Cufflinks: A History
Cufflinks have been an element of men's fashion for centuries, and their development has been closely related to the development of the men's shirt.
Royal families have been using sleeve buttons to mark special events for around 1,000 years, and there are even depictions of primitive cufflinks being used in King Tutankhamun's tomb seen in ancient Egyptian paintings. But cufflinks closer to what we know them to be today first appeared towards the end of the Renaissance period, and they did not become common until the end of the 18th century.
Today's generation has developed a strong interest in cufflink styles that go beyond the traditional. From celebrities to blue-collared Americans, cufflinks are continuing to grow in popularity and can be found in a wide range of prices and styles.
Cufflinks in the 1600s
After the Middle Ages, shirts developed in such a way that the visible areas, such as the neck, chest and wrists, could be decorated with elements such as frills, ruffs and embroidery. As such, primitive cuff links became an alternative to ribbon or lace as a way of holding a shirt cuff together. The links were very simple, just a small chain fastened to the end of a metal button – and at this time, they were rare.
Around the middle of the century, King Louis XIV of France was seen dressed in shirt sleeves fastened together with buttons, often made of metal but sometimes glass, that were connected by a small chain.
In 1684 a reference to cufflinks was made in print for the first time – in the London Gazette newspaper, which mentioned a pair of diamond cuff buttons.
Cufflinks in the 1700s
During this era, cufflinks became an integral part of a wealthy man's wardrobe and were important status symbols for rich aristocrats.
They had also gone beyond the simplicity of a glass shirt button, and were now being made in gold and silver and set with diamonds or other special jewels.
Cufflinks in the 1800s
Men's shirts continued to develop, and French cuffs became popular. Many historians cite the significance of Alexandre Dumas' famous book The Count of Monte Cristo, in which a character called Baron Danglars sports enormous diamonds on his shirt cuffs which causes great envy in others. It is believed that French tailors were inspired by this character in their creation of the classic turned-back French cuff, and wanted to outfit French society with the same sort of decoration. As a result, there became a greater need for more sophisticated cufflinks.
As the century progressed, a cuffed shirt and set of signature cufflinks became a characteristic mark of a true, modern gentleman – and cufflinks were now appearing at the wrists of men outside of the immediate aristocracy. Some middle class gentleman would even make their own cufflinks from fake diamonds and foil.
As the United States was recuperating from the Civil War towards the end of the century, American George Krementz created a device inspired by a gun shell-fabricating machine, which could mass produce buttons and cufflinks from stainless steel. This presented a huge opportunity for men's fashion, as it meant cufflinks could now be sold without limitations. A cufflinks craze came about in the US, and companies would give them as gifts to their clients.
Cufflinks in the early-1900s
The popularity of cufflinks continued to increase during the 'roaring twenties', as jewellers invented modern t-post and flip-hinged designs – and snap-together cufflinks followed in the 1930s.
In an effort to conserve resources during the Great Depression and WWII, manufacturing companies like Swank, Anson and Hickok produced millions of inexpensive cuff links in customary styles. This meant they were widely available between 1930 and 1950, and as such they began to be used by a wider range of men of all social statuses.
Cufflinks in the late-1900s
By the 1950s, cufflinks had become an essential accessory for businessmen and politicians. They were also seen in television and movies, including Disney's Peter Pan in which Michael uses his father's gold cufflinks as a buried treasure.
Cufflinks soared in popularity in the 1960s, especially double-sided varieties. Wearing those that clipped onto one side of the cuff was seen to represent that the person could only afford to have a decorative design on the outside. Sean Connery became the poster boy for well-tailored suits and essential cufflinks following his role as James Bond, and the popularity of the accessory hit its peak.
In the 1970s, cufflinks dipped in popularity as people opted for more functional shirt buttons.
But they returned to popularity in the 1990s, and it was then that they really became integrated into the jewelry market, commonly worn at business meetings and black-tie events. Cufflinks were also being designed for and worn by women.
The 2000s to today
Award-winning TV shows like Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men publicized vintage fashion including the popularity of cufflinks. Significant attention has been drawn to celebrities like Brad Pitt, Patrick Dempsey, Justin Timberlake and Johnny Depp for the showcasing of cufflinks.
Cufflinks are no longer just for the high society – but whether they're a special set passed down from a grandfather or a set that was bought to transform the look of a suit, it's still seen to be a sign of a discerning gentleman.