Fashion Meets Money Morphology: Wallets vs. Phone Cases

Studies in Carrying Funds and Submitting to Louis Vuitton

  • Text: Erika Houle

In 1994’s Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino served us a showdown for the ages. Straight-faced, gun in hand, with three iconic words—“Bad Mother Fucker”—Samuel L. Jackson reclaimed the item his robber hinged on: his wallet. But what if Tarantino had written Pulp Fiction today? Over two decades later, our currency has morphed in more ways than one. In a world where our funds are managed via our phones—where our Uber rides, Tilt transfers, and Starbucks orders are cashless—what role does the wallet really play?

A few years ago, Apple proposed we sport our wallets on our wrists with the first ever watch of its kind. Without the inconvenience of bulky pockets or cards lost at the bar, the device already built to keep us on time had been designed to cover the costs of our lifestyles in less than seconds, too. Among a crowd of tech moguls, fashion insiders, and celebrities alike, a glimpse of the future was unveiled.

Dating back to Ancient Greece, what was once considered a poor man’s mobile survival kit later became a dignified indicator of status and class, manifesting many other functions along the way. From billfolds to folios, coin purses to money clips, smoking paraphernalia cases to merely cash-containing pockets (as per Future’s demonstration), the perpetual evolution of the wallet encompasses an array of shapes and sizes, its purpose constantly adapting to society’s demands. With the modern rise of smartphones and digital currency, we observe yet another noteworthy shift. In 2018, the wallet occupies the territory of a completely different fashion container: phone cases.

Today, our bank accounts, to-do lists, and photos of loved ones may be stored within apps on our phones, but they remain residents of an external shell. When it comes to this spin-off of the wallet, there are two types of people to consider: those who seek to safeguard their belongings and those who aim to adorn them. From the foolproof preservation of an OtterBox to the selfie-worthy aesthetics of a logo-emblazoned Gucci case, our holders of choice convey a message about who we are. Given the rate at which the sizes, models, and materials of our mobile devices change—as opposed to that of our money—their cases provide constant opportunities for self-transformation. Whether they’re face down on our work desks or deliberately documented on Instagram, our phone cases become a part of our identities, like our haircuts and our pets. Who would Victoria Beckham be without her custom VB grip? Kim Kardashian sans LuMee?

In 2013, the internet took interest in a particular type of phone decor: cracked screens. A strange new status symbol, busted devices began to represent a certain coolness through defiance. With a little trompe-l'oeil manipulation, it became possible to purchase a case that made your perfectly intact device appear to be shattered. Conversely, a few years later, Louis Vuitton introduced a new component to its signature Folio case: an exclusive technology dubbed “gecko-inspired.” Innovated to ensure the phone’s safety and security, the brand announced the feature was influenced by a lizard with “a smart adhesion on any surface thanks to a natural strength that can be 600 times more powerful than our common adhesive tape.” The ultimate (though perhaps unsanitary) dedication to luxury.

Featured In This Image: Gucci wallet, Gucci wallet and Gucci iPhone 6 Case.

Still, in an age driven equally by nostalgia as it is by technological advancements, the traditional wallet has managed to remain relevant. Despite the convenience of our phone’s capabilities, there’s an inherent risk in relying on them entirely—think a service outage or dead battery as you’re about to pay a bill. In 2018, there’s something charming about bearing cash. Scavenging for bus fare. Stumbling upon the ticket from the movie you saw last month. To carry a wallet today is to clap back to society's fast pace and embrace the tangible reality of your personal cache.

  • Text: Erika Houle