Cufflinks are a beloved and diverse accessory. Crafted in an array of styles from simple to ornate and whimsical to formal, they have the ability to highlight the personality of their wearer. Both highly individualistic and collectible, they are a small but mighty accessory that can transform the look of any suit and add sartorial splendor to your wardrobe. So, roll up your sleeves and read on to learn a brief history of the cufflink, including styles and designs to look for when building your own collection.
A History of Cufflinks
Before buttons, shirt sleeves were simply tied together by ribbons and strings. The cufflink as we know it did not appear until the 17th century. As fashions changed during Louis XIV’s reign, upper-class European men began to use buttons joined by small chains to fasten their cuffs. Named boutons de manchettes, or “sleeve buttons,” by French tailors, these early cufflinks were usually silver or gold and sometimes decorated with miniature paintings of loved ones or royals.
Cufflinks continued rising in popularity among the fashionable sect throughout the 18th century, especially as royalty and the aristocracy began to wear them more regularly. They became even more widespread in the 19th century with the introduction of the French cuff and starch, the result of which were shirt sleeves that were much stiffer and impossible to fasten merely with a button. Cufflinks thus became a necessity for any well-dressed individual — men as well as women. Because few garments came with buttons at the time, women also wore cufflinks to secure their blouses.
By the second half of the 19th century, cufflinks were steadily evolving into the accessories we think of today. The Industrial Revolution led to a rise in production, making cufflinks affordable and accessible to the middle class. Thus, they evolved into a ubiquitous part of proper Victorian-era dress and one of the few acceptable items of jewelry for men.
With the 1920s came a new style of sport shirt with unstarched cuffs that did not necessitate cufflinks, yet they remained en vogue. They did not drop off in popularity until the years of the Great Depression and World War II when such luxuries were no longer a priority. They eventually came back into style as economies recovered and remain a mainstay of a well-appointed men’s wardrobe into the modern-day.
Common Types of Cufflinks to Look For
Cufflink designs have varied widely over their history, but their general functionality has remained the same. They almost always consist of three parts. The front face is the top of the cufflink, which can feature a precious metal, gemstone or design. The toggle is the bottom of the cufflink. In most modern cufflinks, the toggle pivots to lock the accessory in place. Finally, the post attaches the front face to the toggle and is meant to go through the cuff holes.
Bullet-back cufflinks’ ease of use makes them highly popular. This type features a small cylinder shaped like a bullet that is set between two short bars and is flipped 90 degrees to secure.
Whaleback cufflinks are so-called because the toggle is shaped like a whale’s tail. The toggle flips from an upright position to enter the cuff holes and locks in place by flipping the toggle back to perpendicular to the post, making them very easy to secure.
Fixed back cufflinks have no moving parts. They are seen less often than the previous two designs because they can be more difficult to insert, but they do not require any adjustments.
Chain-style cufflinks feature a chain link toggle, hence their name. This gives them a unique flexibility and an opportunity to decorate both sides of the cuff.
Your Cufflink Style
Cufflink materials and designs can vary as widely as their styles, and often mirror the fashions of the day. Victorian examples are highly decorative and elaborate while Edwardian-era cufflinks are generally much simpler. Art Nouveau cufflinks reflect the flowing, natural designs that were popular in jewelry designs of the time, while Art Deco cufflinks take on the bold color and geometry of that era.
Early cufflinks were often made with gold and silver, which are still highly popular today. If one is looking for a more luxurious statement, precious gemstones are a popular addition. Enamel decoration allows for a world of design possibilities from the elegant to the playful.
Cufflinks are a wonderful way to express the wearer’s personality, interests or hobbies. Many designs are a way to add a touch of whimsy to an otherwise conservative suit, and they can even serve as a conversation starter.