Cufflinks are tools for fastening shirt cuffs closed. They’re an alternative to the buttons that are commonly sewn onto shirt cuffs. The defining feature is that cufflinks are separate objects: sew it onto the shirt and it’s a button, but if it’s fully removable it’s a cufflink.
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.
How To Use Cufflinks
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 “insert member” 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.
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 you can buy as part of fashion accessories.
Whale Back Cufflinks
This type of 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
The 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
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
This 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
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
This cufflinks use a hinge mechanism similar to the closure of a metal watch band. 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 knotwork makes this a more casual style, particularly when multiple colors 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.
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