French Cuff Dress Shirts: From History to Business Casual

For more than 100 years, French cuff dress shirts have been a symbol of wealth, sophistication, and taste. By definition, French cuffs are double-length cuffs that extend over the hand but are folded back and held in place by decorative cuff links instead buttons. Before modern sizing, cuffs were folded by the wearer to customize the length of the sleeve. Royalty and the wealthiest members of society used decorative cuffs links made from precious metals to hold their cuffs in place.

Before buttons and reinforced buttonholes, clothing was fastened with laces and strings. In the middle ages, common people wore clothing with string cuffs and lace-up neck openings. During the Renaissance period, the reinforced buttonhole was perfected and string cuffs were replaced with buttonholes, cuff inks, and modern buttons. Although the origin is disputed, the French cuff and cuff link combination gained tremendous popularity due to an appearance in Alexander Dumas’ classic book “The Count of Monte Cristo” where the wealth-obsessed Baron Danglars famously wore turned-backed French cuff dress shirts paired with flashy bejeweled cuff links. Contradictory evidence, which supports the British origin of French cuffs, points to newspaper records from the 1600s that mention jewelers marketing ornamental cuff links for unprecedented values. Historic cuff links from the 1600s consisted of two ornamental buttons joined by a single link of chain hence the name cuff link. Before the industrial revolution, cuff links and French cuff dress shirts were worn by royalty, successful merchants, and wealthy citizens. It wasn’t until the 1800s and the invention of the modern suit that these items were introduced in their current form. Due to advances in technology and inventions, such as gold-plating and paste glass, cuff links for French cuff dress shirts became available to the middle class for the first time in the Victorian era. Today, most cuff links are manufactured with an easy to use flip-bar mechanism invented in the 1920s.

For the past century, French cuff dress shirts have maintained their worldwide popularity in business attire, formal wear, and as a niche fashion item. French cuff dress shirts are manufactured by the largest clothing labels and the most prestigious fashion houses. Originally designed for formal wear, today’s French cuff dress shirts are equally appealing with or without a tie and jacket. Men’s French cuff dress shirts are available in classic and current colors from crisp white to peachy pastels. For the modern gentleman, the leading fashion brands also offer French cuff dress shirts in sophisticated shades of graphite, slate, black, and plum. When paired with a set of sterling silver cuff links, any color business shirt is brought to life. For a casual yet sophisticated look, French cuff dress shirts can be worn alone, or add a suit jacket, dinner jacket or sport coat for a formal look. While many men prefer standard button-cuff shirts, some purists would argue that French cuff dress shirts and cuff links are essential items for any formal wardrobe. The hottest male stars, including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Cristiano Ronaldo, have all been seen wearing French cuff dress shirts paired with trendy Murano art glass cuff links.

To compliment any personality, cuff links for French cuff dress shirts are available in every style imaginable from beer brands, computer keys, and Lego blocks to gold cuff links embellished with diamonds. For anyone who wears French cuff dress shirts, customized cuff links always make a great gift. Metal cuff links may also be monogrammed or engraved for personalization. Metal objects, such as historic coins, watch gears, and subway tokens, can be fixed to common flip-bar cuff links. In Europe, monkey fist cuff links made from tied strips of cloth are often preferred over metal cuff links. Monkey fist cuff links are affordable accessories available in a wide-range of colors. These knotted cuff links are also included with some ready-to-wear French cuff dress shirts.

Although suit styles and tailoring have changed significantly over the past century, French cuff dress shirts and cuff links remain largely the same and still embody a sense worldliness and sophistication. For a formal black-tie event or everyday business wear, French cuff dress shirts always make special statement.


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