What Is A Cuff On A Dress Shirt?
A shirt’s cuff is the part of its anatomy that encloses the wrist as an additional piece of fabric that’s 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:
We describe each below. However, you can click on one of the links above to jump straight to them.
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-forward 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.
The look is clean as can be and is typically not available off the rack, even at through the best shirt makers.
Double (French) Cuffs
Like single cuffs, French cuffs require cufflinks to fasten. Unlike single cuffs, they are twice as long as usual and double back over themselves, hence the term “double cuff” that’s widely used in England.
The French or “double” cuff is a dressy option. It’s appropriate for business professional wear, black tie attire, and even for wear with jeans in a more casual colour or pattern.
There’s plenty more to talk about with French cuffs. Therefore, we created a separate French cuff guide, which teaches you how to wear them and introduces you to our favourite brands.
Convertible cuffs can fasten by either a link or a button. In most cases, they’re a double cuff. However, some brands like Eton Shirts will produce barrel cuffs with an additional hole between the buttons.
Otherwise, convertible cuffs are quite rare and typically found as an option in custom clothing shops.
Cocktail Turnback Cuff
“That’s a Smith & Wesson, & you’ve had your six.”
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.
Although they existed before then, they were popularised by Sean Connery as James Bond in Dr. No. Since then, they’ve become a somewhat revered style among connoisseurs.
Turnbull & Asser’s Michael Fish fitting Sean Connery For Dr. No
This is a cuff for the sartorially daring and is rarely seen outside custom shops. However, Turnbull & Asser have enjoyed a long relationship with the celebrated Mi6 agent. In fact, Ian Fleming was a customer as were Terrance Young and Albert Broccoli who respectively directed and produced the 1962 adaptation.
It then comes as no surprise that Turnbull & Asser tailored James Bond’s shirts for the film. This is still retailed today as the “Dr. No” shirt alongside the evening shirt worn by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.
Interestingly, the cuff is never mentioned in the books, and the only hint of Bond’s shirtmaker was in reference to his Sea Island cotton shirts from Jermyn Street, which was a Turnbull & Asser speciality. In fact, the cocktail cuff was a hallmark of David Niven who was originally Ian Fleming’s first choice as 007.
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 colours. For more information and to see our favourite brands, 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 entirely appropriate to wear a rounded cuff shirt with a suit). On this cuff style, the top corners are rounded off.
Squared or Straight Cuff
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 merely 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 typical 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. However, you can occasionally find contrast barrel cuffs every now and then.
Shirt 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 coats or at least wore waistcoats when they did.
Nowadays, the monogram has found its way onto shirt cuffs, precisely 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 be discreet by doing a self-coloured thread (blue on blue, white or silver on white, etc.).
Alternatively, 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. Meanwhile, 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
Porcelain Odyssey Ji 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 seem 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! Head to some of our related guides to read more: