Cuff Your Enthusiasm
But she must have a prize herself, you know,’ said the Mouse.
`Of course,’ the Dodo replied very gravely. `What else have you got in your pocket?’ he went on, turning to Alice.
`Only a thimble,’ said Alice sadly.
`Hand it over here,’ said the Dodo.
Then they all crowded round her once more, while the Dodo solemnly presented the thimble, saying `We beg your acceptance of this elegant thimble’; and, when it had finished this short speech, they all cheered.
A thimble is a small glint of metal and small metal glints have value in Britain. For one thing, they are small, which the English associate with the positive quality of understatement, and they cause an observer who catches their glint to become curious. Arousing curiosity is part of the English social interaction; to be clever, to be subtly and differently clever.
Ecce cufflinks, the English heart and soul and the only type of emotion they wear on their sleeves. This is the place to shine; to be an individual. If there is one item that the English literally have almost no rules about it is their cufflinks. Almost anything you like is permissible and any novelty, no matter how bawdy, is acceptable provided it is worn tongue-in-cheek. In fact, the idea is to have something unique, witty, sparkly and offensive; all in the same item if possible.
There doesn’t seem to be a type of cufflink or a style the English will not wear. From $20,000 gem encrusted metals to pieces of string holding the cuffs together, anything goes. The one exception are crystals which seem to grate as too feminine; and even these the English will wear socially. Other than crystals, there seems to be a race to the bottom to outdo each other with playful cufflinks.
Although the fact that the clip’s color matches the shirt is probably enough to make it non English, it illustrates what can substitute when a link breaks or a set cannot be found in time to make a morning train.
Of course, within the City there are trends, tribes and circles which prefer certain forms of cufflink over others. For instance, merchant bankers might avoid the silly messages and toilet humor the city boys enjoy in favor of enameled and jeweled cufflinks and unless he were a farmer or hunter many might avoid wearing animals that were not sufficiently parodied. But, as a culture, the English are very accepting of a wide range of cufflinks, they would not wear themselves, on each other.
The English love enameled ovals, often with geometric designs on them; even stripes.
In England, spending a lot on cufflinks is not required, somewhat frowned upon and generally not done unless it is an exquisite antique. The English believe that talent rather than money is the way to go with cufflink selection; the cheesy, chunky gold cufflink so much a part of “Diamond District” New York is unknown amongst the Londoners.
Sterling is a preferred metal for cufflinks (often enameled) because the upper classes often do not have a lot of money and because they often won’t spend it even if they do. Gold plated and 9K gold cufflinks are also popular because they are on par with the cost of quality sterling silver.
Interestingly, the English will wear silver cufflinks with a gold watch but want to match the shade of a gold pair with the same shade of gold watch. A few years ago, gold was somewhat popular but now sterling has completely taken hold.
This metal preference is largely a function of thrift; if you gave an Englishman a set of gold cufflinks, he would not be offended. Metals come in out of style and the fads of the island are a little like the bands around a tree stump, telling stories over time.
Culturally, silver cufflinks are so pervasive that even when the English do spring for gold, they frequently choose a white gold which has the virtue of appearing like sterling silver but without the threat of tarnish.
Either in sterling silver or white gold (even with surface texture) the simple oval is an English favorite.
The English understand that the perfect set of cufflinks does not exist and that once you make a choice a better one pops up somewhere that you wished you had bought; so why limit yourself?
It stands to reason that all that repression elsewhere and in the wardrobe had to produce an outlet somewhere, doesn’t it? Additionally, With the bold shirts favored by both the City lads and barristers, large, bright cufflinks are the only things that will cut through the pattern and/or color of the shirt.
In fact, the same Englishman who would only wear three types of neckties around his neck and would choose from a relatively limited range of shirt patterns and colors would not hesitate to put a set of cufflinks on that would make many otherwise tasteless Americans gasp.
Richard Harvie, of Harvie and Hudson, observes that solid silver, double ended with or without good enameling sell in quantity. Silver cufflinks are the English favorite. The spitfire cufflinks are quite popular. Strong designs like the spitfires are necessary to break up the large, colorful patterns on the shirts.
This pair, beautifully made by Fine Enamels and available at Harvie and Hudson, is a perennial English favorite.
Americans do not like novelty cufflinks as much because they can’t sit still long enough for someone to notice. Alternatively, we all live in dread that someone on the elevator will trap us with unsolicited stories about their cuff ornaments.
England is different. No matter how outlandish the cufflinks, they must never be brought up by the wearer; to do so smacks of trying too hard and wanting to be noticed. Your cufflinks only work if someone notices your devil may care attitude or quirkiness on their own.
Another reason the English may seek out unique cufflinks is their realization that there is no silver bullet cufflink (well, actually there are but there exists no “perfect” cufflink). Cufflinks are useless without a double shirt cuff and the shirt is unfinished without the links.
This creates a inchoate, symbiotic relationship that exists nowhere else in the outfit. After all, you can wear plain socks with dress shoes and a jacket pocket can get along without a pocket square but your cuffs need a fastener and wearing what everyone else wears feels… wrong.
Traditionally, Americans believe that cufflinks reveal clues about your background. Unfortunately, they apply this thinking in way too strict a manner. This idea revolves around the belief that the simpler the cufflink and the less it says about you, the better bred you are. In England, they make few judgments about cufflinks and irrespective of who you really are, you can wear any sort of cufflink you like.
Another exception to the “anything goes” rule is that the English do not like complicated cufflinks. To be sure, the English do not like complicated anything but when it comes to cufflink art, the simpler, plainer and more stylized, the better. Ornateness of etching and carving or too many delicate, moving parts are not appreciated. Thus, although anything goes, how a subject is executed is also very important.
This Deakin & Francis Fox is perfect for English tastes. Although an animal, it is not a ferocious one. Further, it is stylized to the point where it could be part of a more advanced, alien culture’s temple. However, it is still recognizable as a fox. It is also “solid” of construction which the English like.
A cufflink’s message should be apparent to the simplest minded observer at an instant. The only exception are some of the hand painted enamels where the charm is often in the intricacy.
Self deprecating messages, tongue in cheek humor, titillating or slightly naughty references are all appreciated but you must never have to point them out or explain them. If you have to explain your cufflinks, they have failed the English test for cleverness; if you can’t resist showing them off, you yourself have failed the English test for being clever.
Hand painted gold cufflinks by Longmire. As long as it is worn “ironically” the English will wear their car, dog or a silly image/story on hand painted enamels.
One never knows what will excite admiration and what will not. A Frenchman working in the city, wearing a frog imago as a cufflink (assuming it’s tastefully done) will score huge points amongst the lads (even with the chaps) and might be recognized as a good sort after all; possibly getting invited for a bit of pub camaraderie.
And the English, as with so many other things, do not like duplication. They want unique cufflinks, and it is fair to say this item might be one of the most self expressive parts of the English wardrobe.
The “anything goes” mindset and the innate drive to be different may explain why Britain has so many cufflink shops and so many interesting cufflink artists.
To be continued…
Deakin & Francis make some of the most beautiful cufflinks in the world and serve the upper end of the English taste spectrum.