Shirt studs are decorative fasteners that fit onto buttonholes on the front of a pleated shirt. Fashioned from alloys, precious metals and gemstones, they can also fit onto the starched bib of a stiff-front shirt.
Modern dress code reserves studs as formal wear, for white and black tie occasions. They normally comes in sets of three or four.
The history of shirt studs is closely connected to that of cufflinks and begins in the mid-1800s, when men's jewelry trends were largely born out of practical necessity.
An American fashion manual during the Victorian era is actually quoted as saying, “no jewelry whatsoever is used except that which has a direct purpose and is kept as simple as possible.” And shirt studs were required due to the advent of starched shirt fronts which were difficult to button up. In line with Victorian simplicity, early studs often had simple gold designs – but some were also available in diamond, black pearl, amethyst and opal.
During the 1930s, full-dress jewelry trends began to change with pearl shirt studs becoming more prevalent. Coloured stones also became more popular, and shirt stud variations began to include enamel, rock crystal and mother-of-pearl.
By the mid-1960s, pearl and mother-of-pearl had become the norm for white tie, but black-tie shirt studs remained very wide-ranging.
Shirt studs are popular accessories used for decorating formal shirts worn with tuxedos, many of which have specially-designed stud holes.
Each stud is fed through the back stud hole, then through the front button hole on a formal shirt, which secures the shirt front closed.
Studs are more important when a bow tie is worn, because a windsor tie might cover most of the button holes anyway. White tie dress normally requires studs in pearl set in gold or silver, but black onyx inlay is also acceptable. For black tie, studs are normally onyx set in either silver or gold.
Shirt studs have been used consistently in mens formal wear since the mid-1800s, with heavily starched full-dress shirts.
The accessories are seen as essential additions for white tie dress, and optional for black tie, but in both cases they allow men to add personality to formal attire.