Before we get into the specifics of French cuffs, let’s do a brief overview of shirt cuff styles.
Shirt Cuff Styles
First, button cuffs also called barrel cuffs. They’ve got buttonholes on one side of the cuff and buttons on the other. Anywhere from 1 to 3 buttons or sometimes more. Although one to two buttons is standard just so the fit of the cuff can be adjusted.
Barrel cuffs are the everyday choice for most men. And with a variety of button styles and cuff shapes they provide some versatile options while still being practical.
Link cuffs have holes on both sides of the cuff and as you might imagine are meant to be closed with links as opposed to buttons.
Two Principal Types Of Link Cuffs
Single cuffs which are just one layer of fabric fastened together with a link are standard for the white tie dress code and are also acceptable for black-tie if not necessarily standard at this point in time.
Double cuffs, are twice as long and are worn folded back upon themselves. They’re the standard choice these days for the Black Tie dress code and are also a staple of business wear. If you haven’t guessed it yet, double cuffs are more commonly known as French cuffs.
Other Kinds Of Cuffs
There are also a few other kinds of cuffs such as convertible cuffs which can be closed with either a button or a link depending on how you’d like to wear them.
And finally, you may also sometimes see a buttoned cuff that has excess fabric that can be turned back upon itself. This is known as a turn back cuff, cocktail cuff or sometimes a James Bond cuff.
French Cuffs Construction
As we already mentioned, French cuffs feature a length of fabric that is folded back upon itself and then fastened together with cufflinks, There are holes on both sides of the cuff going through all the layers of fabric. In other words, most French cuffs will typically have four holes in total to a cuff. Some manufacturers however will include more holes on the inner portion of the cuff for a total of six. This was originally done so that if there was wear or staining on the edge of a cuff a man could adjust it in the middle of the day without having to worry about looking at that staining.
One such manufacturer to offer these six holed French cuffs is the British retailer Charles Tyrwhitt. As I’m a frequent wearer of their shirts and many of them are in my closet I’ll use these adjustable cuffs on jackets that I have where the sleeves aren’t quite as long. That way the cuffs won’t come out from beneath the sleeves of the jacket when I’m moving my arms around. Some shirt makers may also include a button on the inside of the French cuff to make things more secure and to make inserting links a little bit easier. This button on the inside of the cuff isn’t to be confused however with a gauntlet button which is featured on some shirts a little bit further up the sleeve.
French cuffs can come in a number of shapes as can other cuff styles. Straight edges are most common for French cuffs but you’ll also see rounded edges, angled edges or mitered edges.
Why Are They Called French Cuffs?
To answer that question, we have to touch on the history of the double cuff. Since at least the 16th century, upper-class individuals used elegant ribbons to prevent the ruffled ends of their shirt sleeves from coming open. This practice of adorning the wrists with some sort of decoration continued throughout the centuries. By the early 19th century, when the modern style of shirt was coming into its own, the ruffles had been replaced with cuffs that were secured with links.
As an example, Alexandre Dumas 1844 novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, features the character of Baron Danglars, a banker who wears ornate cufflinks with his double cuffed shirts. One apocryphal story also claims that French cuffs got their start when Napoleon ordered extra long sleeves for the shirts of the soldiers in his armies so that they could wipe their noses on the ends of their sleeve and then fold their cuffs back. There isn’t any historical evidence to support this theory however so it’s really just more of a fun story.
Whatever the case, the term French cuff didn’t really come into popular usage until the style immigrated to America. In other words, it may just be that calling it a French cuff made it sound a little bit more exotic and special to American consumers. And from then on the term stuck and it’s the one that’s most commonly used today.
Style Guidelines For Wearing French Cuffs
The traditional view on this subject is that French cuffs should really only be worn in more formal scenarios, such as if you’re wearing black tie or if you’re wearing a conventional business suit and necktie. Some will even argue that wearing French cuffs with a blazer or sport coat is a stretch.
However, as standards of everyday dress have become more relaxed over the last
As just a few examples of this, fashion designer Tom Ford has worn French cuffs without a tie for a number of years now. And here at the Gentleman’s Gazette, our founder Sven Raphael Schneider, estimates that he wears French cuffed shirts around 75% of the time. Also, I personally am a big fan of smart casual styled French cuffed shirts and almost all of my everyday shirts have French cuffs.
I believe that wearing them with some fun cufflinks to provide a breezy vibe is a great way to show off a little bit of personal expression without being overpowering. In fact, a typical everyday ensemble for me is a French cuff shirt worn without anything over the top of it in addition to a pair of slacks and shoes and so on.
If you wanted to really go to the nth degree with this you could even emulate Italians who go for the sprezzatura style of dressing. They’ll wear French cuffed shirts unfastened over the ends of their jacket sleeves. This is a little bit of an extreme look of course but we just wanted to make you aware that the look is out there, so French cuffs are definitely more versatile than they used to be.
Tips On Wearing French Cuffs
First of all, it’s always a good idea to show at least a little bit of cuff at the end of whatever you’re wearing. Be that a suit jacket, a blazer, a
Where French cuffs are usually worn in the so-called kissing style with the inside portions of both sides of the cuff together, they can also be configured more similarly to a barrel style and this is a convenient way to do it if you’re wearing something like a sweater. And of course, there are a wide variety of different kinds of cufflinks to go with your French cuff shirts to suit the occasion. You should aim for a balance between your own sense of personal style and the formality of the environment you’ll be in. There are all kinds of metal cufflinks of course, in materials like gold, silver, platinum and so on. And at the other end of the
To answer the question of when it’s appropriate to wear French cuff shirts? The short and simple answer is almost whenever you want with a few key exceptions. As we said, just make sure that the French cuffs and their accompanying cufflinks don’t overpower or dominate the outfit you’re wearing. Use a little bit of discretion and you’ll have a wide variety of situations where cufflinks and French cuff shirts are appropriate.
What’s your personal opinion of French cuff shirts and how often do you wear them? Do you have any other styling tips related to French cuffs?
Be sure to let us know in the comment section below.