What Are Cufflinks?
Cufflinks are menswear accessories that hold shirt cuffs together. A form of jewellery, cufflinks are dressy. They’re thus worn with single and French cuff shirts, which are dressier than barrel cuff shirts.
Representing a perfect intersection of form and function, cufflinks have been in use for ages and are made in innumerable shapes, colours, materials, and designs.
Cufflinks represent one of the relatively rare opportunities in which men get to wear jewellery and truly dress up.
Guys should relish this opportunity, as our opportunities to accessorise are more limited than our female counterparts.
Though small, cufflinks can make a big impression, and there’s a lot to know about them if you want to wear them well.
Cufflinks 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.
In that vein, this page will deal with all aspects of cufflinks, ranging from what they are, where they come from, and perhaps most importantly, how to wear them.
Different Styles & Types Of Cufflinks
All cufflinks serve the same purpose: to hold the cuffs of your shirt together elegantly. They do not, however, all look the same, nor do they achieve this end by the same means. Below, we list the most popular types of cufflinks.
Simply click on the one you want to discover above or scroll down to read them all.
These cufflinks are incredibly common, and that’s probably because they’re incredibly easy to use. The “bullet” is a small cylinder that’s set between two short bars that are attached to the cufflink’s “face.” You simply flip the bullet to 180 degrees to place it through the shirt cuff, and then back to 90 degrees to fasten.
Whale back cufflinks are pretty much identical to bullet backs in terms of functionality. The difference is that the bullet is replaced with a “whale tail” that is a different shape.
There are two types of chain link cufflinks. The first one is simple enough: two ends of the cufflink are connected by a chain. You simply insert one end through each part of the cuff. This leaves the other end on the opposite side as an automatic fastener.
The other style involves a chain that actually wraps around the outside of the cuff. An older style reminiscent of the Rat Pack and other 1950’s-1960’s style Las Vegas debauchery, this cufflink is very showy and will definitely get attention. It’s not at all an entry-level cufflink.
Fixed Back / Double-Sided
Lacking any moving parts, fixed back cufflinks typically have a large end and a small end. Both of these are visible on the outside and inside of your cuff, respectively. Many cufflink aficionados prefer this style, as it “dresses” both sides of the cuff as opposed to only the outside.
Note that the ball return style cufflink can be classified as a fixed back style.
Silk knots are the only cufflink style not made from metal. If you’re dressing a bit more informally, silk knots are an excellent choice, as they open up your options in terms of color coordination. They also tend to be the least expensive style of cufflink, which is an added bonus.
Note that silk knots are sometimes quite difficult to get through the buttonholes of a shirt cuff. Just keep at it!
Stud & Button Links
Studs are typically reserved for black tie and white tie occasions, at least when they’re made from onyx or mother-of-pearl. Button cufflinks, on the other hand, are just that: two buttons connected either by thread or by metal. Buttons are a more casual look than even silk knots.
Featuring a closure similar to that of certain bracelet wristwatches, this is a relatively new cufflink design which essentially functions as a hinge.
Cool, Fun & Crazy
In terms of style, there are definitely some cufflinks that are less staid and allow the wearer to show a bit of personality. There are no shortage of themes and designs for cufflinks, and you can get anything you like if you just search long enough: coins, replicas of street signs, animals, even bones!
Custom / Personalized Cufflinks
Personalized cufflinks make great gifts. If you’re looking for cufflinks that have personal meaning, this is the way to go. Any jeweler can monogram metal cufflinks, and lots of cufflink artisans can craft pairs using personal items: photos of relatives, small hand-me-downs, and other types of things.
Your best bet is to have an idea as to what you’re looking for and ask the maker if (s)he can accommodate your request.
Which Types Of Shirts Require Cufflinks?
Certain types of men’s dress shirts require cufflinks. More specifically, the cuff of a shirt will dictate whether or not cufflinks are needed.
Dress shirts with the following cuff styles require cufflinks:
- French/double cuffs: 95% of shirts that require cufflinks are French cuff shirts. Featuring a double-long cuff that folds back over itself (that is, it “doubles”), these are easily found off the rack, and any custom clothier should be able to accommodate a request for French cuffs on a shirt. Furthermore, these shirts can be worn with items as casual as denim and as dressy as a tuxedo.
- Single cuffs: Single cuff shirts are rare, and with good reason: they are worn exclusively with white tie attire. They close just like French cuff shirts, but do not double back over themselves.
Barrel cuff shirts, which form the lion’s share of men’s dress shirts available on the market, do not take cufflinks.
How To Put On Cufflinks
Putting cufflinks on can seem like a tedious, frustrating task at first. However, a little practice goes a long way, so don’t get too discouraged if you struggle at first!
By adhering to the steps below, you’ll be fastening your shirt cuffs like a pro in no time:
- Put on your shirt and fold one cuff back over itself. If you’re right-handed, we suggest starting with the left cuff.
- Insert the cufflink closure through the two outside cuff panels, making sure that the cufflink’s face is visible on the outside of the cuff.
- Push the closure through the two inside panels. Be sure that the inside panels are flat and flush against the outside ones; do not curve it underneath the outside panels as if you were buttoning a barrel cuff shirt.
- Fasten your cufflink.
- Repeat steps 1-4 on the other cuff.
How To Wear Cufflinks
Cufflinks are physically tiny compared to the other things that we wear, but they punch well above their weight class in terms of the image that they project. With that in mind, it’s imperative that you choose to wear cufflinks in the right scenarios, and that you choose the correct ones to wear within those scenarios.
Let’s say you’re an attorney who’s trying a serious case. You’d be well-advised to not wear, say, the Spongebob Squarepants cufflinks your son bought you for your birthday, but rather some simple metal ones in silver or gold.
For those going on job interviews or attending funerals, our advice is to avoid cufflinks altogether, as they can be distracting in the former scenario and too showy in the latter.
On the other hand, more casual occasions, like dinner dates or parties, allow you to wear cufflinks that show a bit more personality. Knowing the difference and understanding your audience is key in making the decision about what cufflinks to wear, and indeed whether or not to wear them.
Check out some of the tips below to learn how to choose the best cufflink for the occasion, plus tips for color coordination.
Choosing The Appropriate Cufflink For The Occasion
The type of cufflink you wear, if any, can depend on several factors, namely the attire you’re wearing, the formality of the occasion, and even the season.
With A Suit
If you’re just out and about in a suit, cufflinks are a great option to add some personality and / or dressiness to the suited ensemble. Think dinner dates, evening social events, and similar outings. Your cufflinks in this case can be pretty much anything you want: bright colors, novelty designs, customized materials, or anything else you prefer.
If you’d like to learn more about suits in general, our suiting home page is a gateway to some massive resources!
To The Office
Cufflinks are great for men whose offices adhere to business professional dress codes and when you want to project an image of success, particularly for criminal defense lawyers and high-end financial consultants.
We suggest simple, subtle designs in classic metals like silver or gold for office wear.
With A Tux
Tuxedos require cufflinks, and the simpler, the better. Onyx and mother-of-pearl are your go-to options, but be sure that your cufflinks match the shirt studs.
For more information on tuxedos, see our tuxedo home page.
There’s a bit of heated debate as it relates to cufflinks with jeans. Men generally fall into two camps on this one: those who take no issue with wearing cufflinks with jeans, and those who think they’re too dressy to be paired with such a casual item.
We believe that anyone can wear cufflinks with jeans, you just have to be smart about it. The guidelines below will help you best wear cufflinks with denim:
- Your denim should be dark, straight or slim-fitting, and free of rips or holes. Color variation vis-à-vis whiskering should be minimal.
- Your shirt, while being a French cuff, shouldn’t be overly dressy. Avoid plain white or light blue, which work better for suits. Opt for more casual colors and patterns, like checks and plaids in greens, lavender, pink, and other colors.
- Your cufflinks can -and should- be more casual and playful. Choose colorful silk knots or something personalized as opposed to, say, precious gems.
To A Wedding
A wedding is the perfect opportunity to wear cufflinks. This is regardless of whether or not you’re a groom, groomsman, father of the bride or groom, or a guest. As weddings are celebratory occasions (or, at least, they should be), the world is your oyster as it relates to your cufflink choice. If you have some personalized novelty cufflinks, go ahead and wear them. If you’re a more conservative dresser and prefer to stick to your basic nickel links, go ahead and do so.
The only exception to this is if the wedding is a semi-formal one, in which case you’ll want to wear your classic tuxedo cufflinks.
If you need help deciding what you’ll wear to your own wedding or to someone else’s, our guide to weddings breaks your options down by season and formality.
Color Matching & Other Style Tips
Cufflinks don’t just fasten your shirt cuffs, they also add a certain flair. How, exactly, then, do you coordinate your cufflink’s colors with the rest of your outfit? Follow our tips below and you’ll always be properly dressed:
- If your links are metal (nickel/silver, gold/brass, etc.), it’s best to ensure that your metal matches any other metals in your ensemble: belt buckle or suspender adjusters, the bit on your shoes, and jewelry. Note that this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but rather a strong guideline.
- If your links are a color or combination of colors, pick another item in your outfit with which to coordinate them. The guidelines here are quite loose, as cufflinks don’t share a visual plane with much of anything. Coordinate their color with that of your shirt, tie, pocket square, or even your socks.
If you need some assistance with color coordination, our guide to color will help you out.
What Is The Difference Between Cufflinks Vs Studs?
It’s not so much that there’s a difference between studs and cufflinks, but rather that studs are simply a style of cufflink, as we mentioned above. Note that the term “stud” also refers to semi-formal shirt studs, which take the place of front buttons on a tuxedo shirt’s placket.
History & Origins Of The Cufflink
The forerunner to the modern cufflink appeared in the early 1500’s, 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 1800’s, the early 1700’s saw the introduction of ornate gold- and silver-linked chains attached to small, glass “sleeve buttons.” In the mid 1700’s, the gold chain remained, but glass buttons gave way to decorative buttons made of jewels, usually diamonds. 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 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.
Towards the end of the 1700’s, when the Industrial Revolution brought about newer, cheaper manufacturing methods, chains were replaced with simple rods and clips.
Bear in mind, however, that the first issue of The Count of Monte Cristo was published in 1844. Therefore, the above does show that the existed well before then. Nevertheless, it can be argued that it at least helped popularise the accessory.
As more became more affordable, men of almost every class started sporting more decorative cufflinks. Shirt makers wanted to capitalize on the cheaper cufflinks and increased their production of formal shirts. Sales skyrocketed, and men everywhere were wearing cufflinks.
20th Century – Cufflink Popularity Declines
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 its inception, the cufflink has been associated with luxury. In the royalty and aristocracy of the 16th century, cufflinks 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 sets of cufflinks are often given as groomsmen’s gift at weddings.
Though most often made from nickel or gold, cufflinks nowadays can be made from a wide assortment of materials. The most common ones are listed below, but if you need more of a primer on materials used for men’s jewelry, take a look at our jewelry guide.
- Carbon Fiber: Strong material with a silver surface that’s easily colored during manufacturing. Very popular in modern, all-metal cufflinks.
- Crystal: If you’re into cufflinks with some sparkle, crystal is a common choice. Note that crystal is available in colors besides what we know as crystal, such as black.
- Enamel: Made of fused, powdered glass, enamel cufflinks have a colored or black gloss atop a metal surface.
- Glass: Typically on the more casual end of the spectrum, glass links are available in a multitude of colors and are often very affordable.
- Gold: A classic material for cufflinks. Quite dressy, best for C-level businessmen and formal events.
- Gunmetal: A darker metal that’s an alloy of zinc, tin, and copper. Makes for a contemporary, masculine look.
- Mother-of-Pearl: A glossy material that comes from seashells, mother-of-pearl is often used for buttons on high-end dress shirts. As a cufflink, it’s a great dressy option and works well for formal events.
- Onyx: A black stone, onyx is best for formal cufflinks.
- Gemstones: They had their heyday in the mid-twentieth century, but cufflinks made with gemstones like diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and other such jewels are available. Note that when the stones reach a certain size, they go from elegant to gauche quickly. You’ll know it when you see it.
- Rose Gold: A more contemporary metal that’s an alloy of copper and gold, it’s a reddish-pinkish metal.
- Silk: Limited to knots, silk cufflinks are inexpensive and informal.
- Stainless Steel: An affordable, practical cufflink, stainless steel links are great for everyday business wear.
- Sterling Silver: Essentially a brighter, shinier, more expensive version of stainless steel.
- Titanium: A highly durable, grey-ish metal, titanium makes for a more subdued cufflink than silver or gold. Its durability lends itself well to engraving and etching.
Where To Buy The Best Cufflinks
Needless to say, there are innumerable cufflinks available on the market and it would be impossible to list them all. They can be as cheap as a couple of dollars or very expensive depending on the brand and the materials used to make them.
Below, we’ve listed some of our favourite retailers for finding high-quality cufflinks that offer good value for money:
- The Tie Bar
- Charles Tyrwhitt
- Hawes & Curtis
- ST Dupont
- Brooks Brothers
- Turnbull & Asser
Simply use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to see them all!