What are French Cuffs?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

French cuffs refer to cuffs on traditionally a man’s dress shirt that are longer and folded back over the wrist. Instead of being secured by buttons, the cuff is secured by cuff links and lends a dressy look. French cuffs were first developed in the 19th century, and were connected with wealthier folk. Up to that time, most commercially made shirts were sewn in one size only and usually featured a row of buttons, so people could attach the cuff at the appropriate length, and fold back any extra length. The desire to have fancier cufflinks attaching the shirt, and a more fitted shirt led to this style of cuff, probably first worn only by those who could afford cufflinks.

French cuffs are associated with formal menswear.
French cuffs are associated with formal menswear.

French cuffs greatly grew in popularity and have never gone out of style. They are now most commonly worn with dress business suits or three-piece suits, and with tuxedos. The popular style of wearing “bling” or flashy jewelry is made subtler by wearing shirts with French cuffs that are attached with diamond or other gemstone cufflinks. In fact, you can really make an individual fashion statement with your choice of cufflinks, which can vary from the very sedate to the extremely flashy.

French cuffs refer to cuffs on traditionally a man’s dress shirt that are longer and folded back over the wrist.
French cuffs refer to cuffs on traditionally a man’s dress shirt that are longer and folded back over the wrist.

In Europe, some men choose not to wear cufflinks with their French cuffs but instead use what are called monkey’s fists. These are usually made of thin silk rope that is elaborated tied to produce a round flat knot on the top of the cuff. In the US, cufflinks are usually preferred.

Women’s shirts may feature French cuffs too, though these are usually attached with a button rather than cufflinks. A women’s shirt style that became popular in the 2000s was the ¾ length sleeve with French cuffs. Instead of featuring an attachment at the bottom of the cuff, the cuffs were usually left unattached. Alternately, since the 1950s, women have worn a variant of French cuffs on shirts where the cuffs are sewn back. These cuffs don’t need to be folded back since they are already attached to the shirt. They evoke the men’s wear style, without the fuss of extra folding and the need for cufflinks.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@ ValleyFiah- I will take your suggestion one step further. Start with the designer jeans (maybe a pair of flat front casual pants). Add a striped French cuff shirt with some nice cuff links, top button undone, and a loosened tie. Follow this with a contrasting vest, and a watch to match. Top it all with a Gatsby that matches the vest. What you have is a fresh yet reckless urban look.


A tailored French cuff shirt and a pair of designer jeans is also a popular way to wear a French cuff shirt (no tie of course).

You can wear them with a pair of straight legs, unbuttoning the top two buttons and either wearing them with links or with the sleeves rolled. If I were to wear it like this, I would probably wear a solid colored shirt in mercerized cotton.

French cuffs worn open with an athletic shirt underneath and a pair of loose fitting jeans will also work. For this look, a pair of white Air force ones and a big belt buckle would probably be best. I would probably wear a patterned woven shirt, maybe something with stripes and paisley inside the collar and cuffs.

I have definitely seen French cuff shirts become more of a casual fashion statement in the last few years. They are versatile shirts that look good any way you choose to wear them.

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