The History of Cufflinks November 19 2020
The origin story
Every invention has an origin story – some more concrete and credible than others. For the cufflink, historians are more or less unanimous in their contention that it has its origins in the 1500s custom of men wearing shirts featuring ruffled wristbands tied together with strings. Like most origin stories, there was in the case of the cufflink a degree of overlap. The string-tied look remained a feature of men’s fashion until the early 1800s, almost a century after the more concrete birth of the cufflink. This happened in the early part of the 1700s when we can see that ornate gold and silver chains were attached to small, glass objects known as sleeve buttons. By the middle part of the 18th century the chain was still a feature, but the glass sleeve buttons had been usurped by more decorative buttons, often diamonds (they were very much the preserve of the upper classes) and the cuff link was solidified as a part of the ideal men’s wardrobe. In terms of the first country to adopt the cufflink, it may come as no surprise that it is believed they were first worn by our Gallic friends under the reign of King Louis XIV.
No origin story would be complete without a degree of myth or legend and in the case of the cufflink, its successful adaptation is often attributed to the literary phenomenon that was The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas. There are multiple references to the huge diamonds on the cuffs of the shirt of a prominent character, which is said to have convinced tailors of the significance of this accoutrement in the proper attire of a gentleman.
The industrial revolution
Prior to the industrial revolution the cufflink would have been predominantly the preserve of rich merchants and the upper classes, but the cheaper production techniques and the ability to electroplate precious metals brought cufflinks to the masses. By 1840-1850 there was enough demand for mass production and shirtsleeves were starch stiffened, further stimulating demand for a new fastening method. Formal shirt production went through the roof. By the 1840s cufflinks as we know them were in wide circulation. The likes of 18ct gold and pearl cufflinks as well as cheaper, plated options held together by a brass chain.
No conversation about cufflinks would be complete without a nod in the direction of London’s premier cufflink shop, Longmire. In terms of the store’s history, there is a degree of legend at its root as well! In 1979 Paul Longmire was strolling through St James’s and his attention was drawn to a window display of a silversmiths and jeweller. There he saw an exquisite tie pin. In under an hour he not only owned the pin, but the entire store.
With his wife Eleanor, they quickly developed a passion for cufflinks and expanded their physical presence. While the large bricks and mortar shop in Jermyn Street has now closed, the legacy of Longmire is a comprehensive website showing just some of the world’s largest variety of styles available from stock or to order.