Thursday, January 22, 2009

French Cuffs - Reader Questions

Dear Boston,
Is the French cuff applicable in a non-jacket setting, and is there any way to gracefully combine one with a sweater? And where is the upper limit of the barrel cuff's social applicability? I think we've all at some point had to wear them to a more or less formal event; can we say that a barrel cuff is applicable so long as it comes with a slightly less-formal suit, tweed say, or must it be limited to the sport jacket at most? Certainly a sweater prefers a barrel cuff, and naturally this is an important consideration for me as a scholar.

-Professor, University in the City


Dear Professor,
I freqently find myself Franco-cuffed and sweatered. I think that silk-knots are the favored link for the sweater, and I give the sweater cuff a single turn-back that falls on either side of the silk-knot, NEVER concealing the cuff. The sweater, like the jacket, should always be showing linen. As I write this, I am French-cuffed with no tie or jacket. The barrel cuff is acceptable in formal settings, but in order, I would rate the French type first (following the rule that more fabric is better, and your everydayer can't figure it out), then the fitted barrel, and lastly, the side-by-side. I am also of the thought that all of them are perfectly acceptable in just about any setting that allows for a turn-down collar. The barrel-cuff, following the rule, can be made more formal, by adding buttons. Turnbull & Asser puts 3 vertical buttons on each cuff, a pain to do and undo, but it is more formal. Three seems to be the limit, though... I could hardly imagine four. The ever-present side-by-side buttons are strange, because when does one ever adjust the setting? Of all the measurements on a man's shirt, it seems that the one that has nearly zero chance of changing is the wrist measurement.
Also, on sweaters and cuffs: The barrel cuff is obviously better for the unbuttoned turnback over the sweater cuff... one of my favorite sweater/cuff positions, impeccably executed often by my friend in New York (carrying firewood, impromptu under-hood examinations of roadsters, and mid-autumn day cocktails on a porch).


I have received several emails about this since posting, which is strange, because nobody reads this blog. The emails suggest that the French or "double[d]" cuff is formal only. There is only one possible origin for this idea: Those for whom the French cuff is new and recently discovered are still taken with its novelty and most likely own shirts in blue, white, or other solid. To them, this would seem to make the French cuff "luxurious", and I'm betting, only worn with metal links. To these individuals, the cuff accompanying an expensive shirt translates inseparably to "formal", but this is purely a matter of one's custom. To prove this point, I will commission from my local shirtmaker, and once complete will post pictures of, a rough flannel tartan shirt with French cuffs of the same flannel. I will then split firewood in it. This will neutralize that silly claim once and for all. I will surely still get one email saying "Sir, that French cuffed flannel shirt should only be worn for formal occasions." I also suggest that readers disagreeing with this claim view the photos in the "Reviving Shirts" post several posts down.

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