Think about it – when else can a man wear a piece of jewelry that's both functional and ornamental?
Never tried them?
You're missing out – try them and you'll get compliments from people who notice the details.
But FIRST – you have to know how to wear them and understand the various cufflink types/materials/styles so you don't buy junk but instead invest in future heirlooms you can pass onto your kids!
Cufflinks might be traditionally associated with men's semiformal evening wear (the tuxedo ensemble), but the versatile little fasteners can fill a surprising range of wardrobe roles.
So long as you've got a long-sleeved shirt with the requisite holes in the cuff, you can work cufflinks into just about any outfit.
What Are Cufflinks?
Cufflinks are tools for fastening shirt cuffs closed.
They're an alternative to the buttons that are commonly sewn onto shirt cuffs. The defining feature is that cufflinks are separate objects: sew it onto the shirt and it's a button, but if it's fully removable it's a cufflink.
Just like buttons, cufflinks come in many shapes, sizes, styles, and materials. They usually offer a little more contrast than a button, and are considered a more ornamental option, but they're not inherently more or less formal.
A cufflink fastens a shirt by sliding through holes on either side of the cuff opening, then swinging into a locked or fixed position to hold the sides together.
The most common cufflink consists of a large head or “insert member” with a decorative front face, a post that extends from the back of the head, and a hinged toggle that swings out from the post to fasten the link.
These are fastened by setting the toggle in its closed position, so that there is a straight post descending from the underside of the head.
The post slides through the holes on both sides of the cuffs, and then the toggle is swung outward to prevent the post from sliding back out.
That holds the cufflink in place, with the front face of the insert member placed decoratively atop the buttonholes.
Types of Cufflinks
There are dozens of variations on the basic theme of the hinged cufflink, and several other mechanical alternatives as well. Here are some of the most common types of cufflinks:
- Whale Back Cufflinks have a flat head, a straight post, and a “whale tail” that flips completely flat against the post. They are very simple, and their large post and closing mechanism make them easy to use. This is probably the most common type of cufflink on the market.
- Bullet Back Cufflinks are quite similar to whale tail cufflinks, but the post is a hollow frame, and the closing mechanism is a narrow cylinder of metal that nests inside the frame. To lock the links in place, the cylinder is flipped outward, leaving the frame in place as the post.
- Stud or Button Style Cufflinks have no hinge mechanism. Instead, they have a large head, a straight post, and a smaller, interior head or backing. The smaller head is tilted, worked through the button hole, and then straightened out to lock it in place. Once in place, they are quite secure, and the lack of moving parts makes them very durable.
- Chain Link Cufflinks have two heads (usually identical) connected by a short length of fine chain. This creates a slightly looser fastening than other styles, with visible decoration on both sides of the closed buttonholes.
- Ball Return Cufflinks have a curved post with a small, heavy ball opposite the decorative head. They provide a slightly looser fastening than hinged cufflinks, but a slightly tighter one than chain. They can be expensive when made in precious metals, as the size and weight of the ball adds considerably to the material cost of the item.
- Locking Dual-Action Cufflinks use a hinge mechanism similar to the closure of a metal watchband. The entire post is the hinge: the cufflink swings open, the smaller end is slipped through the opening, and then the cufflink is swung shut once more, clipping the sides of the cuff together underneath the head. This is a contemporary style, and after a short learning curve is one of the easiest to use and most secure styles available. Want to grab a pair of quality locking cufflinks that I have personally tested and approve of?
- Knot Cufflinks are similar to chain link, with two heads connected by a short, flexible length, but they are made of soft cord (usually silk) rather than metal, and the heads are decorative knots. The irregular surface of the knotwork makes this a more casual style, particularly when multiple colors are involved.
- Fabric Cufflinks can be almost any fastener style, but have a fabric “button” on top as the ornamental face. They are a deliberately casual style
Cufflinks can be made of almost anything, and ornamented with everything from precious stones to repurposed novelty junk. Gold, silver, and platinum are obvious favorites, especially for cufflinks that have no other decorative materials, and that rely on the quality of their metal alone for aesthetic value.
Other popular materials include:
- Carbon fiber – a strong, contemporary material with a sleek, silvery surface that can easily be colored during the manufacturing process. Very popular and very common for all-metal cufflinks, especially in modern designs.
- Crystal – a versatile and common choice for sparkling cufflinks, available in almost any color, shape, and size imaginable.
- Enamel – a popular material for adding colored or black gloss atop a metal surface, made from fused, powdered glass. It creates a smooth, shiny surface, and is quite durable, although it can chip if struck against a hard surface.
- Glass – versatile and affordable, with many coloring options. Colored glass is often casual, but it varies considerably depending on the design.
- Gunmetal – an alloy of copper, zinc, and tin that produces a dark, glossy metal. Masculine and contemporary.
- Mother-of-pearl – a pale, glossy material sourced from seashells. This is the same material used to make high-quality shirt buttons, so cufflinks made from it can closely resemble shirt buttons. Commonly seen on the cufflinks for formal and semiformal outfits.
- Onyx – a crystalline form of quartz available in many shades, including white, purple, blue, and black. Often used as the black material in formalwear cufflinks.
- Precious stones – anything from diamonds, rubies, and emeralds to citrine and opal. Obviously a high-end option, with styles ranging from austere and simple to downright gaudy.
- Rose gold – an alloy of gold and copper that produces a reddish-tinted metal.
- Silk – the most common option for cord and knot cufflinks. Less formal than metal and stone.
- Stainless steel – a simple, practical, and durable option, suitable for business and casual wear.
- Sterling silver – bright and reflective, with more shine than stainless steel or carbon fiber.
- Titanium – a very strong, durable option with a low-gloss gray color. More reserved than stainless steel or sterling silver. Because of its durability, it is popular for cufflinks with fine engraved and etched detailing that would wear down quickly in a softer metal.
When to Wear Cufflinks
The most recognizable role for cufflinks is as the formal and semiformal alternative to buttons. If you're wearing a suit with a white tie or black tie outfit properly, it will have links at the cuffs (and often studs instead of buttons on the shirtfront as well).
That's hardly the extent of their wardrobe functionality, however. Shirts ranging from plain white business dress to colorful and casual options come with French cuffs, or with single cuffs with holes on each side rather than a button and a buttonhole. Furthermore, tailors can easily convert any shirt with a basic button-and-buttonhole arrangement into one that takes cufflinks, simply by removing the button and inserting a small buttonhole in its place.
That means you can – if you want to – wear cufflinks with everything from your best business shirt to a ratty flannel work shirt. And yes, some people are doing the latter – never underestimate the contemporary hipster's love for mixing high fashion with low.
Practically speaking, most men will wear cufflinks in business and relatively formal social settings, as an accent to a suit-and-tie ensemble. That said, more relaxed links are perfectly acceptable with a sports jacket, and can add an air of playfulness that simple buttons don't provide.
In conclusion – there are no hard and fast rules. Wear cufflinks when you want to wear cufflinks. The only limits are your collection of suitable shirts – and, of course, your budget.