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The Ultimate Guide to Cufflinks in 2020

Cufflinks are the ultimate men’s accessory and one of the easiest ways to add polish and individual style to your look. Evoking a more sartorially elegant time these statement accessories are a strong and stylish choice. Not only the accessory of choice for black or white tie events such as weddings or formal dinners they also make an individual and very cool statement for daytime wear.

Whether your style is sophisticated, sporting or steampunk -cufflinks are a great way to bring your personality and individual style to your outfit.

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.

So, what are cufflinks anyway?

Cufflinks are an alternative to the buttons that are commonly sewn onto shirt cuffs. 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.

The basic cufflink fastening and how it works

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 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.

The many different 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 buttonhole, 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. 
  • 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 knot work makes this a more casual style, particularly when multiple colours 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.

Cufflink materials

Cufflinks can be made of almost anything and ornamented with everything from precious stones to repurposed novelty junk. Gold, silver, and platinum are obvious favourites, 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 fibre – a strong, contemporary material with a sleek, silvery surface that can easily be coloured 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 colour, shape, and size you can think of.
  • Enamel – a popular material for adding coloured 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.
  • 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 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 fibre.

When to wear cufflinks

The most recognisable 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 colourful 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.

Choosing the perfect cufflink

When selecting the right cufflinks to wear for any occasion its worth considering not just the occasion itself but also the shirt and colour palate you are planning to wear.

A plain white shirt looks great with a contrasting cufflink to make a bold style statement. If wearing a coloured shirt then a contrasting but complimentary colour works well. For example, a blue shirt would look great with a simple gold or silver cufflink but to make a statement a bold yellow or orange would really pop. Checked shirts tend to look best with simple silver cufflinks or for a very smart look pick a cufflink that mirrors the colour of the check itself.

Another great way to accessorise with your cufflinks is to match them to your socks, great if wearing a vibrant colour, or to your tie, waistcoat or even to a pocket square.

Silver and gold cufflinks are eternal classics and will go with any and every outfit. These can be an opportunity to add a bit of personality to a very classic outfit with a sporting cufflink or a mechanical choice sophisticated elegance with a pair of engraved cufflinks or catty a secret message with you as a personal touch.

For black tie events when you would be wearing a tuxedo along with a white dress shirt black stone or inserts is the most popular choice, however gold and semi-precious or precious stone cufflinks work well also. When the occasion is a white tie event then pearl or mother of pearl is the most popular choice and looks great paired with matching studs.

Finishing off the look

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.