Until the demise of the waistcoat in the mid-twentieth century, the shirt was treated as an undergarment, with very little of it actually showing – but where exposed it was ornamented: with the stock, cravat or tie at the neck, and at the wrist with various types of fastening. Before the seventeenth century development of what we now call the cufflink, sleeves were simply tied at the cuff by ribbon. The introduction of the French cuff in the mid-1600s moved the cufflink from the realm of practicality to personal adornment, as royalty commonly wore these decorated cuff fasteners. In the late 1700s, new link styles appeared and were soon adopted by the middle classes and tradesmen. By the 1840s cufflinks were usually found in the form of gold, silver, or pearl buttons held together by a brass chain.
The roaring ‘20s were probably the height of cufflink invention. Manufacturers created a variety of devices and designs to do one simple thing: to permit a man to insert and remove his cufflinks with a minimum of difficulty and a maximum of security. In the 1950s, the ‘stirrup’ link enjoyed some popularity – a curved bar encompassing the cuff from one side to the other. Later, the solid T-bar link was devised, still the most popular method in use today. Cufflinks are still almost the only socially acceptable items of jewellery a man can wear to express his true character – albeit tastefully and discreetly. Cufflinks continue to grow in popularity and are readily available in a wide range of prices and styles from chic and sophisticated to novelty.