Typically, men own two types of cufflinks: exceedingly formal pairs (usually circles or rectangles, in either sterling silver or gold, that have been passed down from their fathers or grandfathers) and more gimmicky ones they have been given as gifts, which stylistically run the gamut from Darth Vader masks or bricks of Lego to sets inscribed with “I’d rather be playing golf” or “Bald ‘n’ sexy.”
Unsurprisingly, most guys keep these boutons de manchette, which is what the French called decorative sleeve fasteners when they first emerged in the 17th century, buried in the back of their dresser drawers.
In fact, even modern dandies – those immaculately dressed gents who painstakingly match their ties to their shirts to their pocket squares – are rarely incorporating cufflinks into their ensembles these days.
And who can blame them? Jokey and overly dressy pairs (not to mention the fear of looking like a 1970s pimp or, worse, Donald Trump) aside, it has been years, even decades, since most styles of cufflinks have seemed fashionable.
This is about to change.
Recently appointed design and creative directors at Hardy Amies, Brioni and Ermenegildo Zegna have breathed new life into those brands’ classic men’s wear, presenting spring 2014 collections that make gentlemanly details such as collar pins, tie bars and cufflinks look modern. On the opposite end of the men’s-fashion spectrum, cutting-edge designers such as Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent and Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen are now selling slim-fit tuxedo shirts with French cuffs (Burton’s are sold with edgy skullpatterned cufflinks).
According to the London-based jeweller Robert Tateossian, a.k.a. the King of Cufflinks, the market is poised to take off. “In the early nineties, if you walked into a clothing or department store, you would never have come across a cufflink department,” the former Merrill Lynch investment banker said during a recent stopover in Toronto to unveil his new shop-in-shop at Harry Rosen in Yorkdale Shopping Centre. “A lot of guys have stopped wearing ties, but they still want to look polished when wearing a suit. How do you do this? You finish off your look with a pair of cufflinks.”
For men that are new to blinged-out cuffs, Tateossian suggests a pair of his Zen Garden Squares, which retail for $150 and are inspired by the patterns formed in the hand-raked sand of a Japanese garden.
For advanced tastes (and deeper pockets), cufflinks from his Rare Stones Collection are another option. These handmade, oneof– a-kind pieces range in price from $150 to $16,200 and feature precious and semi-precious stones such as black-faceted diamonds, Brazilian pyrite, Baroque pearls from the South Seas and tourmaline, many left in the natural state in which they were found.
The Rare Stone cufflinks definitely make a bold statement, but, to avoid looking too showy, Tateossian advises wearing them with French cuffs that aren’t too thick and ensuing that only a few centimetres of cuff pokes out from under a jacket’s sleeves.
“Cufflinks are that small detail that show a certain flair,” says Hooman Majd, an Iranian– American journalist who also runs the influential men’s-style blog House of Majd. “While they are no longer de rigueur for daily business attire, [cufflinks] have always had a place with the well-dressed man,” declares Majd, who saves his father’s enamel-and-gold pair for black-tie events, preferring simple silk knots for more casual wear because “they’re inexpensive, come in every colour and don’t set off metal detectors.”
And while men can’t go wrong by following the lead of such sartorial icons as Cary Grant and Fred Astaire, who Majd says “wore cufflinks and wore them well,” sometimes it’s a good idea to take more of an individualistic, less classic approach to putting the finishing touches on an outfit. “My friend [the photographer] Wayne Maser wears paper clips as cufflinks. Now how’s that for style?”