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    Making Meaning: Semiotics of Wallets

    The word ‘wallet’ has been in use for thousands of years. It was quoted by Shakespeare. And today if you do a Google search, it often leads you to a virtual mobile wallet. 

    The use of the wallet (or an essential pouch to carry food/gems in earlier days) has changed over time. So has what the word 'wallet' connotes.  

    We all know the definition. But it often inspires different inferences and symbols. The word, or the image of a wallet, means different things in different cultures and contexts. Here we explore some of these.

    Word for word: Etymology

    Perhaps the most scientific way to understand what a word stands for is to see where it came from. The word wallet has often been traced back to the ancient Greek word Kibisis which was the word used to describe the sack carried by the God Hermes. Kibisis has historically been translated as Wallet.  

    An image of  Perseus, one of the greatest heroes in Greek mythology, with a knapsack around his waist.

    A lot of travelers would have a similar pouch tied to their waists. Maybe it's this tradition that led to the wallet pockets on pants - wallets are still stored close to the waist.

    The etymology of the word wallet tells us that it probably comes from the Middle English word walet - a bag or knapsack for the holding of essentials, or Anglo-Norman French from a Germanic word wall/ web meaning to roll, or revolve. 

    Talking of wealth 

    The wallet is almost used as a polite synonym for money/wealth. It's a way to talk about money without talking about money, since directly speaking of wealth is considered rude in most cultures.

    From 'light on the wallet' to 'deep pockets' - these phrases let you talk about money while being 'polite'. 

    My precious! 

    Of course, a place where you keep your money, and historically your jewels in associated with being invaluable. But that lends itself to even non-materialistic possessions.

    A photo of a loved one, an important business card, and other bits and bobs all deserve a place in the wallet.

    Safe and sound 

    Wallets are associated with the feeling of security. Most people feel safer when stepping out with a fuller wallet. It gives one a sense of control because it has almost everything one may need in a moment of crisis. 

    Out and about 

    A wallet came into existence because of the need for transit. It's not an indoor accessory. It is picked only when one is stepping out of the house. It gains even more important while travelling long distances, often leading to accessories like passport holders and pouches to hold important documents 

    Brb. Making a fashion statement. 

    No guesses for this one. A stylish wallet is a fashion accessory. It's a real estate for people to express themselves- from wild designs to neutral tones to the party clutch or the embroidered 'batua' for women.

    This also has a location context to it. Velcro wallets had a moment in the USA, silk wallets are popular in Thailand while the cotton/velvet batua is still used by a lot of women in India today as perhaps the most private accessory ever. 

    His or hers? 

    Unfortunately, wallets have been a very gendered product. The absence of pockets, femininity associated with opulence and colour etc lead to a HIS and HERS in the wallet section. 

    In fact, the word purse is considered to be the female counterpart of 'wallet' So is the word clutch.

    Notice how a woman is expected to hold hers in hand, while a man gets to keep his hands free with a wallet that fits pockets. Is that coincidence? 

    Sadly a lot of this leads people to think that bi-fold pockets wallets are just for men. However, today roads diverge in fashion, occupations, and notions and there are options on both sides. There are also unisex wallets. 

    And of course, a total disregard for categories. These categories are formed to manage inventory or a store layout. They are mere suggestion and not a rule. 

    We also see a lot of women buying from the men's range at Arture, and that's how it should be. 

    There are many more things a wallet is associated with - privacy, secrecy, power, luxury and even manhood. Comment below and tell us different images that come to your mind when you hear 'wallet'. 

    Take a glimpse at some modern, sustainable and minimal wallets here.


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