While chatting between bites of a bagel at a recent conference, my boss, Judy Rader (Exelon Generation VP of communications) commented on my cufflinks—light bulbs. The energy company brass suggested I write about them for my next column.
Kissing-up aside, she has a point. I’ve never broached the topic here. They’re not exactly a new trend. Nonetheless, I do have an affinity for this contraption that conjoins my cotton-covered wrists. So, I present—an ode to cufflinks.
I vividly remember my grandfather plopping a Ziploc baggie in my hand with a bunch of tarnished thingies. I had no idea what they were. My dad showed me what they were from a Sinatra album cover. I figured out I had inherited a collection of art deco cufflinks.
I didn’t go through some awkward teenage Rat Pack phase. Problem was—department stores didn’t sell French-cuff shirts. Not until a slick Don Draper stepped on screen, wearing those same art deco cufflinks, did retailers reinvent our mainstream again.
Throughout history, simple versions of the cufflink held sleeve cuffs together. Usually ties, clasps or ribbons were used to tunnel the cuffs. European aristocrats of the 1800s changed formalwear forever, which included ornate and gemstone cufflinks to complete starched cuffs and collars.
Towards the 20th century, Paris shirt-maker Charvet offered buttonless barrel cuffs that used affordable silk knots. This is how the “French cuff” became widely available to the common man. The fashion infiltrated American culture, but again, mostly for the wealthy. The Great Depression and WWII followed. Excess wasn’t largely celebrated until the 1950s and ‘60s, when prosperity, futurism and guys like Sinatra became icons of cool. Art Nouveau worn on wrists.
I used those ol’ Nouveau cufflinks during proms in high school, when I wore tuxes. I once splurged on a French cuff shirt at a hometown men’s store for college formals and job interviews. Still, these shirts were expensive and hard to find. When I began my TV news career, I could order the shirts online. As my time on the tube increased, so did my cufflink repertoire. It was my way to add creativity and a detail that other guys weren’t doing. People noticed.
While covering the 2008 presidential campaign, future Veep Joe Biden chuckled at a pair of bananas peeking through my outstretched arm holding a microphone. They matched my yellow tie that day. Cufflinks became an icebreaker during interviews. Harrisburg mayors Linda Thompson and Eric Papenfuse would take lighthearted inventory, asking, “What are you wearing today?” I put the fun in functional (ba-dum-tis).
Cufflinks are now easy to find. Cuffdaddy.com, Etsy and Amazon seem to have endless variations for any profession or hobby. Scour antique stores, and you’ll score ones like my grandfather gave me. Boardrooms don’t have to be boring! Even off-air, I still wear them and people still notice. Between the gifts, gotta-haves and souvenirs over the years, I enlisted the assistance of a vintage chocolate mold to house each pair of memories.
No creative cocktail recipe this time around. Instead, in honor of my late grandfather and dad, just grab a glass of Jack and wear cufflinks while you sip. Nothing is cooler than that.
Dave Marcheskie, a former reporter and anchor for abc27 News, is our Sharp Press Man.