The humble cufflink, so often overlooked as a fashionable accessory or even as a practicality (losing out to dull old buttons) is making something of a heroic comeback. The versatility of design is behind this reemergence of the shirt sleeve fastener, with many intricate and unique creations coming to the fore, competing for attention on the fashionable gentleman’s wrist. What many don’t realise, though, is that cufflinks have been part of the male wardrobe for the best part of 500 years – some claim even longer. Cufflinks really hit their stride at the end of the 18th century – the age of the dandy. But how did these tiny, yet sophisticated accessories come to be?
From ribbons to rocks
Cufflinks were first regularly seen in the relatively modern world of fashion in the 1600s. The Renaissance garments of that era were certainly ornate and extravagant in style, but they were hardly practical. Before the breakthrough of the cufflink, noblemen used a fine ribbon to fasten their cuffs – ribbon so exquisite that it was thought a status symbol, according to the quality. By the end of the 1600s, that ribbon made way for something even more desirable – buttons encrusted with valuable gemstones like diamonds. Called sleeve buttons at the time, they were more practical than lace and their visual impact was so that the size of the gemstone could be used to indicate the size of the gentleman’s wealth. The popularity of these ‘sleeve buttons’ sky rocketed.
A literal cufflink
The 1844 publication of Alexandre Dumas’ great novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, introduced cufflinks to the masses. A certain passage describing one of novel’s secondary characters, Baron Danglers, is alleged to have stoked the fires of tailors’ imagination across the entirety of Western Europe: “Onlookers gazed on the enormous diamond that glittered in his shirt, and the red ribbon that depended from his button-hole.”
It was after the novel’s publication that cufflinks began adorning the wrists of men that belonged to the hoi polloi – they were no longer the preserve of the gentry. This was further helped by the 1882 invention of a machine by a George Krementz that could mass produce one piece buttons and cufflinks at an extremely low price, which further introduced cufflinks to those that previously could not afford them. In 1924, the cufflink design of the tilting bar between a double stem fixed to the button itself was first created – the style that we most commonly see today, almost 90 years later.
Cufflinks refuse to die
It wasn’t until the 1970s that shirts with built-in buttons first emerged onto the scene, negating the need for cufflinks. However, the tiny trinkets remain a fashion mainstay, and in our next article, we will discuss how the correct wearing of cufflinks can transform your look five-fold.