It’s hard to believe that so crucial an element of masculine dress as the mighty cufflink – the jewel in the crown of many a rakish ensemble – is, in fact, a relatively recent phenomenon. Unlike its sartorial compatriots, the shirt and trouser, both of which can trace their origins across millennia, the cufflink only came into widespread use in the 19th century, an era which, ironically, is remembered for its stylistic puritanism. The cuffs on men’s shirts – which were still deemed as undergarments inappropriate for public display – had hitherto been tied together using ribbon or string, or were even allowed to hang loosely.
Happily, the 17th century French King Louis XIV ordered the creation of boutons de manchette; a cufflink prototype formed of two glass beads linked by a chain. Charles II then caught onto the new trend and wore what was arguably the first pair of cufflinks as we know them today (i.e. made entirely from metal) to his wedding to Catharine of Braganza in 1662. The dawn of steam-driven stamping machines in the 18th century led to men’s jewellery becoming widely available in the 19th, which is when the cufflink finally assumed its rightful role at the heart (or the wrist, rather) of a gentleman's wardrobe.
As readers of The Rake will know, the devil is in the details when it comes to formalwear. When done right, cufflinks are the perfect way to introduce a point of contrast to monochromatic suiting. Cufflinks should be sported on dressier occasions that require a shirt with French (buttonless) cuffs, but they are also a great way to inject some personality into business attire. Whether you’re bound for the ball or the boardroom, you should never sleeve home without them (sorry).
Here is a selection of brands that demonstrate the cufflink’s capacity to breathe excitement into an outfit. While each brand offers a range of styles, we’ve picked out a few signatures to show you the creative potential that these button-alternatives can entail.