People often complain that men’s clothing is boring and has little room for creativity or personalization. This can be especially true when wearing dress clothing, where typically the only outlet for creativity is the color and design of the necktie. A dress shirt, suit jacket, and matching trousers vary subtly in cut, style and color. Both men and women would like to see some personality shine through this sometimes constrictive business world uniform. But this is not a modern day issue alone. Men have been looking for ways to enhance their ensembles for ages.
Since the dawn of shirt cuffs in the early sixteenth century, cufflinks have been the answer to how to sharpen up an already stylish dress shirt. Of course, these men’s accessories were developed in France, the world capital of fashion. The first cufflinks to become popular were paste-glass button studs that were joined with a short gold chain. For the wealthier elite, jeweled or diamond studs were haute couture. King Louis XIV helped to popularize the new boutons de manchette shirt sleeve accessories.
Over time, cufflink design has evolved. Early on, they were two round disk shapes that were connected by a short, linked chain. Then the silk knot was invented in 1904. The silk knot (also known as “monkey’s fists” or “Turk’s head”) was developed by Charvet, a Parisian shirt maker. This design used silk cord to make a set of elaborate knots that clasped the two edges of the cuff together. These knots could be quite intricate and unique, and the silk could be custom dyed to order. In fact, this style was so popular, that metal cufflinks were designed to look like silk knots.
Also developed in the early twentieth century were dumbbell or shank style cufflinks. This style was exactly as it sounds, resembling a dumbbell with two disks fixed to either end of a bar. This style is still popular, though it is generally known as the “fixed back” style today.
Here in the twenty-first century, we have over three hundred years of cufflink design to build upon. The original “chain link” design is still alive and well in the fashion community. This design remains popular because the flexible chain allows a looser cuff (and accommodates a wider wrist), and they offer an inner and outer decoration, which frequently can be reversible.
Another popular design is the “fixed back” design. This is a cufflink that is one solid piece. Generally, fixed back cufflinks only have one face, though they can be found with two faces. Usually a two-faced, fixed back cufflink will have a larger outer facing design, and a smaller, inner facing design. This style of cufflink is popular because it tends to be more resilient as it has no moving parts.
One of the most common cufflink styles is known as the “bullet back” or “toggle closure.” This style is popular because it is simple and very easy to put on. The cufflink has one outer-facing design which sits upon two prongs that has a bullet-shaped piece connected between the prongs. The bullet shaped piece can be flipped up to be in line with the two prongs. This allows the cufflink to be easily slipped through the cuff’s button holes. Then the bullet is toggled back to a horizontal position, thus securing the cufflink. A possible detraction of this style is that it only has one face.
Two less frequently seen styles are the “ball return” style and the “whale backed” style. The whale backed styles is similar to the bullet backed or toggled back. This cufflink has one face, a straight post, and a wide, curved “whale tail” piece at the end. This piece can be flipped up to sit against the post for easy insertion into the cuff’s button holes. Then the whale tail is flipped back to its horizontal position to secure the cuff.
The ball return style of cufflink is similar to the fixed back or chain link style. It has one face and a bent post or a chain with a large ball fixed to the end. Many people prefer the simple elegance of this design.
We’ve come a long way from paste-glass, chain linked cufflinks. Today there are cufflinks to match any imagination, style, or event. They come in a variety of materials, shapes, and styles. Looking for a way to jazz up your suit for a formal occasion? The cufflink possibilities are endless. How about something to tell the world that you are a well dressed engineer with a deep, geeky passion for Star Wars? There are cufflinks that depict Starfighter blueprints that will do just that. Cufflinks also make fantastic groomsmen gifts whether they match the tuxedos or add a touch of whimsy to the occasion. Cufflinks are a timeless way to add personality and pizzazz to your ensemble. But be warned; they can be addictive. You may soon find yourself compelled to start a collection!