By Kathryn Fassett
Cufflinks are a accessories that are used to button shirt cuffs when a man is wearing a jacket. They are completely removable from the jacket and are available in a wide range of styles, made from different materials, and with varying degrees of formality. While a button does a perfectly fine job of fastening a shirt cuff, cuff links communicate a little more luxury and style. The appropriate cufflink can help round off a polished look with attention to detail.
Cufflinks can be made of metal, precious metal, glass, stone, leather, wood and more. Knowing which cufflink is appropriate for which event can get confusing, and it’s hard to know what to buy. Are you looking for a bullet back, whaleback, or chain link? If you didn’t know those were cufflink types, don’t worry. Our comprehensive cufflink guide can get you looking polished and appropriate in no time.
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When to Wear Cufflinks
Due to the range of styles available for cufflinks, they aren’t just for black tie events. They can be worn to work or in a wide range of social settings. Anytime you can wear a jacket, you can wear cufflinks, although care should be taken to make sure the level of formality showed in your cufflinks matches the rest of your attire. In other words, a more casual suit should have more casual cufflinks while a more formal suit or tuxedo should have formal cufflinks.
Unless you are the CEO of a medium to large sized company, you probably don’t need to wear cufflinks to work every day. Cufflinks have a way of setting people apart from one another. They communicate a formal presence, which could make your coworkers feel like you are trying to appear superior.
Having said that, cufflinks can give you the pop you need to look more polished on special days, such as the big presentation to the board. Adding cufflinks makes you look more dressed up without actually having to be more dressed up. They can also send the message that you and your superiors are playing on a level field, and that they ought to treat you as an equal.
Wearing cufflinks when meeting an important client can be a good idea also. Putting time into your suit ensemble shows a client that you respect the meeting you’ve scheduled and are willing to go a little further to get their business. But for this use, keep the cufflinks relatively casual or you risk alienating the client.
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There are a lot of social settings where a man might chose to wear a suit or jacket. Weddings, fundraisers, holiday parties, and even a summer barbeque could be appropriate places to wear a jacket. Any time that you wear a jacket, you can wear cufflinks. In fact, a stand out pair of cufflinks can start a conversation. Just ensure that “stand out” doesn’t turn into tacky, and you’ll be all set.
How to Wear Cufflinks
Cufflinks seem a little complicated the first time you pick a set up, but they are actually quite easy to use. But before we talk about the mechanics of using cufflinks, it’s worth the time to reiterate what sort of clothing you should have on. For style purposes, you should be wearing a jacket with your cufflinks. For the mechanics of cufflinks, you need to be wearing a shirt with double cuffs (French cuffs).
Double cuff shirts have no buttons, while single cuff shirts do. The cufflink replaces the button, so a single cuff shift doesn’t work. If you have a shirt that you want to wear cufflinks with but it has a single cuff, don’t worry. This is usually an easy enough fix for a tailor.
The mechanics of cufflinks is simple. Open the cuff link, slide it through the holes, then lock or fasten the cufflink. Cufflinks can have toggles, posts, or bars that twist, but they are really no more difficult than earrings.
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Types of Cufflinks
As stated above, cufflinks can be made from metal, precious metal, glass, stone, leather, wood, enamel, gemstone and more. While any cufflink can be more formal, precious metal cufflinks are almost never considered casual. A plain, metal set of cufflinks will go with almost any occasion, but the wide variety of shapes, patterns, and other materials have more specific times that are appropriate for use. Here are some common materials that cufflinks are made from, and what sort of occasion they might be worn to.
- Enamel- Enamel cufflinks can be worn every day, and many “fun” cufflinks are made from enamel. Enamel cufflinks are highly versatile, and can be worn to daily work, in addition to being suitable across a range of functions.
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- Titanium- If you’re looking for good, every day cufflinks that are both professional looking and durable, titanium is a great choice. Titanium is strong and a silver finish is easy to match to almost every color.
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- Precious Metal- Precious metal cufflinks are great for very fancy or black tie events. On the other hand, they aren’t appropriate for more casual or day to day wear. Besides, they tend to be too expensive for the wear and tear associated with wearing them daily.
- Precious Stones - Range from rubies and emerald to abalone. While these exquisite cufflinks can be worn year round to a range of occasions, they look particularly appropriate for formal occasions such as a wedding / cocktail reception!
- Leather- Leather cufflinks would not be appropriate for a black tie event. But they are a fun way to play with texture in more casual settings. Leather is perfect for a country themed wedding.
- Silk- A silk knot is a type of cufflink that is made of silk and is tied to your shirt. Silk Knots are for more casual gatherings.
Cufflink fastenings might not seem to matter very much. If the cufflink fastening is inside your shirt, who will see it anyway? Although it’s relatively easy to learn to use all the different cufflink fastenings, you might find that you prefer one over the other, or that certain fastenings sit a certain way on your jacket. Either way, it’s important to know the different options available for cufflink fastenings and how they work, so you know what you are buying when you are looking at cufflinks.
- Bullet Back Cufflinks- Bullet back cufflinks start with the design of a whaleback, but the post is hollow and the latch is nestled into the post. By flipping the latch out, the cufflink fastens to the shirt.
- Whaleback cufflinks- Whalebacks are very common because they are simple to use. A whaleback cufflink closes with a straight post where the end flips back to clip against the post, like a whale’s tail.
- Stud or Button Cufflinks- Stud or Button cufflinks are shaped that they can be easily inserted into the buttonholes and not as easily removed from them. Studs or Buttons aren’t as fancy, but there is much less chance of breaking it because there is no delicate mechanism.
- Chain Link Cufflinks- Chain link cufflinks have two heads separated by a bit of chain. One head goes into either buttonhole, and the chain keeps the cuff loosely fastened. Chain link cuffs definitely change the look of the sleeve.
- Ball Return Cufflinks- Ball Return Cufflinks work like a ball and chain, with a ball at one end and a head at the other. Ball return is another style that changes the silhouette of the sleeve, but it has a tighter close than the chain link cufflinks.
- Dual-Action / Locking Cufflinks- Dual-Action cufflinks are a contemporary style that works like a clip, where the cufflink hinges in the middle to slip into the buttonholes, and clips shut to grip the fabric.
- Knot Cufflinks- Knot cufflinks are simple two heads separated by a short bit of soft cord, usually silk. The loosely fastened cuff lends to a more casual look, and the fabric enforces it.
The following comprehensive and detailed graphic by Real Men Real Style provides a fantastic overview of different types of Cufflink Fastening:
Which Cufflinks Are Appropriate?
With so many styles of cufflinks available, it can be a little bit overwhelming at first to figure out what style of cufflink is most appropriate for the occasion you need to dress for. Here is a quick start guide for some of the most basic events you might want to wear cufflinks for.
Conference, Presentation, or Client Meeting
When selecting cufflinks for a conference, presentation, or client meeting, your goal is to look polished and put together, but not too flashy or dramatic. A good option here would be a bulletback, stud, button, whaleback, or dual-action cufflink set. A smart purchase would compliment more than one of the suits you wear to work, so something simple in silver or gold would work. Colors like black and navy are also popular and easy to incorporate into an existing wardrobe.
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Holiday Office Party, Dinner Party
At a holiday office or dinner party, while you will want to look professional and put together, you will still have an opportunity to inject a little bit more of your personality into your wardrobe. Chain link, ball return, whalebacks, or bullet backs are all strong options. This is a good opportunity to play with color and different cufflink material since you have the flexibility to be more casual.
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Wedding, Charity Dinner, Gala
For a wedding, charity dinner, or gala, dress codes run just under black tie. Cufflinks for these events can be finished in any way, although it can still be difficult to pull off a fabric or silk knot cufflink. The trick is to balance out the more casual styles with higher quality and more formal designs or materials. If you wanted to wear a chain link cufflink, you should select one made of precious metal. If you want to wear a cufflink with a novel shape or out of the ordinary design, selecting one made of finer materials or stones, with a whale back or button back fastener will keep you on the right track.
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Black Tie Formal Events
Given that tuxedos are worn with matching shirt studs and cufflinks, classic examples are gold and onyx. However, formal cufflinks with precious stones can be worn, provided that they have a matching shirt stud set. A black stud set (onyx) will typically do the trick, and will have you looking extremely dapper and in place!
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Cufflinks and Shirt Color
Matching your cufflinks to shirt color gets a little tricky by the sheer number of options available. Before we get into any level of color theory, you can match almost every ensemble you’ll ever create if you invest in one simple set of gold (color or material) cufflinks and one simple set of silver or white gold cufflinks.
Beyond that, there are cufflinks to match every color, every pattern, every shape, and even cufflinks you can have made with pictures of your children. When you chose a neutral colored shirt, you can have more creative license with your cufflinks. It’s another level when you start to mix patterns and colors.
When you aren’t wearing a white or black shirt, a conservative rule of thumb is to match the color of the cufflinks to your shirt using the same color but in a different shade. This monochromatic approach minimizes risk and keeps you looking polished. Plus, you only need to know a little bit about color theory.
Since cufflinks are 3D, shape can be as important as fastenings, materials, and colors. Classic, simple cufflinks should always be worn in more formal or professional occasions, while you can experiment with shapes and textures at less formal occasions like a holiday office party.
And that's a wrap for this one! I hope that you have enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it!