It struck me recently that cufflinks are the male equivalent of foot-binding, or perhaps of growing insanely long fingernails, or even being sewn into your clothes to avoid creases (as was Archduke Ferdinand, who was shot and bled to death on the streets of Sarajevo in 1914, and whose assassination triggered World War I … but I digress). Cufflinks are essentially an advertisement of status – not merely a way of showing the world that you’re wealthy enough to buy shirts that require cufflinks, but that you inhabit a rarefied plane of humanity on which people adopt highly impractical modes of dress to signal their detachment from the working world. Cufflinks serve no practical purpose other than keeping together the sleeves of a shirt designed to be useless without them – which is a bit like erecting a sign saying ‘Do not throw stones at this sign’.
Proles, of course, make do with buttons, those simple, cheap but nonetheless highly functional fasteners used by humanity for over five thousand years. After Ötzi – the 5300-year-old Man in the Ice – was discovered poking out of a glacier in the South Tyrol in September 1991, his possessions were found to include a pierced marble disc that was probably used as a button. Unsurprisingly, no copper-age cufflinks were found adorning his jacket, loincloth, cloak or quiver.
Cufflinks must make rolling up your sleeves a bit of a pain, but then again, doing so enables the cufflink-wearer to show off comprehensively, which is, after all, their true point. Nevertheless, the cufflink-removal performance can’t be a winner for every wearer: it must be a dead giveaway for politicians trying to boost their ‘man of the people’ credentials. Kicking the footy on the lawns of Parliament House or throwing a token shovel-load of soil on a building site can hardly look natural after a man has first extracted cufflinks from an expensive shirt.