Buttons, Cufflinks, and Studs
By Sara Rivers Cofield
This section covers button-like clothing attachments that were not actually sewn to the garment. For the most part, this category consists of pairs of buttons attached by a metal chain link or bar, known today as cufflinks. Each button could be inserted into a buttonhole, and the tension between the two buttons connected by the metal link would hold the garment together. This closure type was most common for shirtsleeve cuffs starting in the late 17th-century, but such attachments were also used for collars (see sidebar image). Both men and women wore linked buttons.
Studs are also included in this section of the website since they are like cufflinks in the sense that they help secure garments but are not actually sewn to clothing. Studs generally have one button-like face that is for display which is connected by a rigid bar to a back that would not show. Studs are usually smaller than cufflinks, with a shorter connection between the two pieces that would secure the garment. Cufflinks have often been accompanied by matching studs for the front of the shirt, particularly for formalwear from the 19th and 20th centuries.
From the mid-17th century through the 18th century the term used to describe cufflinks was “sleeve buttons.” This referred specifically to shirtsleeve buttons and did not include buttons found on coat sleeves or waistcoat sleeves. Other terms that have been used are “sleeve links,” which appears in later 18th-century and 19th-century literature, and “link buttons,” which may refer to large buttons for breeches or coats that used the same type of attachment as sleeve buttons (Luscomb 1967; White 2005).
The term “cufflink” may not have come into regular use until the late 19th century. The earliest use of the term cited in the Oxford English Dictionary comes from the 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalog. The shift in terminology may coincide with the invention of new styles such as asymmetrical links connected by a rigid bar, or links with a T-post or flip hinge. These styles were easier to insert through the stiffly starched cuffs that became popular in the 19th century.
For a more detailed discussion of linked buttons, including chronology and function, see the article “Linked Buttons of the Middle Atlantic, 1670-1800.”