A brief history of the cufflink
It is often suggested that the origin of the cufflink can be traced back to the humble button, or lapel, used to decorate the coats of the British and French aristocracy. While a correlation to buttons can be made, the fact is, the history of the cufflink is as diverse as the men that wore them.
The earliest use of buttons as fasteners for shirts can be traced back as early as the 13th Century, and during the Renaissance, the popularity of buttons with the wealthy gained momentum as stitched buttonholes on shirts became fashionable. Yet, despite the wide use of buttons on jackets and coats, the attachment of a button to the cuff of a shirt (a cufflink) is not widely believed to have occurred until the early 16th Century.
Up until that time, the shirt itself was considered to be an undergarment (much like underpants are for us today) and the cuffs of the shirt were tied to the wrists by small lengths of material known as ‘cuff strings’ and hidden from view.
This all changed during the reigns of King Charles II of England and Louis XIV of France in the early-mid 16th Century, when the avant-guard aristocracy of the time no longer considered the visible presence of the ruffled sleeves of a shirt a fashion faux-pas. Shirt cuffs were no longer fastened by cuff strings but rather boutons de manchette, or "sleeve buttons,” which were adorned with precious metals and jewels.
Indeed, the first written reference to a cufflink was in 1684, when the London Gazette newspaper mentioned a matching pair of diamond and gold cufflinks, joined together by a chain link. By 1715, the simple cufflink designs, which were primarily constructed of paste-glass, had evolved into decoratively painted or jewelled studs, typically diamonds connected by ornate gold links.
Naturally, such precious materials were reserved only for the wealthy and the cufflink soon became a marker of wealth and status for a gentleman. Cufflinks were often presented as a gift to a groom on his wedding day (a tradition that still survives today) and were often monogrammed or adorned with a family crest. Cufflinks became important family heirlooms for generations.
That said, the exclusive use of cufflinks by the aristocracy meant that for the average British and French male, continued to be use cuff strings right up until the 19th Century, when the Industrial Revolution made the manufacture the cufflink more affordable.
Over the years, the original form of the cufflink has evolved to suit the changing tastes and fashion of the times. In many ways, the ever-changing appearance of the cufflink provides a snapshot of men’s fashion throughout the last 400 years. The linked chains of the sleeve buttons were replaced with rods and fasteners with easy-to-close-clips during the Industrial Revolution, while shirts themselves underwent a transformation to accommodate to growing popularity of the cufflink. Such examples would be the “French Cuff” and the “Barrel.”
By the 20th Century, the appearance of cufflinks was expected amongst gentlemen, especially on formal occasions. Jewellery designers in the 1920’s invented the T-post cufflink and flip hinge cufflink, followed by the Snap-together cufflinks.
Today, the cufflink is a symbol of individuality. They mark a male who is not only professional and sophisticated but also playful. Novelty cufflinks such as those sold by www.tiesncuffs.com.au are some of the most popular gift items for males today and can still make a statement akin to those aristocratic gentlemen of old.