Three pairs of Gentleman's cufflinks

Cufflinks, From Status Symbol to Casual Wear, and Back Again

By Sotheby's

W hen you’re looking to really elevate a man’s wardrobe, there are only a few ways to do so. One of which is a timeless pair of classic cufflinks.

Cufflinks have a long fashion history, dating back to the Middle Ages, where they were used as an accessory as well as a necessity. Particularly popular in England, they were popularised by Royals such as King Charles II, who began to have special commemorative cufflinks made to honour weddings, coronations and other special occasions.

Portrait of Charles II of England (1630-1685), in the robes of the Order of the Garter. Private Collection. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

In France, they became the mark of aristocracy, and Louis XIV “Le Roi Soleil” went one step further, tying the cuffs of his shirtsleeves together with strings, ruffles and ribbons, as well as cufflinks, to signify his status. Their use started to filter down to the rest of society, becoming popular, particularly with businessmen in the 19th century, with the rise of the Industrial Revolution.

At this time, a wide range of cufflinks were produced in an array of materials from silver to gold and finally platinum, and the classic chain stays that had been used in early pairs were replaced with clips, making them easier to attach. At this time too, a new style of cufflink appeared - the French Cuff - sometimes thought to have been inspired by the characters in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. The new style was created simply by twin designs facing each other.

The next chapter for cufflinks came as they became integral to French fashion. Tailors introduced the accessory to the dandies of the day and men began showing off their cufflinks as part of their casual wear, making them more of an everyday fashion requirement.

By the mid-19th century, almost everyone in the middle or upper classes wore cufflinks. But their heyday was short, as soon, the advent of shirts with attached buttons once again returned cufflinks to special occasion status - restricted to wedding and formal wear again until around 1920.

Sean Connery wearing cufflinks in 'James Bond: From Russia With Love', 1963. (Photo by United Artist/Getty Images)

In the 20th century, cufflinks were newly redesigned with gemstones, as well as enameled geometrical shapes. With these interesting and creative designs, they once again became mark of a “proper gentleman”. And less formally, the simple and affordable way to distinguish oneself and transform a suit into something stylish and special.

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

More from Sotheby's

Related Content

Load More