Interest Pieces

Classic cufflinks: A fashionable journey through the ages

With Valentine’s Day approaching, few gifts – destined for a man’s wardrobe – convey and ooze elegance and style as classic cufflinks. This small item that fastens to your shirt cuffs allows gentlemen around the world to express their personal sense of style through their outfits.

Whether that is a minimalist and elegant design or something with a novelty element to show their fun side, few jewellery items are as varied and customizable as a cufflink. But, while they are the mark of snappy dressers and business executives in modern times, what caused this fashionable accessory to become popular in the first place? Was it style or was it function?

Where do cufflinks come from?

Back in the 17th century, cufflinks were invented to solve a problem. At that time men held their cuffs together and out of the way using string or ties but that wasn’t the most elegant solution. As an alternative, men began to wear small chains fastened to the end of a silver or gold button that was fed through the cuffs on their shirts to keep them together.

It was a simple and elegant solution that would change men’s fashion forever. Those rudimentary designs developed over time and would soon be made from precious metals and set with colourful and valuable stones.

Some even believe that author Alexandre Dumas helped to popularize cufflinks thanks to his novel The Count of Monte Cristo. In the novel, Dumas mentions a character who wears diamonds in his cuffs that draw the attention of everyone who sees them. But cufflinks weren’t long reserved only for those who had the funds to dress more elegantly.

What is a cufflink?

If you have an interest in men’s fashion then the cufflink will hardly have escaped your attention. While a cufflink is certainly decorative and attractive to look at, its main purpose is to fasten the cuffs of your shirt.

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They are made up of two main parts, a decorative front and a back piece that serves to hold it in place. The back piece is inserted through the buttonholes of a double-cuffed shirt sleeve and then twisted to keep the cuff fastened. However, they won’t work with any old shirt and, most commonly, you need a shirt with French cuffs, or double-cuffs as they are also known.

French-cuff shirts have a double cuff that folds back to reveal overlapping edges that are fastened together by pushing a cufflink through two small holes on either edge. Cufflinks can also work without a double cuff using the same overlapping edges but shirts that use buttons to fasten the cuffs are not compatible with cufflinks.

Cufflinks around the world

Naturally, cufflinks from different parts of the world are not all the same. For example, in France cufflinks are commonly worn as a sign of elegance and sophistication, often made from precious materials and featuring intricate designs. However, in England cufflink style can vary depending on the situation with more functional and affordable cufflinks often worn at the office and more luxurious pieces for formal occasions.

The United States has embraced cufflink fashion since colonial times and their design continues to change with the sensibilities and fashions of the times. Alternatively, traditional Middle Eastern cufflinks were often worn as a status symbol, commonly embellished with delicate patterns, jewels, and stones to reflect one’s wealth.

Cufflinks in the mainstream

Cufflinks grew in popularity by the 19th century and as we entered the Industrial Revolution they became relatively easy to make, reducing their cost and increasing their affordability. The original chain was replaced by rods and fasteners with easy-close clips to make fixing them to your shirt quick.

Since those halcyon days, cufflink popularity has come and gone, with men often choosing between shirts that feature buttoned cuffs and those designed for cufflinks. For example, cufflinks enjoyed a resurgence in the 1980s and were once again seen as the perfect way for men to personalize their look following expectations that they dress formally for work.

How cufflinks express individuality

Today, cufflinks come in many different patterns and designs and they allow the gentleman dresser to express an element of their unique style. With such a variety, the cufflink is a great accessory to any tailored outfit as you can find a material, pattern, and style that matches your look.

For example, there are plenty of cufflink options based purely on the mechanism used to fasten them to your shirt sleeves. These mechanisms include:

  • Toggle – these feature a bullet-shaped stud that is inserted into the buttonhole and twisted to fasten the link in place
  • Whaleback – these are similar to toggle cufflinks but the back is shaped like a whale’s tail
  • Chain link – the original design, chain link cufflinks are connected by a chain that slips through the buttonhole and is secured with a toggle
  • Ball return – ball return cufflinks feature a ball design that slips through the buttonhole and allows for more cuff movement than other types
  • Silk knot – woven from fabric rather than metal, these cufflinks are tied into a knot on either side and fastened to the buttonhole to lock in place

But it’s not just a mechanism that defines a cufflink and wearers can choose from various metals and stones as well as bespoke pieces featuring engravings or enamel that can feature a company logo, initials, or a special message.

When is it appropriate to wear cufflinks?

Cufflinks originally served as an essential way for men to fasten their shirt sleeves in the past but with the popularization of buttons on the cuffs, they fell out of favour. Thankfully, the cufflink enjoys a renaissance in today’s society and there are many reasons and occasions for wearing them.

From upgrading your outfit to expressing individuality, cufflinks help make gentlemen appear more distinguished than regular shirt cuffs. Cufflinks are frequently used by professionals as a symbol of professionalism and elegance in business and politics. But as well as the boardroom, many people opt for a pair of cufflinks for formal occasions such as weddings, parties, and black-tie events.

Article by Dakota Murphey.
Twitter: @dakota_murphey