tell you got sucked in by a marketing term.
A cowhide is about 5-6 mm thick, so it is standard to split it into several layers. Off the top comes full-grain and top-grain, which are the best layers as they have all the strength, and they are used by high-quality manufacturers. The low-quality bottom layers or ‘split’, as it is sometimes known is then painted and finished to look uniform. This is ‘Genuine leather’, the waste layer.
Full-grain and top-grain are very similar but both have exceptional quality. Full-grain has the original grain from the animal, and top grain has had these sanded or buffed off and looks more uniform.
Amazingly there is actually one quality level below genuine leather, and that’s bonded leather. (Yes, think chipboard)
(7) Thread and stitching
The thicker the thread, the more it costs to make. Not just in materials but in labour. If you find hand saddle-stitched, then you know you have found something exceptional as this can only be done by a skilled artisan, not a machine.
You can also be guaranteed that the seams will never fail; therefore, you will never need to buy a new wallet.
This is a good one to look out for as there are a few ways to finish the edges:
- Folding – this is where the edges are thinned and then folded over and stitched. If this is with chrome-tanned leather, then it is often done to hide the imperfect edges.
- Painting – again, often used to conceal the real edges of the leather. Be careful as cheap paint can crack over the life of the product and start to look really horrible.
- Burnishing – traditionally used on veg-tanned leather. It is not possible to burnish chrome tanned leather! The best manufacturers will use beeswax to finish the edges as this lightly melts into the leather and bends and flexes with it.
- Raw – sorry, but in my view, this is just plain lazy on the part of the manufacturer. If you see fuzzy or wispy edges, run. They couldn’t even be bothered to finish it…
A lining is usually there for one of 2 reasons, aesthetics or hiding something. If the wallet is stamped genuine leather (see above), then it is more than likely hiding something.
How long was the guarantee on your current wallet?
1 year? The legal minimum?
Always look for an heirloom or lifetime guarantee.
If a company can provide this extraordinary level of warranty, then they are able and willing to stand behind their products. They can only do this if they are using the best materials and skilful crafters to produce those products.
You know you’re buying the best.
(11) Colour Options
You are unique and individual. Why not choose something as unique and special as you.
Keeping up to date:
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