The History of the Cufflink

Posted on May 05, 2016 by Mary Hood | 0 Comments

The history of the cufflink can be traced along the development of the men's shirt. | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Blog

Barbara Michelle Jacobs Floral Cufflinks in Recycled Sterling Silver, inspired by the center of a tulip.
Although cufflinks (or “sleeve buttons”) came into existence in Europe sometime in the 1600s, it wasn’t until the 18th century that they became a more common accessory. (Ancient Egyptian art suggests that the concept cufflink may be even older, however.) The development of the cufflink may be traced against that of the men’s shirt.

During the middle ages, a man’s fine shirt was often a canvas for decorative embellishments, including ruffles, frills, and embroidery. Especially ornamented shirts were reserved for appearances in royal court until the end of the 18th century. Meanwhile, simpler shirts were worn for everyday occasions. On either style of shirt, the neck opening of might be held together with ribbon—a precursor of the necktie. Cuffs were often held together by ribbons, too, or secured with buttons.

The 19th century witness the industrial revolution in Europe, and the frills of royal court-inspired style were replaced with a more functional, conventional wardrobe fit for a bourgeois lifestyle. The fabric of men’s shirts during this time was typically sturdier and often starched, making it difficult to secure the cuffs with a simple button. Enter the cufflink. Since these could now be mass-produced, they were widely available at a variety of price points and were a staple in the wardrobes of the emerging middle class.

During the 19th century, wealthy gentlemen sometimes wore cufflinks with colorful gemstones as markers of status. The Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, popularized fabergé cufflinks. Royal families sometimes commissioned cufflinks for weddings and other special occasions.

The History of the Cufflink | BMJ Blog 
Fabergé jewelled gold and enamel cufflinks, workmaster August Hollming, St Petersburg, 1908-1917

The popularity of cufflinks continued into the 20th century. By this time, cufflinks were produced in every style imaginable—from colorful and bejeweled or enameled to modest or geometric. The 1900s also witness the development of less starchy shirts whose cuffs could be secured with simple buttons, making cufflinks purely optional. Pforzheim and Idar-Oberstein were both notable cufflink producers of the early 1900s; their products are now valued as collectibles.

 The History of the Cufflink | BMJ Blog
Cufflinks made by Victor Mayer, Pforzheim, in the 1930s

Post-WWII, sportier styles of dressing meant a decline in the popularity of cufflinks—but not for too long. Traditional men’s fashion made a revival, and cufflinks continue to serve as an optional but classy embellishment in professional menswear.

Despite the fact that cufflinks are no longer needed for practical purposes, the centuries-old tradition of cufflinks still linger. As the men’s style experts at Wingtip explain, “it's sometimes said that a man should never buy his own cufflinks, but that they should always be gifts meant to mark an occasion. This is surely a custom that harkens back to the cufflink's medieval history, to the time when they were made almost exclusively as items meant to commemorate royal affairs.” Although, men sometimes purchase cufflinks to suit their more casual, everyday professional wear, gifted cufflinks or those inherited from loved ones still hold special value.

 The History of the Cufflink | BMJ Blog

Barbara Michelle Jacobs Branch Cufflinks, directly cast from nature.
Cufflinks made from shekels (coins from Israel). | Barbara Michelle Jacobs
Barbara Michelle Jacobs cufflinks made from shekels (coins from Israel)


Photo: Barbara Michelle Jacobs, Sotheby’s, Wikipedia Commons,

Posted in cufflinks, men's fashion, men's jewelry, style, trends, vintage



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