The forerunner of today’s shirt first appeared in the early-16th century, its ruffled wristband finished with small openings on either side that tied together with "cuff strings." Although cuff strings would remain popular well into the nineteenth century, it was during the reign of Louis XIV that shirt sleeves started to be fastened with boutons de manchette, or "sleeve buttons," typically identical pairs of coloured glass buttons joined together by a short, linked chain.
Cufflinks are designed only for use with shirts which have buttonholes on both sides but no buttons. These may be either single or double-length ("French") cuffs, and may be worn either "kissing," with the ends pinched together, or "barrel-style," with one end overlapping the other. The "barrel-style" was popularized by a famous 19th century entertainer and clown, Dan Rice; however, "kissing" cuffs are usually preferred.
Cufflink designs vary widely, with the most traditional the "double-panel", consisting of a short post or (more often) chain connecting two disc-shaped parts, both decorated. Other types have a flat decorated face for one side, while the other side shows only the swivel-bar and its post. The swivel bar is placed vertically (aligned with the post) to put the links on and off), then horizontally to hold them in place when worn. The decorated face on the most visible side is usually larger; a variety of designs can connect the smaller piece: It may be small enough to fit through the button hole like a button would; it may be separated and attached from the other side; or it may have a portion that swivels on the central post, aligning with the post while the link is threaded through the button-hole and swiveling into a position at right angles to the post when worn. Links of knotted brightly-coloured silk enjoyed renewed popularity in the 1990s, joined by an elasticated section.
The visible part of a cufflink is often monogrammed or decorated in some way, such as with a birthstone or something which reflects a hobby or associaton. There are numerous styles including novelty, traditional, or contemporary. Cufflinks can and have been worn with casualwear, informal attire or business suits, all the way to very dressy styles such as semi-formal (black tie or Stroller), and formal wear (morning dress or white tie), where they become essentially required and are matched with shirt studs. While whimsical or ornate styles can be worn to casual or informal events, formal wear has stricter expectations, with pearl cufflinks being preferred for white tie events1 Traditionally it was considered important to coordinate the metal of one's cufflinks with other jewelry such as watch case, belt buckle, tie bar or rings. Sartorial experts prescribe gold to be worn during the daytime and silver for evening wear, but neither expectation is considered as critical as it once was.2
An alternative type of cufflink is the cheaper silk knot which is usually two conjoined monkey's fist knots. The Paris shirtmaker Charvet is credited with their introduction in 1904.3 They became quickly popular: "Charvet [link] buttons of twisted braid are quite the style" noted The New York Times in 1908.4 French cuff shirts are often accompanied with a set of colour-coordinated silk knots instead of double-button cufflinks. They are now often not from silk, and consist of a fabric over an elasticated core. Owing to the popularity of this fashion, metal cufflinks shaped to look like a silk knot are also worn.
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- Corbett, Patrick (2002). Verdura: the life and work of a master jeweler. Harry N. Abrams. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-8109-3529-7.
- "What new Autumn Blouses are like" (PDF). New York Times. September 20, 1908. Retrieved 2008-10-21.