The French Cuff Explained

men's french cuff on white dress shirt

Written by Tanya Zhang

Do you often find yourself struggling with the various cuff styles? You’re not alone, as there are many men who have a hard time differentiating one cuff style from another. One of these cuff styles is the French cuff. Indeed, French cuff shirts are ideal for formal occasions and not much else.

To clear up the confusion surrounding the French cuff, I’m going to share with you the essentials of French cuff shirts, including what purpose they serve, when to wear them, and more. So let’s dive in and start with a brief overview of the various cuff styles on dress shirts.

Types of Shirt Cuff Styles

  1. French Cuffs, or Link Cuffsfrench cuffs or link cuffs on men's shirts

    The french cuff, also known as link cuffs, has holes on both sides of the cuff. And as you might imagine, it is closed with links instead of buttons.

    Also known as a double cuff, french cuffs have a length is twice the usual which is folded over to create a seamless look at the end of the sleeve. Nowadays, french cuffs are the standard choice for black ties as they are  a more formal cuff.

  2. Barrel Cuffs

    mens barrel cuffs

    Barrel cuffs are also known as single cuffs and have buttonholes on one side of the cuffs and buttons on the other side. They can have between 1 and 3 buttons, sometimes even more.

    Although one or two buttons are standard, you can adjust the fit of the cuff with two-button dress shirts. These button cuffs are the daily choice for most men and are a less formal cuff. There are various button styles and cuff shapes, like the mitered cuff, which provide some versatile options while still being practical as a standard shirt cuff. These are our favorite barrel cuff slim fit dress shirts for men.

French Cuffs Explained

As we have already mentioned, French cuffs are characterized by a piece of fabric folded back and then fastened together with cufflinks. There are holes on both sides of the cuffs, passing through all the fabric layers. 

In other words, most French cuffs usually have a total of four holes on a cuff. However, some manufacturers will include more holes on the inside of the cuff, for a total of six. This was originally done so that if the edges of the cuff are worn or stained, men can adjust it at noon without worrying about checking for stains.

British retailer Charles Tyrwhitt is one of the manufacturers that provide these six perforated French cuffs. Because I often wear their shirts and many of them are in my closet, I will use these adjustable cuffs on jackets with not too long sleeves. 

This way, when I move my arms, the cuffs will not stick out from under the sleeves of the jacket. Some shirt manufacturers may also add a button to the inside of the French cuffs to make things safer and make it easier to insert links. This button on the inside of the cuff should not be confused with the glove button, which is a little further away from the sleeve on some shirts.

French cuffs, like the mitered cuff and many other cuff styles, can have many shapes. Straight edges are most common in French cuffs, but you will also see angled edges, mitered edges, or rounded edges.

History of the French Cuff

Since at least the 16th century, upper-class people have used elegant satin bands to prevent the ruffles of shirt sleeves from opening. This practice of decorating the wrist with some kind of ornament has continued for centuries. 

By the beginning of the 19th century, when modern-style shirts became popular, the ruffles had been replaced by cuffs fixed with chain links.

For example, Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 novel The Count of Monte Cristo features Baron Danglars, a banker wearing gorgeous cufflinks and a double-cuff shirt.

A fictional story also claimed that when Napoleon ordered extra-long sleeves for the shirts of soldiers in his army, the French cuffs started so that they could wipe their noses at the end of the sleeves and then fold the cuffs back. 

However, there is no historical evidence to support this theory, so it is actually just an interesting story. In any case, the term “French cuffs” didn’t really become popular until the style immigrated to the United States. 

Bottom line: it may just be called a French cuff to make it sound more exotic and special to American consumers. Since then, the word has been stuck, and it is the most commonly used word today for the formal cuff.

When to Wear French Cuffs

The traditional view on this issue is that French cuffs should really only be worn on more formal occasions, such as if you are wearing a black tie, or if you are wearing a traditional suit and tie. Some people even argue that matching French cuffs with a tailored suit jacket or sports jacket is an extension.

However, as daily dress standards have become more relaxed over the past half-century and the past decade or so, I have seen a resurgence of interest in formal menswear. As such, some of these old rules can now bend more freely. 

Therefore, even though some traditionalists may give you some questioning expressions, I believe that you can definitely take off a French cuffed shirt in a more casual environment, not just a black-tie or a white-collar suit.

I also believe that wearing them with some interesting cufflinks to provide a relaxing atmosphere is a good way to show a little personal expression without being too strong. In fact, for me, the typical everyday attire is a French-cuffed shirt with simple slacks and shoes.

Let’s focus for a moment on specific events where French cuff shirts would be considered appropriate. The following are some of the most common scenarios where you might find yourself needing to reach for your French dress shirt.

Although traditionally only used for black tie clothing and business professional clothing, you can wear French cuffs at any time. Nevertheless, some occasions need it more than others.

  • Black Tie Event: As we mentioned above, the black-tie event (the event of wearing a tuxedo and one of your best tux shirts) is the only time a man wears French cuffs. To be clear, French cuffs are not recommended for evening dresses. They are mandatory.

  • Wedding: Whether it is the bridegroom, groomsmen, the guest, or somewhere in between, French cuffs are not required for a black tie wedding attire. However, this is a fun way to add some personality and dress to your ensemble. For more information on this, our complete guide to weddings is a great resource.

  • Business Attire: If you work in a professional business office and must wear a suit five days a week, then you can wear French cuffs every day.

  • Job Interview: If you are interviewing for a relatively high position, especially in the financial or legal fields, it is a good idea to wear French cuffs during the interview. If you happen to be 40 or older, this is a better idea. We say this because French cuffs, like braces, are occasionally regarded as the domain of older men, and younger men may upset older interviewers.

  • Casual Clothes: Nowadays, French-style cuff shirts adopt more casual styles, with bright colors and eye-catching patterns. They match perfectly with slacks, dark denim, and sports jackets.

How to Properly Wear French Cuffs

First of all, no matter what you are wearing, it is always a good idea to show at least a little cuff at the end. Whether it’s a blazer, suit jacket, sports jacket, or sweater. 

You can always keep one-quarter to half-inch shirt sleeves visible under these types of clothing to ensure that people know that you are wearing French cuffs on purpose. But keep in mind that if you are wearing clothes with tighter sleeves, such as sweaters, you may need to change the direction of the cuffs slightly. Here's a guide on how to wear a sweater over dress shirt.

French cuffs are usually worn in the so-called kissing style, where the inner parts of both sides of the cuffs are put together. They can also be configured to be more like a barrel shape. If you wear it, this is a convenient method for sweaters and the like. 

Of course, there are a variety of different types of cuff links that can match your French cuff shirt to suit the occasion. You should find a balance between your own personal sense of style and the formality of your environment. 

What’s more, there are a variety of metal cuff links. These include those made with materials like gold, silver, platinum, and so on. At the other end of the spectrum, there are simple fabric knot style cuff links, also called silk knots, which are definitely more casual.

french cuffs vs barrel cuffs helpful infographic from Nimble Made

French Cuff vs Barrel Cuff

To give you a better understanding of the functionality of French cuffs, I think it’s wise to see how they compare with traditional barrel cuff shirts.

There are two main differences between French cuffs and barrel cuffs: The French cuffs are twice as long as the barrel cuffs and can be folded before being fixed. The barrel cuffs are secured by wrapping around the wrist, while the French cuffs use cufflinks to form teardrops around them.  

Therefore, barrel-shaped cuffs are both practical and low-key as a standard shirt cuff. At the same time, the French cuffs are more delicate and require additional accessories to be fixed. 

Choosing the Right Cuff Links

cuff link accessory

All French cuff shirts require cufflinks to be fastened. Cufflinks tell a lot about you and your style, and the right cufflinks can complete the way you present yourself. Choose the right style for the occasion and clothing carefully.

Certain types of men’s formal shirts require cufflinks. More specifically, the cuffs of the shirt will determine whether cufflinks are needed. 

Once you have your cufflinks picked out, it’s time to put them on. Follow this handy how-to directly below for a quick breakdown of what you need to do in order to properly wear cufflinks. 

Putting on Your Cufflinks

At first, putting on cufflinks seemed a tedious and frustrating task. However, a little practice will go a long way, so if you are struggling at first, don’t be too discouraged! By following the steps below, you will immediately fasten your shirt cuffs like a professional:

  1. Put on your shirt and fold back one cuff. If you are right-handed, we recommend that you start with the left cuff. 
  2. Pass the cufflink closures through the two outer cuff panels, making sure that the surface of the cufflinks is visible on the outside of the cuffs. 
  3. Push the cover through the two inner panels. Make sure that the inner panel is flat and flush with the outer panel; do not bend it under the outer panel as if you were buttoning a shirt with cuffs. 
  4. Fasten the cufflinks. 
  5. Repeat the above steps when you’re ready for the other cuff.

Compared with other things we wear, cufflinks are physically small, but in terms of the image they project, their impact is much higher than their weight level. With this in mind, you must choose to wear cufflinks in the right scenes and choose the right way of wearing them in these scenes. Here's a more detailed guide on how to wear cufflinks.

Suppose you are a lawyer who is hearing a serious case. It is recommended that you do not wear, for example, your favorite He-Man cufflinks. Rather, opt for some simple silver or gold metal cufflinks. 

For those who are attending job interviews or funerals, our advice is to avoid wearing cufflinks altogether, as they will be distracting in the former case and too showy in the latter case. On the other hand, more casual occasions, such as dating or parties, can make you wear more personalized cufflinks. 

Understanding the difference and understanding your audience is the key to deciding which cufflinks to wear and whether to wear cufflinks. Check out some of the tips below to learn how to choose the best cufflinks for the occasion, as well as tips on color coordination.

When to Wear Cufflinks with French Cuff Shirts

The type of cufflinks you wear (if any) depends on many factors, namely the clothing you are wearing, the formality of the occasion, and even the season.

At the Office

Cufflinks are very suitable for men who obey the business professional dress code and want to establish a successful image in the office, especially criminal defense lawyers and high-end financial consultants. We recommend a simple and subtle design of classic metals (such as silver or gold), suitable for office wear. Here's a guide on the best gifts for lawyers.

With a Suit

man wearing suit sitting

If you are only going out in a suit, cufflinks are a great choice to add personality and/or style to your suit. Think about dinner dates, evening social events, and similar outings. In this case, your cufflinks can be almost anything you want: bright colors, novel designs, customized materials, or anything else you like.

With a Tuxedo

A tuxedo needs cufflinks, and the simpler, the better. Onyx and mother-of-pearl are your first choices, but make sure your cufflinks match the shirt rivets.

With Jeans

man wearing shirt with jeans

There are some heated arguments because it is related to jeans cufflinks. At this point, men are usually divided into two camps: those who are not opposed to wearing cufflinks and jeans and those who think they are too sophisticated to match this casual item. We believe that anyone can use cufflinks with jeans. You just need to be smart about it.

The following guidelines will help you best wear denim cufflinks: Your denim should be dark, straight, or slim, with no tears or holes. The color change relative to the whiskers should be minimal. Although your shirt has French cuffs, you should not be too particular about it. Avoid pure white or light blue, and they are more suitable for suits. 

Choose more casual colors and patterns, such as lavender, green, pink, and other colors. Your cufflinks can and should be more casual and playful. Choose colorful silk knots or personalized things instead of precious gems.

At a Wedding

wedding ceremony

Weddings are a great opportunity to wear cufflinks. It has nothing to do with whether you are the groom, best man, bride or groom’s father, or a guest. Since a wedding is a celebratory occasion (or at least it should be), the world is your oyster because it is related to the cufflinks you choose. 

If you have some personalized novel cufflinks, please continue to wear them. If you are a more conservative dresser and prefer to stick to your basic nickel link, continue to do so.​​​The only exception is if the wedding is semi-formal, in which case you will want to wear the classic tuxedo cufflinks.

Wrap Up

Don’t let French cuff shirts intimidate you any longer. Now that you know when, how, where, and why to wear this style shirt, you can rock your French cuff shirt with confidence!


Frequently asked questions about the french cuff

What is a French cuff?

A French cuff refers to a style of shirt cuff that is folded back and secured with cufflinks or silk knots, typically creating a more formal and sophisticated look.

What is the difference between a French cuff and a regular cuff?

The main difference between a French cuff and a regular cuff is the method of closure. French cuffs are folded back and secured with cufflinks or silk knots, while regular cuffs are usually fastened with buttons or snaps.

What does French cuff shirt mean?

A French cuff shirt refers to a dress shirt that is designed with French cuffs, which are folded back and secured with cufflinks or silk knots, adding a touch of elegance and formality to the overall look.

Is it a double cuff or French cuff?

A French cuff is also commonly referred to as a double cuff.

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