Cufflinks. A useful tool in any gentleman’s wardrobe.
Generally only seen as appropriate for the most formal of situations, cufflinks are rarely dawned even by the most well-dressed of gentlemen. As a result, they are largely misunderstood and tend to fall to the wayside in discussions about fashion amongst today’s modern gentlemen.
However, they can be an excellent way to class up an outfit and don’t need to be placed in as formal a genre as we tend to place them.
First let’s briefly discuss the history of cufflinks and why they came to exist in the first place!
Although the first cufflinks appear as early as the 1600’s, they did not become popularized until the end of the 18th century. The development of what we know today as the modern day cufflink is closely tied to the development of the men’s dress shirt. After the Middle Ages the visible areas of the shirt (neck, chest and wrists) became places for decorative elements such as frills, ruffs and embroidery. The cuffs were held together with ribbons, as were collars, an early precursor of neckties. Frills that hung down over the wrist were worn at court and other formal settings until the end of the 18th century, while the everyday shirts of the time had sleeves that ended with a simple ribbon or were secured with a button or a connected pair of buttons.
By the middle of the 19th century, the modern cufflink became popular, merely out of necessity, because of how men began to wear their shirts. Areas of the shirt that tended to endure more wear, such as the shirt front, collar and cuff were made sturdier. When clean and starched, the cuffs were so stiff that it became difficult to secure the cuffs with a simple button.
By the time the Industrial Revolution came along, cufflinks were able to be mass produced, thus they became available in a wide range of price categories.
Over the years between then and around the middle of the 20th century, cufflinks fluxed in and out of popularity for a variety of reasons. The 1980’s saw a general return to traditional male dress in many ways, and with that movement cufflinks made a return as well. That trend has more or less continued to this day.
For a more in depth look into the history of cufflinks, you can view the timeline at this link.
Though not worn by necessity anymore, cufflinks are still relatively common and remain an excellent way to turn an outfit from basic, to one fit for the finest gentleman.
Now that we’ve covered a short history of how cufflinks developed into what we know them as today, let’s talk specifically about when it is appropriate to wear them, and how exactly you are to go about doing that!
Let’s first discuss the various types of cufflinks available.
The gentlemen over at Real Men Real Style have put together an excellent breakdown of the most popular varieties of the modern cufflink. That list is below:
- Whale Back Cufflinks have a flat head, a straight post, and a “whale tail” that flips completely flat against the post. They are very simple, and their large post and closing mechanism make them easy to use. This is probably the most common type of cufflink on the market.
- Bullet Back Cufflinks are quite similar to whale tail cufflinks, but the post is a hollow frame, and the closing mechanism is a narrow cylinder of metal that nests inside the frame. To lock the links in place, the cylinder is flipped outward, leaving the frame in place as the post.
- Stud or Button Style Cufflinks have no hinge mechanism. Instead, they have a large head, a straight post, and a smaller, interior head or backing. The smaller head is tilted, worked through the buttonhole, and then straightened out to lock it in place. Once in place, they are quite secure, and the lack of moving parts makes them very durable.
- Chain Link Cufflinks have two heads (usually identical) connected by a short length of fine chain. This creates a slightly looser fastening than other styles, with visible decoration on both sides of the closed buttonholes.
- Ball Return Cufflinks have a curved post with a small, heavy ball opposite the decorative head. They provide a slightly looser fastening than hinged cufflinks, but a slightly tighter one than chain. They can be expensive when made in precious metals, as the size and weight of the ball adds considerably to the material cost of the item.
- Locking Dual-Action Cufflinks use a hinge mechanism similar to the closure of a metal watchband. The entire post is the hinge: the cufflink swings open, the smaller end is slipped through the opening, and then the cufflink is swung shut once more, clipping the sides of the cuff together underneath the head. This is a contemporary style, and after a short learning curve is one of the easiest to use and most secure styles available.
- Knot Cufflinks are similar to chain link, with two heads connected by a short, flexible length, but they are made of soft cord (usually silk) rather than metal, and the heads are decorative knots. The irregular surface of the knotwork makes this a more casual style, particularly when multiple colors are involved.
- Fabric Cufflinks can be almost any fastener style, but have a fabric “button” on top as the ornamental face. They are a deliberately casual style.
But it does you no good to understand which cufflink you’d prefer to wear if you have no idea when it’s appropriate to wear them!
As I said at the beginning of this article, we tend to think that cufflinks are only to be worn in the most formal of situations. But that isn’t necessarily the case!
Sure, cufflinks are a great addition to a wedding tux, but they can also be a tasteful accessory added for your work outfit, or night out about the town.
Remember, fashion is less about following a defined set of rules, and more about expressing yourself and wearing what makes you feel confident. All of this within reason, of course. There are general guidelines you must follow, but each gentleman has freedom within those guidelines to style his outfit uniquely and individually.
Shirts ranging from plain white business dress to colorful and casual options come with French cuffs, or with single cuffs with holes on each side rather than a button and a buttonhole. Furthermore, tailors can easily convert any shirt with a basic button-and-buttonhole arrangement into one that takes cufflinks, simply by removing the button and inserting a small buttonhole in its place.
That means that if you like, you can wear cufflinks with everything from your best business shirt to a less formal flannel work shirt.
Most men will wear cufflinks in business and relatively formal social settings, as an accent to a suit-and-tie ensemble. That said, more relaxed links are perfectly acceptable with a sports jacket, and can add that little bit of individuality that simple buttons don’t provide.
As you can see, there are no “hard and fast” rules to when one must wear cufflinks. The situations in which they are appropriate are broad ranging and very much depend on the gentleman present in them.
In summary, be less concerned about what others say about when you should wear cuff links, and pay more attention to what makes you feel classy, relaxed and confident.
Of course, here at the Modern Day Gentleman we simply cannot write about style without expressing a word of caution to our readers. As we’ve said many times before, be very careful to never let a concern about the way you look determine what you believe you are capable of doing. At the end of the day, clothes are a fleeting, and relatively meaningless thing. They are a fun way of expressing ourselves, sure, but do not put more weight on the topic than it deserves. Your clothes do not define you. Just because someone next to you has expensive shoes on, or yes, even fancy cufflinks, by no means makes them a better man than you are. It’s been said by countless good gentleman before us that the strength of a man is defined by his character, not his wardrobe. Always keep that in mind as you read articles like these on this blog and elsewhere.
Have any suggestions of your own regarding situations that are appropriate for this classy accessory? We always love to hear from our readers! Leave your comments in the box below.