My Grandpa, Tom, is one of a rare breed. When it comes to carrying a wallet, he doesn’t. Doesn’t want one. His needs are met. You see, Tom is an esteemed member of a very niche group: the ‘International Clique of Manbag Devotees’.
The manbag remains, as it always has, a bold and chunky, if not deeply unsexy substitute for the customary wallet. Like Kel Knight from TVs ‘Kath and Kim’, Tom stoically baulks the mainstream. He is a true believer when it comes to the power of the manbag.
“I’m bringing it back in,” he once said.
“Not sure it was ever in in the first place,” I responded.
Tom’s manbag of choice has been the same since the early 1980s when he was a divisional pennant squash-playing barrister – a sleek Oroton black number, which he maintains is still the best on the market, offering ample space for his myriad personal effects. Conventional wallets mystify him, for he is a man who has much to carry – a classroom standard calculator for one thing, a cheque book, a coin purse, beard comb, collection of fountain pens, variety of notebooks and a rotating collection of ‘chits’ that makes George Costanza’s wallet look like a lean money clip.
Thankfully, manbag obsession has not trickled down through the gene pool and my personal choice to date has generally been a classic style wallet, though it has been an evolution. In my teens, I rocked a mean acrylic bum bag with snap lock, a smooth accoutrement to home-sewn neon happy pants.
Things kicked into a new gear when I turned 16 and upgraded to a chunky corduroy surf wallet with powerful Velcro hold to match fat corduroy surf dacks. Then, on the cusp of adulthood I scored a sleek classic black number, my first ‘man’ wallet, a general style that has held since, with only the size, holds and compartments changing over the years.
The standard wallet is all very well for day-to-day home action. But when you’re on the road you need something with a bit of extra bite, something neither as conspicuous as a 1980s manbag nor as slight and inadequate as a sleek pocket slider. You’ve got international hooch to carry, additional loot. What’s a guy to do?
Thankfully, Bellroy exist in this world, a classy mob dedicated to producing elegant, functional, delightfully useable wallets in a time when work and play are ever-merging and more and more people are on the move and carrying more around with them.
Bellroy’s Travel Wallet provides a neat solution for my present situation, a formidable middle (‘formiddleable?’) ground somewhere between Tom’s manbag and the more slender home-style wallet.
Firstly, this thing is crafted tidily in the sort of black leather that makes guys like me, and Tom, happy. The aesthetics get a huge tick. But travelling through Europe, one of the chief limitations of the conventional sized wallet is that EU currency does not fit in the cash hold – it’s too damn fat, skirting out the top of your wallet where it gets all dog-eared and ripped. The Bellroy keeps the balance here – it’s wide enough to cater to the chunky Euro and UK pound, sleek enough to slide snugly into the breast pocket of your leather jacket, and your jean pockets too.
The real boon of the Bellroy is the idiosyncratic extras that don’t come with the conventional pocket man-wallet. For one, it has a passport hold, where your passport and international documents rest covertly and easily slide in and out for airport customs checks. When you need to fill out identification forms and departure cards, the Bellroy’s cute pen clings to the interior fold in its own little hold, ballpoint at the ready, precluding the need for a collection of chunky fountain pens jangling around and leaking ink in your pants. As for cards, my license, credit and bankcards all slide neatly into the wallet’s ample slots without problem. And, as I said, all of this fits in either pocket without hassle.
Limitations? Well, no, it doesn’t fit a cheque book or a Texas Industries calculator; Tom would struggle to get his beard comb in it. If that’s a problem for you too, you and Tom ought to have a chat and discuss your future manbag options. He’s got 30 years’ experience. Together you might actually bring it back into vogue.
In the meantime, for something in between that keeps its foot in the wallet end of the court, the Bellroy is a sweet dealio indeed, a true all-in-one where classic aesthetics match high, thoughtful functionality – perfect for home and perfect for the road.
*Photography by Honor Kennedy