Every boy must choose to either embrace the traditions of his father or to throw them off; this dilemma represents the passage to manhood throughout the adolescence that extends into the thirties of American males today. Hence, it’s not uncommon for a man in his thirties, like me, to reflect upon the lessons passed on from the paterfamilias and to determine whether to continue abiding by the wisdom of the predecessors or to strike out in a new direction in search of one’s fortune and moral balance. Thus it was in my thirty-second year that I decided that I would no longer carry a trifold wallet, as my sire had before me; nay, I would embrace the bifold wallet.
My father worked as a carpenter and hunted small game on the city streets of Milwaukee to feed his family for years, and then he stacked food on a pallet in a warehouse to feed his new family. Throughout, carried a worn leather trifold wallet. I don’t remember what sort of wallet my grandfather carried, but I’d bet trifold. The trifold is shaped for the back pocket, for comfortable carrying by men who bend and lift and nail things for a living.
I got my first trifold in high school, a cheap fabric and Velcro piece of swag or garage sale splendor so that I could carry my student ID and the dollar or so I scrounged from my mother for lunch. It nestled the money tightly and comfortably with the extra security of the Velcro strip, its announcement of money spending rarely heard, for I skipped the cafeteria to gather those dollar bills where I could. I carried the wallet until a Christmas gift certificate let me purchase a real leather trifold wallet.
I wore that wallet and its two replacements throughout college and through the first ten years of my working life, when I acted as a retail clerk, as a shipping receiving clerk, and as a printer to pay for student loans and to keep a cheap car mostly running. I even carried them as my career arc accelerated into the information technology field, I got married, and we mortgaged a house.
The trifold signifies a certain protectiveness about the contents, particularly the money within it. The two flaps envelop the contents to guard and protect the funds from the callous outside world and the temptations it offered. Funds were scarce when I was growing up. One’s wallet needed a certain difficulty of access, also, to dissuade one from whipping out gas money or worse, a credit card, to spend frivolously. The trifold represented not only a style of wallet, but a way of life.
However, my life has changed since those hardscrabble days since my life became less hard and more Scrabble; I lucked into a position in the IT industry and became, according to all expectations of my youth, rich. Not only can I pay the student loans, the mortgage, and car maintenance, but I can do it without credit cards. I can get a twenty dollar bill whenever I want, and I can spend it.
The relative affluence combined with a new wardrobe imperative. Instead of worrying about comfort while lifting and toting, I had to worry about the fit of slacks, which meant to avoid an unsightly bulge in trousers. I began carrying my wallet in my front pocket in the world of business casual, and the trifold folded thickly around the security keys, collection of dollar bills, credit cards, insurance cards, and other assorted memorabilia that would somehow not include a picture of my beautiful wife. I wanted something slimmer and thought of the bifold wallet.
Of course, I initially rebelled at the thought, since we have always carried trifold wallets, but the thought returned until I considered it seriously. I liked the idea of a slimmer profile in the wallet, the easier fit into the front pocket of slacks and even jeans. So I found myself looking for just the right wallet in the department store, and in a moment of trepidation and emancipation rebelled against my upbringing and bought the bifold wallet.
The bifold wallet indicates higher class; it’s the top hat of men’s accessories. Barring the cape, monocle, and walking stick, it adds the élan and aplomb that people who stay or dine at the Ritz afford. Instead of guarding money, the bifold flips open easily, like a Star Trek communicator, so its bearer can effectively commune with the natives and so its bearer can access the lubricant of commerce and acquisition easily. I now bear the power and irresponsibility of relative upper middle class, outer-suburb but not over the-river affluence. When my beautiful wife lets me get that extra twenty dollar bill.