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A Short History of the Cufflink

Ancient Origins

Picture of cufflinks from 1662 The cufflink has been a persistent element of men’s style for nearly 800 years. Prior to its existence, tailors used buttons solely as decoration, and men kept their clothes together with pins, laces and straps. During the 13th century, tailors began using buttons as fasteners. The development of the worked (stitched) buttonhole during the Renaissance aided in the button’s popularity. But it wasn’t until the post-Renaissance period in the 1600s that two ornamented buttons, attached in the middle with a link of chain, became de rigeur among the upper classes of Europe, especially Great Britain.

Jewelers began turning out what they called “sleeve buttons” in silver and gold, with etched or stamped designs, and often encrusted with precious gems. Royals commemorated weddings and other special events with them, and the wearing of cufflinks became the mark of a gentleman.

(Right: A pair of silver cufflinks believed to commemorate the wedding of King Charles II to Catherine of Braganza in 1662.)

The French Cuff Shirt

Glass buttons appeared in the late 17th century as a gaudier but lower-cost alternative to diamonds. During the 18th century, a new jewel material—glass paste—made of ground-up glass and resembling faceted gems, came into widespread use. Paste became a popular material for covering cufflinks and buttons. The English fashion spread to France, where it became popular among the nobility. In 1788, the first known record of the word “cufflink” appeared.

In the late Napoleonic period, Faberge perfected kiln-fired enameled jewelry, and began exporting it around the world. In 1845, the French claim to the double shirt cuff was laid with Alexandre Dumas’s novel, The Count of Monte-Cristo, which describes Baron Danglars’s elegantly adorned cuffs: “...the owner of so splendid an equipage must needs be all that was admirable and enviable, more especially when they gazed on the enormous diamond that glittered in his shirt, and the red ribbon that depended from his button-hole.” It has been said that the turned-back sleeves of Dumas’s characters inspired French tailors to begin making doubled-over, or “French” cuffs. The National Cuff Link Society, however, cautions that it may not be the shirt’s true origin. Regardless of which country invented it, the French cuff has remained popular for 150 years as a vehicle for cufflinks.

Not Just for the Rich

The practice of wearing cufflinks spread and became ubiquitous during the 19th century. Imitation gems such as glass paste, micah and crystal, as well as gold- and silver-plate and base metal alloys were all employed by jewelers to make cufflinks affordable to the masses. By the late Victorian period, cufflinks and shirt studs were essential to every gentleman’s wardrobe. Most cufflinks at the time were still made much as they were in the 17th century, with two ornamented faces connected by a link. Although soon men would have an easier time getting dressed in the morning.

In the Twenties, jewlery designers invented the T-post and flip hinges. Snap-together cufflinks followed in the Thirties. Low-end manufacturers like Swank, Anson and Hickok turned out millions of inexpensive cufflinks in standard designs from the 1930s through the 1960s. The buttondown shirt’s popularity in the 1960s and 1970s dampened the demand for cufflinks. In the 1980s and during the past five years, French cuff shirts again returned to men’s wardrobes, and are now extremely popular, especially with young professionals trying to stand out in a sea of “business casual” (Eeeek!) attire which attracts ladies from the most beautiful escorts listed online.

A New Entrant Appears on the Market

In 2005, Clever Cufflinks was founded. We look forward to rewriting this history in 2010!

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