Most men have at least a couple of double-cuff – also known as French cuff – shirts in their wardrobe, and at least one set of cufflinks to go with them. For some, cufflinks project an air of stuffiness or formality that limits their use to special occasions like weddings, or to management types who revel in the art of power dressing. For others, they represent an opportunity to experiment and add flair to their ensemble. For those who want to experiment but feel that metal cufflinks are a bit too much for daily use, consider using silk knots instead.
Cufflinks have long served an essential role in preventing shirt-sleeves from covering the wearer’s hands. In the late nineteenth century Anglo-American fashion dictates were strict on the subject of cufflinks, especially with regard to evening dress:
“The shirt buttons are either of white enamel, dull-finished gold, or pearls, and the sleeve links white-enamelled or lozenge-shaped disks of gold, with a monogram thereon engraved.”
The Complete Bachelor by Walter Germain (1896)
Like pocket watches, cufflinks were often considered expensive lifetime investments. However, during the early part of the twentieth century the silk knot slowly evolved from a simple shirtmakers’ method of holding cuffs together to a socially acceptable – and much cheaper – alternative to metal cufflinks. As time went on, silk knots developed into ever more colourful designs to match almost any combination of shirt, suit and tie.
Today’s silk knots remain much the same as their early twentieth century counterparts in terms of basic design, though nowadays they are rarely made of silk. They offer a number of benefits over their metal brethren: they don’t fall out, they rarely snap, and – above all – they’re cheap and easy to replace if lost.
Because silk knots are so cheap there isn’t really a limit on how many a man should buy. As a general rule of thumb, the colours of your silk knots should match the colours in your ties and socks. If you have a lot of navy ties with a hint of red or burgundy you could buy a number of combinations of silk knots to match: one pair of navy, one pair of red, and one pair of navy and red, for example.
Silk knots can be fiendishly difficult to push through the holes on cuffs by oneself, especially if the shirt is new and the holes haven’t been broken in. The easiest way to deal with this problem is have somebody else push the silk knots through the holes for you. If that’s not an option, and you have to do it one-handed, push the silk knots through at least one side of the doubled-over cuffs before putting the shirt on. That way you only have to push the knots through two holes to link the cuffs together.
Most people opt to have the ends of the cuff “kiss” by pinching together both ends of the fabric, giving it its characteristic pointed edge. “Kissed” double-cuffs scream out for a tie – they look forlorn without one, like a chap who turned up to someone’s 18th birthday party in morning dress. An alternative – and less formal – way of linking cuffs together is to overlap them before fastening the knots in place. This creates a kind of barrel cuff that looks similar to button cuffs, only the silk knots provide a splash of unexpected colour. Barrel-cuffing is especially useful for those who still want (or need) to wear a sweater over double-cuffed shirts.