Cuff Links: A History of Style

Design Ideas B71T Cuff Links

by Jake Woolley, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and BeadsĀ®

Cuff links have been a constant element of men's fashion for centuries. Recently their popularity has once again risen to star status, accepted as a fashionable trend among men (and women!) of all ages. Before there were sleeve cuff buttons, there were cuff links--and before there were cuff links, men's shirts were held together at the wrist using cord or ribbon. These days, cuff links are associated with men's fine evening wear: black tie (semi-formal--black jacket and tie worn to a wedding) and white tie (full formal--white tie and tails worn to a Nobel Prize ceremony).

Men's fashion has historically allowed very little space for a guy to show his personality. He might have a college ring or a collection of novelty ties--but the more formal the dress code, the less room he had to express himself. The businessman's uniform of suit and tie meant cuff links and associated accessory jewelry (tie tacs, tie bars and shirt studs) gave men a way to say a little bit about themselves every single day.

Note: Only certain styles of men's shirts accept cuff links; these can be called kissing cuffs, double cuffs or French cuffs.

Just like buttons, cufflinks come in many shapes, sizes, styles and materials. They are both functional and ornamental. They are not actually considered formalwear, although some style guides consider wearing cuff links on patterned shirts to be over the top.

Making Personalized Cuff Links

Cuff links, like other pieces of jewelry, can be made for formal and informal wear. Fill a cuff link bezel setting with colorful polymer clay for a laid-back look, or a gemstone cabochon for something more formal. Glue on a sports team pendant so he can wear something to work on game day (especially if he's going to miss seeing it in person).

Got a formal wedding to dress up for? Make personalized cuff links for the father of the bride! Just pick up a cuff link with pad and adhere cat's eye glass or shell cabochons in the wedding colors. Match 'em to the tie and cummerbund for full impact.

Men's Jewelry Sets

Cuff links can be made as a pair or as part of a jewelry set, like earrings are for women's jewelry. The other pieces commonly created for the guys include a watch band, tie clip or tie tac and--in the most formal settings--shirt studs. Shirt studs are probably the most uncommon of the three, as they are worn only with black tie and white tie clothing.

Shirt studs are embellished findings that take the place of shirt front buttons in tuxedo and other formal dress shirts. Those "dots" down the front of a tuxedo shirt aren't buttons, they're replacements for the buttons.

Cuff Links: A History of Style

Tie tacs and tie clips are more common. They keep a long business tie from falling into a fellow's coffee or soup. They can easily be made to match cuff links by gluing matching cabochons onto tie tac or tie clip findings.

History Timeline of Cuff Links

Early 1600s: Towards the end of the Renaissance period, primitive cuff links are rare and used for holding a shirt cuff together as an alternative to ribbon or lace. The links are simple; a small chain connecting two metal buttons.

Mid-1600s: King Louis XIV of France, famously called "The Sun King," is seen dressed in shirts sleeves secured together with buttons. Often these buttons are made of metal (and sometimes glass), connected by a short length of narrow chain.

1684: London Gazette newspaper references a pair of diamond cuff buttons in public print.

1715: Cuff decorations featuring specialty jewels or diamonds surpass the simplicity of a glass shirt button.

1840s: Shirts with French cuffs are popularized, demanding the need for more sophisticated cuff links.

1880s: As the United States recuperates from the Civil War, American George Krementz patents a device based on a gun shell-fabricating machine to mass produce buttons and cuff links. This gives cuff links the ability to be sold without limitations.

1920s: Jewelers of the roaring twenties invent the "t-post" with a "flip hinge," creating a modern fashion innovation while further populating the functionality of the cuff link.

1930s-1950s: In an effort to conserve resources throughout the Great Depression and WWII, general manufacturers like Swank, Anson and Hickok produce millions of inexpensive cuff links in customary styles, making them available to a range of men regardless of social status.

1950s: A necessary accessory among business men and politicians, cuff links are seen throughout movies and TV, even depicted in Disney's animated film Peter Pan when Michael used his father's gold cuff links as buried treasure.

1960s: Cuff links soar in popularity. Double-sided cuff links become the "norm" as wearing cuff links that clip on one side suggests an individual could only afford the decorative design on the outside.

1962: Sean Connery, as the suave James Bond, enters the silver screen making his character the poster boy for well-tailored suits with "must-have" cuff links.

1970s: The functionality of shirt buttons surpasses cuff links in popularity of men's fashion. Cuff links as a fashion trend experience a lull in popularity.

1990s: Men begin returning to the cuff link as a true form of jewelry art. The cuff link is often seen at business meetings, social gatherings and black tie affairs. Women also begin to popularize the cuff link supporting creative designs in women's fashion.

2000s: Award-winning television shows like ''Mad Men'' and ''Boardwalk Empire'' publicize vintage and retro-fashion references--including the popularity of mainstream cuff links. Celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Justin Timberlake, Patrick Dempsey, Johnny Depp and others catch the public eye while showcasing cuff links.

2010s: Hi-tech metals combine with trends toward hand-crafted individuality and a yearning for historical styles inspire the current life of cuff links. With the approaching centenary of the "Roaring '20s" comes an increased interest in 1920s fashion--for the men.

The newest generation develops a strong interest in cuff link styles that go far beyond the traditional. From celebrities to blue-collared Americans, cuff links continue to grow in popularity and are readily available in a wide range of prices and styles from chic to geek and sophisticated to novelty.

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