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During the Middle Ages, the visible areas of men’s shirts — the collar, front and cuffs — were elaborately decorated with frills, ruffles and embroidery. Both the cuffs and collars were held together with simple ribbons. But in the 1600s, men of fashion and style wanted something that would make more of a statement. So they would take a small chain and attach the ends to two gold or silver buttons. These were fed through the holes in the cuffs, and Voila! — the prototype of the modern cufflink was born.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the chain-and-buttons design was eventually replaced by simpler fasteners that could be mass-produced quickly and inexpensively. When the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII, sported colorful Fabergé cufflinks in the late 19th century, they became a popular fashion accessory for men in both the United Kingdom and the United States.

Types of Cufflinks

Since men traditionally wear less jewelry than women, cufflinks are a great way to add an extra dash of class and style to an already smart suit-and-tie ensemble. They come in an endless variety of colors, shapes and styles, but they can all be grouped by the type of fastener. Most will fall into one of these categories:

        -Bullet back. Perhaps the most common type, bullet back cufflinks are identifiable by a small cylinder set between two short bars. After the cufflink is inserted through the cuff holes, the cylinder is rotated 90 degrees to keep things secure.

        -Whaleback. Similar to the bullet back, whale back cufflinks have a wide, flat head that flips to lie flat against a center post. When the cufflink is in place, the “whaleback” is flipped 90 degrees to secure the cuff.

        -Fixed back. These cufflinks have no moving parts. A broad, flat disc on the back is inserted through the cuff holes to keep things together.

        -Chainlink. Reminiscent of the design that was invented in the 17th century, chain link cufflinks feature a small bar connected to the decorative part of the cufflink with a chain. This allows for a slightly looser fit. Some chain link cufflinks are reversible, with both ends usable as the front or back.

        -Ball return. As the name suggests, the back of the cufflink is a large ball that won’t pass back through the hole in the cuff, thus keeping it closed.

       -Knotted. These are usually made of fabric and come in a wide range of colors. Two “knots” are connected by a cord, similar to the chain-link design. Knotted cufflinks are good for less formal occasions, as they add a bit of fun, playfulness and color to an outfit.

        -Locking dual-action. This fastening system is a bit more complex, as it has a locking hinge mechanism similar to a metal watchband.

When to Wear Them

Since cufflinks are designed to be worn with French cuffs, they are more suited to formal and semi-formal occasions. They can be worn to the office, especially by those who have a suit-and-tie power position. Some men can pull off cufflinks with no tie, and opinions vary as to whether they should be worn with jeans and a sport coat. They should never be worn with a shirt that has buttons on the cuffs. If a man has several pairs of cufflinks in his collection, he’s ready to step out in style and confidently express his individual flair and panache.