Cufflinks have traditionally been thought of as a functional button substitute on the ever-confounding French cuff shirt worn only in formal situations. But these once-bourgeois pieces of hardware are now easily the everyman’s accessory.
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Whether playful and bold or classic and understated, there is a cufflink for every occasion. More precisely, there is a cufflink for no occasion at all.
What Are Cufflink Shirts Called?
Can you just wear cufflinks with any old dress shirt? No. First, you need to find a French cuff shirt. While these used to only be available on a standard white tuxedo shirt, French cuffs can now be found on almost every type of button-down out there.
Even better, any tailor can easily (and inexpensively) change the cuffs on your favorite shirt into a French cuff in order to give you the cufflink option without needing to change your wardrobe.
How to Wear Cufflinks Without French Cuffs
Or, with a regular shirt, if you will. Whether you’re picturing a traditional stiff collar for the office or have a casual-leaning button-down on the mind, the end result is all the same: You’ve got to eliminate the buttons and ideally create a double cuff.
Many have this professionally done by a tailor, who may remove the buttonhole, reverse the cuff, and create a new opening for your cufflinks. Or, if you have the sewing skills:
1. Select a shirt featuring longer-than-average sleeves. You should be able to fold the cuff up once and have the ends still hit your natural wrist.
2. Use a marker or pen to create a line right below the existing button. This should line up with the existing buttonhole.
3. Sew a backstitch around each line, going along the edges and never across. It should look rectangular once you are done.
4. Cut through each traced buttonhole. Your cuffs should now have three new buttonholes, in addition to the existing one.
5. Consider re-stitching the area to avoid fraying in the future.
What Are the Best Cufflinks for Me?
Stepping into the sea of these accessories can be completely overwhelming — so many choices! What do I look for? How do I know if it is junk or good quality? Have no fear – no matter what your budget, you can dip your toe in and start with a few basics until you are ready to branch out.
First, a set of silk knots. These are small, lightweight fabric cufflinks usually sold in sets with two or three different colors for around $20. They provide a little pop of color and they are super easy to put on.
Next, a pair of classic, heirloom-quality cufflinks. Depending on your budget, these can be anywhere from $75 to several thousand dollars based on the material you chose.
Whether you decide on a monogrammed set or just a classic beveled shape, the key is to get a pair that is made from fine metal, like gold or silver, and not an easily tarnished base metal. This ensures they will last for generations if you wanted to pass them along.
Lastly, buy a set of cufflinks that are just for fun. Maybe deep down you never outgrew your superhero phase, or you still love to play with LEGOS (even though you claim you buy them for your kids) — go ahead and show a little personality on your wrist. If they flash out from a sport coat sleeve or spark a conversation, they should be uniquely you.
How to Put on Cufflinks
Years ago, a valet might’ve fastened a man’s set of cufflinks. For the past few decades, that responsibility has squarely been on the wearer. Unfortunately, you can’t just add a pair before putting your arm through the shirt’s sleeve; if you do, the fit’s too loose.
On a very general level, cufflinks are worn with French cuffs – or, more specifically, shirts that have a double, folded-over cuff with no buttons. Within this setup, the cufflink passes through all sets of holes – four, in this case – and is fastened on the other end with a toggle, so it’s fixed and stays in place. Be sure to keep the post facing outwards.
Yet, fastening varies by the type of cufflink used:
T-Bar, Stud, and Whale Cufflinks
The most common type of cufflink, these styles all have a flat head, a straight post, and a larger-sized toggle that’s easy to secure. Some variations exist – for instance, bullet cufflinks have a hollow post, while whale cufflinks feature a tail-like flipping mechanism – but the application shares several commonalities. Among them, the post is easily seen and can come across as “cheap” – much like wearing a clip-on tie to a formal event.
While all you have to do is slide the post through the cuff’s holes, be sure to angle the post downward, so it doesn’t slide up and through.
Fixed Bar Cufflinks
While the concept seems similar to a T-bar set, these feature decorative elements on both sides. Application, too, is nearly the same, but has a few differences:
1. Hold the larger, more decorative end as you push the post through the holes.
2. Then, push the smaller end from the top down to secure the set.
Chain, Ball Return, and Knot Cufflinks
A style popular in the 1930s, chain cufflinks aren’t entirely fixed. Rather, the outsides feature two decorative elements, and in between, a chain passes through your cuffs. The result is a bit looser, but the design itself poses a few more challenges than a T-bar or fixed pair.
For a couple of variations, ball return and knot cufflinks utilize similar configurations. The former is distinguished by a curved post supporting a decorative head on one size and a small-yet-substantial ball on the other. Knot cufflinks, meanwhile, typically have silk or other fabric rope in between two knot-shaped heads.
In all cases:
1. Start by holding the small end, before slipping it through a buttonhole. Then, pull the chain all the way through the pair.
2. Then, go across the cuff, and pull the chain through the next pair of buttonholes, leading with the small end.
Usually made out of enamel-plated metal, these cufflinks have large, identical faces on both sides, which pose a challenge when you’re putting on a set. With this type:
1. Place a single cufflink right in the middle of your cuff.
2. Put one side through the set of buttonholes, pressing firmly as you do. Then, do the other side. If the face is too large, consider going one buttonhole at a time.
Another retro style – this time, favored from the ‘30s through the ‘50s – these cufflinks can be placed on before you slip your hand through the cuff. With this pair:
1. Put the face and post through both sets of buttonholes – but don’t fully secure it. Do this for both cuffs.
2. Carefully slip your hands through each cuff, so the post doesn’t fall out.
3. Once your hands are all the way through, snap the toggle on to the post to secure it in place.
Also called “locking” cufflinks, this set has an opening similar to a watchband’s closure. Instead of a post and toggle, the cufflink swings open. From here:
1. Slip the smaller end through both sets of buttonholes.
2. Close the cufflink to secure both sides together below the face.
When to Wear Cufflinks
For Formal Occasions
Whether for an event that calls for black or white tie or a strict business dress environment, cufflinks are a quintessential part of formalwear – especially if you’ll be showing up in a tuxedo. Traditionally, you would sport them with French or single-barrel cuffs, with the cuff’s edges curving outward once the pair have been fastened.
Such occasions call for a classic or neutral pair: smooth or square in design, made with a metal or – in very upscale cases – mother of pearl. Because you’re keeping things classic, avoid any loud, detailed, or otherwise statement face shapes.
For Casual Occasions
Here’s where the fun shapes, knots, and chains come into play. As men’s jewelry – cufflinks included – continues to expand, add some panache to your wrists that don’t involve a watch or braided leather bracelet. Start with these ideas:
1. Cufflinks and Shorts
This unlikely pairing is a favorite for summer and when the season’s right, why not give it a shot? Throw on your favorite summer-weight gingham plaid button-down and a pair of nice plain front shorts, and done.
Dare I say even keep your shirt untucked while sporting the cufflinks?! I promise no fashion police will arrest you.
2. Cufflinks and Jeans
The mix of casual and formal is a favorite of hipsters everywhere and good for any time of year.
Whether you are headed to dinner with friends or grabbing a drink on a first date, this look is perfectly balanced and versatile no matter what the day (or night) has in store.
3. Cufflinks and a Sports Coat
As we head into the more business casual territory, cufflinks with a sports coat give you a chance to stand out in an otherwise unremarkable area of dress.
So, take those fun cufflinks for a spin and use them as a conversation starter at a dreaded company mixer. Or, keep it more traditional and bring a pop of color to the basic blue blazer with some silk knot cufflinks.
Cufflinks and Suit
Of course, this one is the most obvious, but this is where you should challenge yourself to not fall into the same old boring routine of formality. Skip the tie with your suit and make your cufflinks the star accessory.
Change out the standard plain white shirt for one with a great pattern or texture (and of course French cuffs) and keep it classic with the heirloom quality cufflinks.
Now that you are armed with your new knowledge (and accessories), go forth and spread the good word: cufflinks are for everyone.
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After completing her BFA at Syracuse University, Maressa Tosto Merwarth began working at a small fine jewelry manufacturer and later earned her MFA in metals from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Drawn to commonplace shapes and materials and inspired by nature and architecture, the designer stretched her creativity to imagine hidden stories in her designs.
After several years in the industry, Merwarth formed her own company, Mari Tome, to focus on custom, unique design and her art-based jewelry line.