Here is everything you need to know about cufflinks, from their history to their numerous types and how to wear them.
Cufflinks are the accessory that most complements the outfit, be it an elegant three-piece suit, a wedding tux, or a casual day-to-day outfit.
And they’re not a modern invention, either. Cufflinks have been around since before the Industrial Revolution. And although there was a time when they were more commonly worn than today, we wouldn’t necessarily call them “old fashioned”.
Nowadays, cufflinks are as essential in men’s fashion as ever. But for young men without much experience with the innings of formality, the idea of picking and wearing a cufflink might sound intimidating.
What Are Cufflinks?
In terms of functionality, a cufflink is a small piece of jewellery that closes shirt cuffs instead of the simple buttons typically sewn into shirt cuffs themselves. And, unlike shirt studs, They’re easily removable, so you can mix and match your cufflinks and shirts however you like.
However, a pair of cufflinks is more than a functional tool to fasten your shirt cuff. Over the years, they’ve developed into a symbol for men’s fashion, a subtle but chic point of attraction in any outfit.
The History of Cufflinks
Cufflinks are an optional piece of jewellery nowadays, and many people view wearing cufflinks as a posh move. But they were actually invented in the 17th century to make closing shirts easier in a time when sewn buttons weren’t prevalent.
Over time people began wearing cufflinks as a decorative detailing, and many upper-class gentlemen had even had their cufflinks custom designed. Wearing cufflinks then became so popular that they were no longer exclusive to formal events as men began wearing more casual cufflinks in their day-to-day lives.
Today, cufflinks continue to be used in important galas, black-tie events, corporate settings, weddings, and casual occasions.
Some companies even have custom design cufflinks made as a subtle form of branding. The custom cufflinks are presented to business partners as gifts or worn by employees as a sign that they are a key member of the company.
The Anatomy of a Cufflink
To figure out how to wear cufflinks, you need to know how they work. So here’s a detailed explanation of the individual parts and how they’re fixed together.
The face is the most prominent part of the cufflink. It’s the part that’s visible from the shirt’s cuff, so it’s what most people focus on when making a purchasing decision.
And there’s a lot to choose from; cufflink faces come in countless designs and can be made of glass, metals, stones, gems, leather, or even a combination of those.
As such, there are many factors to consider when deciding on the cufflink face you’ll be wearing, from your preferred fashion style to the formality of the occasion you’ll be attending and whether you want to use the cufflinks as a personal branding tool.
The back is what keeps the cufflink fastened, and although it’s not as prominent as the face, designers don’t neglect their design. Many cufflink backs feature intricate designs, especially in chain-link and fixed-back cufflinks.
Moreover, designers put a lot of effort into the back’s functionality to offer a suitable locking mechanism. After all, no one wants to spend their entire day trying to figure out how to wear a pair of cufflinks only to have them detached at the slightest move.
Besides, different backings cater to different occasions, budget points, and their mechanisms affect how fast you can put them on. Nowadays, many cufflink back locking mechanisms exist, such as the toggle, coil, or ball return, and each has its own pros and cons.
The part connecting the face to the back has names, such as the post, the connector, the chain, the bar, the bridge, the link, and more.
And while there are some slight differences between different types of posts, they’re all very similar in the sense that they’re a single piece of material that keeps the face and back attached firmly.
Types of Cufflinks
As we said earlier, cufflinks come in various forms, so let’s explore some of the most common ones in this section.
Bullet Back Cufflinks
Bullet backs are the most common type of cufflinks out there due to their ease of use and high aesthetic potential.
Bullet back cufflinks feature a narrow cylinder bullet-shaped clip on the back attached to the cufflink’s bridge. The bridge typically consists of two posts that hold the bullet and the face base between them.
The bullet rod rotates 90 degrees for easy fastening and security. If you want to put on a bullet back cufflink, you simply turn the bullet vertically to pass it through the cufflink holes then flatten it back to a horizontal position to secure the cufflink in its place.
Whale Back Cufflinks
Whale back cufflinks are another very popular type of cufflinks because, much like bullet backs, they’re fairly easy to use. Not to mention, they look very good, just as a simple metal cufflink, let alone with a fancy design.
The whale back’s post is a simple one-piece bridge that attaches the back to the face, while the back is whale-tail-shaped and can rotate 90 degrees relative to the post on which it’s attached.
In whale back cufflinks, the clasp flips to open when it’s near perpendicular to the post and snaps shut when it’s parallel. This makes the whale back very similar to the bullet back.
In addition, since its face can be anything from a solid metal design to an intricate engraving or a precious stone, you can probably get one no matter what your budget is.
Chain Link Cufflinks
Chain links are characterised by their loose and flexible bridge that connects two pieces that often look identical and can be interchangeably used as heads and backs, though sometimes the back is a bit smaller to facilitate wearing.
Sometimes, though, one of these two pieces has carvings or ornaments, which distinguishes it as the face and its counterpart as the back. But more often than not, both ends are decorated identically.
Many people regard chain link cufflinks as one of the most elegant types since their unique dual design means they always look attractive from all angles.
Fixed Back Cufflinks
Fixed back (or backing) cufflinks are among the most static cufflinks you’ll see since they have no dynamic or moving parts that fit together for you to customise.
Instead, fixed backing cufflinks simply slide through the cuff hole, and that’s pretty much it! The advantage to this is that you don’t have to make many adjustments; you just put them on.
They’re also less intimidating to put on than chain links, which makes them a popular beginner-friendly choice for those learning how to wear cufflinks.
Fixed backing cufflinks also typically have a large front face and a small back shaped like a cone so that it goes through the hole quickly and secures itself behind the fabric of your shirt’s cuff.
And just like chain links, fixed backs typically spot the same decoration on the face and back, making them a natural eye-catching piece.
Enamel cufflinks have a similar post to chain links. However, they stand out for the way they’re made, which is by enamelling the design on precious metals. Sterling silver enamel cufflinks are particularly popular nowadays.
Typically, both sides on an enamel cufflink are identical in size and design, which is another selling point for this type since it looks beautiful from all sides.
Ball Return Cufflinks
A ball return cufflink features some eccentric mechanisms that make it more advanced than other types.
Most ball returns are a modification to the fixed back cufflink. Anatomically, both are the same, with two different-sized sides and a bridge.
However, ball return links have a curved cufflink post that allows easy insertion and removal of the jewellery. And, in some rare instances, ball returns use a chain linking bridge instead of a fixed post.
In terms of tightness, ball return links are a slightly looser fit than fixed back cufflinks but tighter than their chain-link counterparts. So, they’d be a great way of testing out whether you prefer tight or loose cufflinks.
The decorative head, which is often ball-shaped, is typically made of precious stones like onyx or metals like titanium, making ball return cufflinks a relatively pricey choice of cufflinks.
So, if you’re new to the cufflink world and are still learning your preferences and how to wear cufflinks, we’d say wait a bit before you graduate to this type.
Locking Dual Action Cufflinks
Locking Cufflinks has one of the most modern back locking mechanisms in the cufflink industry, which works via a clasp that shuts like a metal wristwatch.
The back and post are similar in locking cufflinks since they’re both integrated and function as the clasp.
When the clasp is open, you slip the smaller head of the cufflink through the cuff hole, then clip both pieces shut by swinging them together.
This locking mechanism is intelligent and contemporary and is amongst the most secure backs you’ll find on a cufflink.
Moreover, many locking cufflinks are identical, or at least have some form of decoration on both sides, making your cuff look interesting either way you look.
Silk Knot Cufflinks
Silk knot cufflinks are similar to chain links, except they’re made entirely of a piece of fabric, typically silk or something similar, and the post is a long string tying two fabric knots. Both sides of a silk knot cufflink are identical. So to put one on, simply slide either side through your cuff hole.
Silk knot cufflinks are typically made of various colours, making them more suited for casual looks than formal occasions. And since they’re made of silk or yarn instead of metal or jewels, they’re much more affordable than most different types of cufflinks.
However, the downside is that they’re much less durable than metal cufflinks. However, with the price tag they come at, you can easily replace them if they fall apart or get too stretched, but that’ll only happen with wear and tear anyway.
Due to their affordability and ease of use, we’d say silk knot cufflinks are the best place to start learning how to wear cufflinks. That’s, of course, if they appeal to you. Silk knots can have quite the young and informal look, so they’re definitely not everyone’s cup of tea.
Fabric cufflinks can have any locking mechanism of the ones we mentioned above, so they aren’t a distinct type on their own. Instead, they feature a front face that’s made of fabric, making them the perfect choice for casual occasions.
And since they don’t feature any precious metals or stones, they’re quite affordable. So we’d highly recommend trying out any of the previous types in a fabric cufflink form if you’re still experimenting with how to wear cufflinks. You wouldn’t be upset too much if they don’t work out for you, and you can always pass them off to younger relatives or friends.
When to Wear Cufflinks
Cufflinks are versatile because they’re available in so many types, so there’s at least one type suitable for any occasion that can cross your mind.
So here are some styling tips on the kind of occasions you want to wear cufflinks for and the type of cufflinks that would be most suitable for them.
Formal events such as galas, weddings, business get-togethers, and black-tie events require formal wear that’s simple and minimalist, yet classy and attractive, in its design and colours.
Wearing a dress shirt with a pair of sleek sterling silver, gold, or rose gold cufflinks will work great, especially if you pick colours that go well with your tie and watch.
Alternatively, if you have some unique-style cufflinks with precious rocks, you can wear them as long as they’re not too over-the-top. For instance, mother of pearl, onyx, and diamonds are perfectly acceptable in formal settings.
The best thing about casual occasions is that they’re flexible enough to give plenty of room in terms of the shirt and cufflink choice.
Of course, we’d say stay away from French cuffs or overly formal dress shirts when it comes to shirt choice. Also, it’d be better to go for cufflinks that don’t feature precious stones. But then again, it all depends on how “casual” the occasion is.
For instance, dress shirts with sleek metal or sterling silver hinged cufflinks would be perfectly acceptable if you’re going to a local pub with co-workers after work since it’s what you wore to work to begin with.
On the other hand, if you’re watching a soccer game, a colourful fabric or silk knot that matches your team’s colours would look great on your shirt cuff. However, when opting for a colourful cufflink, make sure it suits the colours of your attire, and you’ll see how well all the pieces fit together.
Many companies hand out cufflinks with the company’s logo as gifts or tokens of appreciation to their employees, so these would be great to wear in the office as a sign of loyalty to the company or to show how you’re proud of working there.
You can also express your fashion by adding a pair of cufflinks to your long-sleeved shirt to add that touch of decoration to your outfit.
Just be sure not to wear something too “quirky, ” as that might be out of place in your office or any corporate setting in general. That means absolutely no flashy silk knot cufflinks!
Suppose you like to go to events for an exclusive activity, such as a college or business reunion or an event for your favourite singer or artist. In that case, you’ll want to wear cufflinks with a theme that goes well with the kind of event you’re attending.
For example, if you’re going to a BMW owners meeting or the like, maybe wear cufflinks with the BMW badge on them. Or, if you’re going to a college or business reunion, it’d be a very nice move to check if the university or company is selling their custom cufflinks.
A wedding is perhaps the one occasion where all men are expected to wear cufflinks, from the groom himself to the groomsmen and guests. So, if you have any weddings on your calendar this year, it’s high time you start learning how to wear cufflinks.
As for the type of cufflink suitable, you have complete freedom here. After all, you’d be expressing your fashion style. So you can go all out or opt for something simple depending on your preference.
Cufflinks are also the perfect groomsmen gifts to hand out. So, if you’re the lucky husband-to-be and you’d like everyone to match, you can always have some cufflinks custom-made.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Cufflinks Be Worn With Any Shirt?
You can wear cufflinks with pretty much any dress shirt that has the appropriate holes on the cuff.
Traditionally, though, cufflinks are a match made in heaven for the double cuff and French cuff shirts. But that doesn’t mean they’re exclusive to these styles; you can wear them with any shirt you like.
Can Women Wear Cufflinks?
Yes. Although cufflinks are most popular as a men’s accessory, women can also wear them. For example, they look great on a woman’s shirt cuff in a workplace setting or special events, and there are cufflinks specifically designed for women.
Do Cufflinks Go Inside or Outside?
The decorative front face of the cufflink should go on the outside of your shirt’s cuff holes, and it should face the outside of your body when your arm is to the side. With this setup, your emblem is on view for everyone to admire.
Do People Wear Cufflinks Anymore?
Younger men without much formal experience may not think about cufflinks that often, but the accessory continues to be trendy and elegant, especially as a subtle detail that complements an elegant suit jacket or French cuff shirt.
Can Cufflinks Be Worn Casually?
Although cufflinks are often associated with formal, semi-formal, and black-tie events, you can actually wear cufflinks on informal and casual occasions if you like. Moreover, some cufflink types, such as silk knot and fabric cufflinks, only work for casual wear.
How to Style Your Cufflinks?
It’s crucial to pick a pair of cufflinks that go well with the look of your shirt. For example, matching cufflinks with clothes colours is always a go-to. We recommend you attach the cufflinks before putting on your French cuff shirt or suit jacket to see how the colours compliment each other first.
Cufflinks are excellent pieces of jewellery that can decorate an outfit and keep your shirt cuffs tightly sealed. And although cufflinks were invented out of necessity, they’ve developed over the last few centuries into an aesthetic icon that can complement an expensive suit and informal wear alike.
Nowadays, cufflinks are still going as strong as ever. They come in many varieties, modern and traditional. So, once you learn how to wear cufflinks, you’ll be able to mix and match them to your outfits to create a striking and impressionable look. Just keep in mind that different kinds of cufflinks are suitable for occasions.