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The History of the Cufflink

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The practical challenge of how to get one's hands through one's shirtsleeves without the sleeves being ridiculously wide at the cuff has been the cause of a fascinating array of accoutrements. Until the demise of the waistcoat in the mid 20th century, the shirt was treated as an undergarment, with very little of it actually showing - but where exposed it was ornamented: with the stock, cravat or tie at the neck, and at the wrist with various types of fastening.

Before the 17th century development of what we now call the cufflink, sleeves were simply tied at the cuff by ribbon. But an interesting precursor of the cufflink comes from the graves of our Germanic ancestors, who migrated to these shores in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. They made much use of decorated jewellery, both for the purposes of show and function. In eastern England, we find a particular item known as a "wrist-clasp": pairs of these, usually in gilded bronze with ornamental design, were sewn to cuffs and clipped together so as to hold the folds of the sleeve tight. However, these ancient symbols of civility were not worn by Anglo-Saxon gentlemen but by the ladies, who can thus take credit for starting a trend which in later centuries has come to embody gentlemanly style.

The introduction of the French cuff in the mid 1600's moved the cufflink from the realm of practicality to personal adornment, as royalty commonly wore these decorated cuff fasteners. In the late 1700s, new link styles appeared and were soon adopted by the middle classes and tradesmen. By the 1840s cufflinks were usually found in the form of gold, silver, or pearl buttons held together by a brass chain.

During the Industrial Revolution, the development of precious metal electroplating allowed the masses to adorn their cuffs in a way that had formerly been beyond their means. In America during the 1880s, when removable starched cuffs and collars were introduced, George Krementz patented a device adapted from a Civil War cartridge shell-making machine that produced one-piece collar buttons and cufflinks. Almost every major business during the first half of the twentieth century commissioned cufflinks either for advertising purposes or as gift incentives for employees or executives.

The Roaring 20s were probably the height of cuff-link invention. Manufacturers created a variety of devices and designs to do one simple thing: permit a fellow to insert and remove his cufflinks with a minimum of difficulty and a maximum of security. In the 1950s, the "stirrup" link enjoyed some popularity - a curved bar encompassing the cuff from one side to the other. Later, the solid T-bar link was devised, still the most popular method in use today.