Why are women's wallets shrinking?

Fashion trends are pushing shoppers toward sleek, crossbody bags and itsy-bitsy satchels. Photo / Getty
Fashion trends are pushing shoppers toward sleek, crossbody bags and itsy-bitsy satchels. Photo / Getty

Women's wallets are shrinking. No, that's not a metaphor for the amount of cash they're toting around. Their physical wallets are getting smaller.

They're slimming down because women are buying more compact handbags, and because they don't have to lug around as many cards or thick wads of cash. Fashion trends are pushing shoppers toward sleek, crossbody bags and itsy-bitsy satchels; with phones taking over the role of such physical items as membership cards, loyalty cards, business cards, and even credit cards and cash, there's no need or desire for big, bulging wallets. This means a shift toward more petite wallet designs: zip-around pouches, thin billfold styles, little leather card cases, and so on.

"It's natural that items are getting smaller," said Jaime Cohn-Barr, an editor at fashion-trend forecasting firm WGSN. "People are needing to carry less."

Historically, women's wallets haven't seen much change. In fact, most small leather goods take a back seat to their larger, more visible brethren.

They're not presented front-and-center in retail stores and are often buried in the accessories tab at online shops. Wallets just aren't very glam. They spend most of the time wedged somewhere next to a person's keys, gum, lotion, and lipstick. Handbags, meanwhile, are overhauled each season, with flashy new hardware and creative silhouettes.

These useful tools have, for the most part, followed a pragmatic formula: long, rounded rectangles with a zipper or a flap. Now such wallets are being converted to full-on clutches. Many designers make sure to add optional chains or wrist straps to wallets so they can be carried around on their own. One particularly popular tactic is a carry-all tote-for makeup, workout gear, flats-with a teeny zip pouch or wallet stashed away, allowing for an easy switch to a de facto clutch if necessary, said Cohn-Barr.

Fashion's bigwigs have noticed and adjusted accordingly. John Idol, chief executive officer of Michael Kors, referred to the phenomenon last week in a conference call with analysts. At Kors, he said, "much smaller" wallets are selling faster than larger ones. Kors sells all sorts of wallets, from long, continental designs to mini-card holders and smartphone wristlets. Idol pointed to a two- trend in which consumers have veered toward smaller handbags.

"Money pieces now are getting smaller because again as more things end up on your phone, you need less things in your wallet," said Idol. "So that's just a fact."

That also gives Kors a chance to upsell its customers. Shoppers downsizing their bags have no choice but to find a correspondingly tiny wallet that will fit. Following the logic further, that upselling is necessary: Smaller bags (and wallets) are cheaper, so stores have to push sales of additional items, instead of selling just one large, big ticket, $US600 satchel.

"We've got really well-trained associates, and these associates, quite frankly, know how to upsell in terms of multiple items to get that transaction value up, which is helping in our total conversion rate inside the store," Idol said.

It seems these accessories will keep getting smaller as bags continue to shrivel. Cohn-Barr said she expects to see lots of micro, kitten-sized handbags come the fall 2016 season, although it's unclear exactly how miniature they can get. Some, such as Fendi's micro-lambskin baguettes, are already too small to contain an iPhone 6 Plus.

- Washington Post

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