Like collars, cuffs are an important part of any shirt. Every type of cuff speaks volumes about your shirt and your chosen style of dress. In fact, the style of cuff you choose will play a great role in dictating the entire’s outfits level of formality.
Therefore, it’s actually quite important to learn a bit about shirt cuffs. This will help you master your wardrobe and assemble a wardrobe that matches both the character and occasion you wish to exude.
In the following guide, we will explore cuffs in detail. You will learn about the various different styles, how they’re worn and their various different standards of formality.
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In addition to collars, a shirt’s cuff speaks volumes about its formality and provenance. This page will deal with all aspects of shirt cuffs and will be a very informative read from start to finish.
With this guide, you’ll be able to learn about not only the different cuffs but also ways to customize yours. Sometimes these options are available straight off the rack whilst others require ordering through a specialist.
Simply scroll down to read this guide in its entirety.
Essential but overlooked. Knowing about shirt cuffs will help you master your wardrobe!
What Is A Cuff On A Dress Shirt?
A shirt’s cuff is the part of its anatomy that encloses the wrist. It’s an additional piece of fabric sewn onto the sleeve of a shirt.
It may fasten via buttons, studs, or cufflinks. There are a multitude of cuff styles available, and because they can wear out faster than the body of a shirt, better-made shirts will have cuffs that are replaceable.
Origins Of The Shirt Cuff
Sometime between the 15th and 18th centuries, men of means (i.e. rich men) wore cuffs that were decorated with lace, a style that survives today amongst Catholic clergy.
Over time, the bespoke tailors of Savile Row invented various styles of cuffs for their shirts: button, link (single and double cuffs), and convertible cuffs. Shirt cuffs began to denote the level of formality a shirt projected, with buttons being the least formal and links being the most formal.
Interestingly, all shirts used to be made from linen as opposed to cotton. As such, we still use the phrase “show some linen” when referring to the amount of shirt cuff peeking out from a jacket’ sleeve.
The Different Shirt Cuff Styles
There are five major types of shirt cuff styles for men:
The barrel cuff is easily the most common style of shirt cuff. It’s commonly found in the business world and even on the street in casual shirtings.
More often than not, they’re found with two buttons spaced horizontally about 3/4″ apart, and in rarer cases these buttons will be spaced vertically. The latter case is typical of either fashion-y shirts or custom ones.
The one-button cuff is almost exclusively the realm of custom shirtmakers. This is because putting only one button on a shirt cuff requires precision measuring, which is simply not something you get with RTW shirts.
The single cuff shirt is similar to a barrel cuff shirt but fastens with a cufflink as opposed to a sewn-on button. An extremely rare shirt, its only application is for white tie ensembles and is thus only seen on wing collar shirts.
Double (French) Cuffs
Like single cuffs, French cuffs require links to fasten. Unlike single cuffs, they are twice as long as normal and double back over themselves, hence the term “double cuff” that’s widely used in England.
As there’s plenty more to talk about with French cuffs, we created a separate French cuff guide.
Convertible cuffs can fasten by either a link or a button. These are typically only found at custom clothing shops.
Cocktail Cuff (Turnback)
Also known as the turnback cuff, the Casino, the Portofino, or the James Bond cuff, the cocktail cuff is a rare animal that’s a beauty to spot. Not for the stylishly faint-of-heart, it’s essentially a double-length barrel cuff that’s folded over itself with the cuff hems on a diagonal line.
This is a cuff for the sartorially daring and is only available at custom shops.
Single and double cuff shirts require links to fasten, and convertible cuffs are link-eligible. There are many different styles of cufflinks in a vast array of materials and colors. For more information, see our comprehensive guide to cufflinks.
Other Options & Customization
In addition to the particular style of cuff, there are various ways to style your cuffs that we’ll go over below.
Note that many of these options will only be available through custom or made-to-measure clothiers, as they require personalization or don’t warrant the cost of mass production that off-the-rack retailers would incur.
Shape: Rounded Vs Squared Vs Mitered
There are generally three shapes for cuffs: rounded, squared, and mitered. We’ll get into specifics for all of these below.
Rounded cuffs are extremely common and pair well with casual clothing especially (though it’s perfectly appropriate to wear a rounded cuff shirt with a suit). On this cuff style, the top corners are rounded off.
Squared Cuff (Straight)
Square or straight cuffs are relatively uncommon but can be found at more fashion-forward retailers in addition to custom houses. Instead of a rounded corner, it’s simply a right angle.
Mitered cuffs have corners that are mitered, or cut off at a 45-degree angle. These are handsome and dressy, and they increase your style quotient a bit. As a bonus, they’re relatively common and can be found at most ready-to-wear retailers.
You may be familiar with non-white shirts that have white collars and cuffs. This is a throwback to the times when it was common for collars and cuffs to be replaced after they’d gotten too stained or worn out, which happens much more quickly on these parts of a shirt than the body itself.
Nowadays, these shirts are typically worn by men who work in high finance and can be found off the rack or in custom shops. If your shirt was custom to begin with and the cuffs have worn out, you should be able to bring it back to the maker and have them replaced with white ones.
Note that shirts with contrasting collars and cuffs are typically of the French cuff variety.
Embroidery & Monograms
One option that some retailers and all custom clothiers offer is to monogram your shirt. More often than not, this is the wearer’s initials and it tends to end up on the left cuff. Monogram placement, however, is a subject of debate in menswear circles.
Years ago, monograms served a utilitarian purpose: identification at the laundry. Their original placement was actually on the left side of the shirt at the waist, which is where Fred Astaire put his. Because the intent of the monogram wasn’t decoration but rather identification, there was no reason to show it off. This was always covered up by a jacket at a time in history when men rarely removed their jackets, or at least wore waistcoats when they did.
Nowadays, the monogram has found its way onto shirt cuffs, specifically the left one (this is to minimize distraction while shaking someone’s hand). Purists find this monogram placement to be a bit gauche and showy, but it’s ubiquitous regardless.
If you choose to monogram your cuffs, you can either be discreet by doing a self-colored thread (blue on blue, white or silver on white, etc.) or you can be showy with something that contrasts highly, such as red on blue or navy on white. The font options vary from maker to maker, but most will generally have conservative block lettering for quieter guys and showy cursive for more fashion-forward men.
How Should The Cuff Fit?
First, for a primer on how a cuff should fit, we invite you to see our shirt fit guide.
As it relates to cuffs, they should be neither too large nor too tight. If you can fit your hand through a cuff without unbuttoning it, it’s too big. If it crinkles when buttoned, it’s too small. Do note that French cuffs tend to fit a bit larger than barrel cuffs, and even this can vary depending on the type of cufflink you use:
Ready-to-wear retailers will often make barrel cuff shirts with two buttons for a bit of adjustment potential, but custom clothiers will take individual measurements of each wrist to get a perfect fit, which leads us to our next section…
Leaving Extra Room For A Watch
Custom shirt makers take individual wrist measurements, and one question you should always hear from him/her is “Which wrist do you wear your watch on?” You clothier should make an allowance on that wrist so that your cuff can comfortably button over the watch but still not slip onto your hand.
Sleeve Length: How Much Cuff To Show
In a nutshell, when wearing a shirt and sport coat or suit jacket, you should show anywhere between 1/4″-1/2″ of shirt cuff. Showing more is a bit more fashion-forward and happens to work well for short guys as it makes their arms appear longer. Showing less is a bit more conservative and works better for tall men, whose arms will appear less long.
If you’re showing no cuff, you’ll look unkempt and slobbish. Showing too much will have you looking like you outgrew your jacket a while back and need to get a new one. If you need your sleeves lengthened or shortened, a tailor can help you out.
Want To Learn More About Men’s Dress Shirts?
We hope that you learned a lot about cuffs and are comfortable talking to a clothier about your preferences. Still, there’s much more to learn about shirts, and our guide for collars and our shirt home page are chock full of helpful information.