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In this installment of the Elements of a Custom Shirt series, we’re talking about cuffs. We’ll discuss not just the different styles of men’s dress shirt cuffs, but also when and why you might select one over the other. If you’d like to jump to the other blogs in the series, click any of the links below:
Before we dive in, please keep in mind that any design element you see here can be made with your own custom shirt. There’s also much more we can do than what we write about here. To start a more personalized, one-on-one conversation, contact us anytime.
Cuffs – An Overview
Shirt cuffs are similar to collars in that both comprise small percentages of the physical shirt, but have enormous visual impact. In terms of conveying the message we wish to send, our faces carry the most importance. Our hands come in at a close second. We all talk with our hands to a certain extent, and American Sign Language is only one example of entire communication systems based on the hands.
We use our hands a lot, and they receive lots of attention as a result.
Cuffs also play a large role in determining a shirt’s level of dressiness, and the extent to which a cuff shows from a jacket sleeve comprises a crucial visual balance component of the tailored ensemble. It’s important to pick the right cuff style.
To do so, it’s helpful to know the different style options available to you, so without further ado:
Men’s Custom Shirt Cuff Styles
To keep things very simple, it’s easiest to divide shirt cuffs into two categories: those that require cufflinks to fasten, and those that don’t. Cuffs that take cufflinks are commonly referred to as French cuffs in the United States, but there are other “cufflink required” styles that are not technically French cuffs (more on that in its own section below).
It’s worth noting a benefit of custom shirts at Henry A. Davidsen is our standard practice of measuring the left and right cuff size. This allows the cuff to drape elegantly over a watch if you wear one.
Barrel Cuff – Various Shapes & Sizes
Barrel cuffs are so named because they resemble the shape of a barrel when fastened on your wrist. They use sewn-on buttons to fasten, and as such do not require cufflinks.
Most RTW shirts have adjustable, rounded barrel cuffs. This makes sense since the style is inoffensive and appropriate for any less-than-semiformal setting, but it only represents a fraction of the possibilities.
In the custom shirt world, barrel cuffs are available in plenty of shapes – rounded, angled, curved, straight, you name it. It’s standard to put either one or two buttons on a barrel cuff, but on a two-button cuff, the two buttons are spaced vertically, not horizontally as you commonly see on RTW shirts. This is done to allow for the varying wrist sizes that might eventually occupy that cuff.
The cuff is named for how many buttons there are to be buttoned, not how many are actually sewn onto the cuff. Perhaps they should be named as button-hole cuffs vs. buttons, but we won’t change centuries of nomenclature with this single post. It is worth noting that two-button cuffs are dressier than their simpler one-button counterparts.
If a shirt requires cufflinks, it’s more likely than not a French cuff shirt. Still, not every shirt that needs links is a French cuff one.
“French cuff” is a North American term for what the British call a “double cuff.” The cuff is cut twice as long as a regular one, folded back over itself – “doubled,” even – and fastened with a cufflink. Like custom barrel cuffs, they’re available in a range of shapes with sides cut away, corners angled off, and more.
Much like there had to be a World War I for there to have been a World War II, the existence of a double cuff means that a “single cuff” exists. Sometimes referred to as a “link cuff,” a single cuff shirt takes cufflinks but lacks the fold back over itself like a French cuff shirt. Typically reserved for full formal shirts (white tie), we have some clients who like them for their day-to-day choice. Anytime you incorporate a piece of jewelry like cufflinks, you get another opportunity to work in a piece of your personality.
Other Cuffs & Custom Details
In the custom world, there are specialty cuffs that you won’t find off the rack. Some are:
Worn by Sean Connery’s 007, this makes a great substitute for a French cuff. This cuff closes with 2 buttons on the inside layer of a double cuff, and then folds back over itself with a unique cutaway on the outer layer.
Like a single cuff, but fastened with a tab of fabric and a button instead of a cufflink.
Custom Cuff Detailing
Custom shirt cuff choices aren’t limited to style and shape. Cuff width can be adjusted to better frame larger or smaller hands. Buttonhole stitch colors can be changed, and contrast material can even be used. This can be for the entire cuff or just a trim, like piping or a contrasted inside.
What Cuffs To Wear, & When
An easy rule of thumb to remember is that French cuffs are dressier than barrel cuffs. We admit this isn’t true in every case – a simple, white broadcloth barrel cuff shirt worn with a suit will be “dressier” than a bold plaid French cuff shirt worn with jeans – but it’s true often enough to allow here.
Barrel cuffs are found on a massive range of shirts. They’re casual enough to put on an untucked chambray shirt with shorts. They’re dressy enough to put on a royal oxford you’d wear with a suit and tie. Versatility is their strong suit.
French cuffs are plenty common, not but ubiquitous like barrel cuffs are. Most cufflinks fall under the category of jewelry, which is why shirts that require them are considered dressier. French cuff shirts work beautifully with suits and are required for black tie affairs. When paired with dress denim and a well-tailored sport coat, a French cuff shirt makes a dressy, “I took the extra step” statement.
Well-built wardrobes – ones that have well-fitted, high-quality clothes for each aspect of your life – have a mix of barrel and French cuffs. With the style options available to you, there’s no reason not to have a wide selection.
We invite you to take a look at our other shirt guides: