Our appreciation for denim owes a lot to the Japanese American Casual subculture. While some of its elements have been enthusiastically adopted by denimheads outside Japan – like work shirts, engineer boots, and heavyweight leather belts – others, like flashy souvenir jackets and rayon shirts, have mostly stayed in Asia.
The long wallet is somewhere in the middle. Though common in Japan, such wallets are rarely seen in American or Europe. So where did the long wallet come from, and why should we care, anyway?
Like most of the other Japanese clothes that orbits around a nice pair of selvedge jeans, the long wallet had its origins in American culture – originally, such wallets were worn by bikers or truckers, usually with a chain.
Back then, America was still a cash-dominated culture, making the long wallet practical for men who spent a lot of time on the road and needed to carry plenty of cash with them. In addition, the chain helped to avoid accidentally leaving one’s wallet at a rest stop – or avoid instances of the biker’s wallet falling out of the back pocket while riding a motorcycle.
While wallet chains have become something of a fashion statement in certain subcultures, the long wallet itself all but disappeared from the American consciousness. Today, slim and minimalist wallets dominate, and for many men, spending more than $40 on a wallet seems a bit ridiculous and excessive.
So where does Japan come into the story? During the 1980s, Keiichiro Gotoh traveled to the US and observed Native American leather and silver artisans, who inspired him to begin his own leather crafting company, Redmoon.
Influenced by Western saddles and belts crafted from saddle leather, Gotoh began experimenting with leather on his own. Through trial and error, he applied these techniques to wallets, and one of the company’s first products was the CW-02A, which introduced the long wallet in its familiar present form.
Long wallets were quickly adopted in Japan by fans of the burgeoning American Casual subculture and found a functional, not just fashionable, place in Japan. Unlike in the west, Japanese mostly pay by cash, and credit or debit cards are a rare exception. This made the long wallet immediately appealing for its greater storage space.
As American visitors to Japan may quickly notice, Japanese treat their cash with a great deal of care, and you’ll rarely (if ever) receive a wadded-up bill or decaying coins in Japan. Since long wallets don’t require bills to be folded or bent like in a bifold or trifold wallet, they keep your money neat and easy to access.
Outside of cash-based countries, long wallets aren’t a purely functional item (though in an age of cell phones, one could say much the same about watches.) But they do add a distinct touch to the denimhead’s outfit, which is rarely seen in the Occident.
Most men’s jeans – even slim-fitting pairs – aren’t very tight in the seat, and can often sag and look awkward over time. One benefit of the long wallet is that it can help even this out by filling up the rear pocket. So what are a few recommendations? Read on for six of our favorites.
Looking for our more compact alternatives? Check out our previous article, “12 Wallets To Go With Raw Denim“.
1. Redmoon CW-02A
The first long wallet in its modern form, the CW-02A introduced many (maybe all) of the familiar elements. It has a snap enclosure with a native-style coin concho, a tough, thick design, and a braided rope with hanging strands and beads. These have been relentlessly copied by other brands, but the CW-02A was the original.
Though it’s available in several other colors, the raw Japanese cowhide leather is by far the most appealing. It’s pale white at first, but turns to a beautiful golden brown over time and molds comfortably to the shape of your body.
The downside is that such raw leather is vulnerable to indigo staining, and especially to raindrops that can permanently imprint the leather. Though it’s machine stitched and the coin is nickel/brass alloy, the wallet’s design remains classic and attractive. The nature of the leather and construction gives this wallet high potential for wabi-sabi aging over time.
The interior layout is simple, and while the card slot (which is designed to have cards stacked on each other, rather than side-by-side) seems less intuitive than separate slots, it actually helps to protect the cards from damage.
The only downside is the price – which, at about 43,000 yen (approximately $425.00 USD), is rather high for a wallet that’s not hand-stitched or equipped with real silver ornamentation. However, the biggest draw of the CW-02A is the leather – which I feel is unequally by any other saddle leather I’ve handled – and the basic, classic design. For those wanting simple functionality and classic styling, the CW-02A is a great place to start.
2. Obbi Good Label Freeman
Obbi Good has arguably done more than any other brand to bring the native-influenced styles of Japan to the attention of denimheads living around the world. The Singaporean brand does everything by hand with a small crew of leather artisans, and have developed their own style and identity over several years of leather crafting.
The Freeman is one of their signature long wallets. Though it has familiar elements such as a coin concho and snap flap, the layered stitching on the front gives it a unique vibe. The interior layout is similar to Redmoon’s standard, with the exception of six card slots for easier access.
The reasonable price ($280.00 USD) makes this a fine option for a first long wallet, although you will need to buy a rope or chain separately. The detailing and London Tan color (available in addition to raw and black colors) gives it a slightly European vibe that’s an innovation for Obbi Good as well as long wallets in general.
Obbi Good is also receptive to custom orders, so if you have something a bit different in mind, their leather artisans can probably accommodate it.
3. Hollows Leather
One of the most distinguished leather craftsmen to emerge in the denim scene in recent years is Nicholas Hollows. The man behind Hollows Leather, he’s quickly managed to develop a reputation for leather crafts that reach an ideal blend of vintage and modern, function and style.
Though he doesn’t offer a standard long wallet model and his workload prohibits custom orders at times, Hollows is a good choice for getting a completely custom long wallet that won’t break the bank. However, Hollows doesn’t seem to work with zippers – the coin pockets usually have a snap button enclosure.
4. Angelos Leather
A small-scale Taiwanese leather shop, Angelos specializes in custom orders, and is another good choice for getting a long wallet made to your exact specifications that can be as simple or complex as you like. Their wallets are stitched with heavy-duty threads, and feature a sleek inner design that can be customized.
The leather is high-quality, and Angelos is especially distinguished by their excellent edge-burnishing – which means that the wallet will have smooth, sleek edges rivaling the quality of much more expensive wallets.
Kawatako has quickly established a reputation as one of Japan’s leading leather brands, and for good reason. They offer a large line of short, medium, and long wallets – ranging from fairly inexpensive machine-stitched wallets to ultimate quality hand-stitched items.
Kawatako‘s wallets are mostly made from European saddle leather, with a different color and texture compared to the more common American and Japanese varieties. They incorporate familiar features such as a coin case and several card slots, guaranteeing that the user will have plenty of room.
However, Kawatako is distinguished by minimalist designs – there’s no coin concho or decorative touches, only the highest-quality materials and craftsmanship. This wallet is equally at home in your back pocket, or in a bag, and suitable for casual and dressier apparel.
6. Flat Head FS-33C
Made at the Stockburg leather studio – located only minutes from Flat Head’s suburban headquarters – the FS-33C is one of Flat Head’s top-of-the-line long wallets.
Each of Stockburg’s wallets is made-to-order, allowing quite a bit of room to customize the exact specs of the wallet. Although quite expensive at 74,000 yen (approximately $730.00 USD), these wallets justify their price. The leather is Flat Head’s proprietary harness leather, which is tanned according to a unique process that takes twice as long as regular tanning; cordovan from the Shinki Leather Tannery is also available.
The concho and ring are hand-carved from 925 silver (one reason for the high price) and the wallets are hand-stitched with two intertwining strands of cow tendon thread for extreme durability.
One of the nice touches that separates the FS-33C from the competition is the lining – the yellow or red pigskin gives the inside of the wallet a clean appearance, and allows for smoother access to the bills and cards, which slide easily over the surface.
The interior features a sliding gusset for easy cash access, as well as several card slots on the right and another hidden under the coin case. The coin case is available in zipper form, but the insert flap deserves special note – it opens to a wide surface, giving you more space to handle your coins.
While Stockburg’s wallets still have a western vibe, their designs have a unique touch which separates them from other wallet brands. If you want a beautiful wallet that will last for a lifetime, it would be hard to outdo this.
Do you have any other long wallets you’d like to recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.