Here at Bespoke Unit, one of our favorite accessories is the cufflink.  Although small, it can make a considerable impact on one’s appearance. From basic silk knots to gold jewel-encrusted treasures, there is an endless amount of possibilities for the cufflink, but where and why did it come into being?

Where Did The Cufflink Originate?

The forerunner to the modern cuff link appeared in the early 1500s when prominent men began wearing their shirts with ruffled wristbands tied together with strings.

While the “string-tied” style would remain popular and in use until the 1800s, the early 1700s saw the introduction of ornate gold and silver linked chains attached to small, glass “sleeve buttons.” In the mid 1700s, the gold chain remained, but glass buttons gave way to decorative buttons made of jewels, usually diamonds, and the “cuff link” became an integral part of a man’s wardrobe.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Legend says that the modern cuff link was born (or at least achieved popularity) in the pages of Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. A character in the book sported enormous diamonds on his shirt cuffs that sparked great envy in everyone who looked on it. Not long after that book was published, tailors recognized just how important the accent could be to a “proper gentleman’s” clothing.

Collection of copper cufflink backsTowards the end of the 1700s, when the Industrial Revolution brought about newer, cheaper manufacturing methods, chains were replaced with simple rods and clips. As more became more affordable, men of almost every class started sporting more decorative cufflinks. Shirt makers wanted to capitalize on the cheaper cuff links, and increased their production of formal shirts. Sales skyrocketed, and men everywhere were wearing cufflinks.

Demise Of The Masses Sporting Cufflinks

By the end of the twentieth century, men’s shirt makers started mass-producing shirts with buttons already on the cuffs – leading to a decline in the popularity of cuff links. While most “everyday” men’s shirts leaned towards the ease and durability of buttons, many high-end shirt manufacturers kept their “cuff link” styles.  Luxury jewelers still produced cufflinks for these high-end shirts, and the cuff link again became associated with fashion-forward men, an association that remains today.

Since their inception, the cuff link has been associated with luxury. In the royalty and aristocracy of the 16th century, cuff links were almost always commemorated special events. In fact, gentlemen of the time wouldn’t purchase cufflinks on their own – they would only add to their collection through gifts. That tradition continues today, as a set of cuff links is often given as a groomsman’s gift at a wedding.

Cuff links afford a man the opportunity to truly make a suit or shirt his own. Given the incredibly wide range of colors and styles today’s cuff links are available in, it’s no surprise that their popularity is higher than ever. The materials and style may have changed, but the message is still clear. From the earliest days of glass buttons and gold chains, the cuff link meant high society. Whether it’s the special set passed down from your grandfather or a set you purchased on your own to wear with a dress shirt to work, the cuff link is versatile and functional but an undeniable sign of a discerning gentleman.

Collection of vintage cufflinks

Anchor Design & Vintage Cufflinks

About the Author:

Paul Anthony is the founder and creative director at Bespoke Unit. He has had a life long affair with design, watches, fragrance and clothing. Originally from England, he now lives in the USA splitting time between NYC & Philly. Favoring "British Style", but has an overall eclectic taste.

One Comment

  1. Laurence August 23, 2013 at 11:36 am - Reply

    Nice cufflinks.

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