French cuffs lose status as donned by firms' juniors

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - French cuffs are losing their status as a symbol of corporate seniority as newcomers to Wall Street return to more formal dressing and don them daily -- even with jeans, according to style experts.

French cuffs, known as double cuffs in Britain, are when a shirt cuff folds back on itself and is held with cuff links.

This style was once almost exclusively worn by boardroom executives but now has become commonplace in the office and even on college campuses.

Fashion industry experts say the trend kicked off about five years ago after Lehman Brothers became the first bank to reverse its business casual dress code and return to more formal attire. Other firms followed.

With the push to more formal dressing in the workplace, style-conscious men began experimenting with how to wear their suits and make a fashion statement on their wrist.

“Cuff links help a man to define his personal style. Pairing cuff links with jeans and a blazer helps a man marry classic styles with modern trends,” said Alan Leong, of STORM of London, a purveyor of trendy cuff links.

Traditional dress required double cuffs be worn with a tie and jacket and were preferred for formal black tie events but the emergence of business casual loosened these dress codes.

“The young customer who has embraced the suit and a certain lifestyle is the biggest part of the increase,” said Arnold Karr, online editor of Women’s Wear Daily.

“Production of suits picked up vigorously after this phenomena of young people entering the workplace and discovering the suit as a new way to dress themselves.”


But the traditional customer is not necessarily thrilled about the French cuff being snatched from the echelons of executive management.

There is an unspoken code in the halls of some of Wall Street’s most prestigious banks that French cuffs should only be worn by people of a certain higher status.

“People will sometimes make comments about people who shouldn’t be wearing them,” one banker, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

The increased use of French cuffs and cuff links to express personal style has driven up sales of dress shirts, according to NPD Group, whose figures show dress shirt sales jumped 8.9 percent in the year from June 2006.

Tim Ceci, director of men’s clothing at upscale department store Barney’s New York says “wearing French cuffs with jeans” is now the hip way to incorporate the look into your wardrobe.

Gene Klompus, owner of cuff link company, said the popularity of French cuffs and cuff links began climbing about three years ago with more formal dressing. sells a wide variety of styles of cuff links, from vintage car logos to silver lobsters.

“But I foresee less novelty and more gemstones and onyx,” said Klompus.

Klompus expects the trend toward formal dressing -- and the French cuffs that come with that -- will continue to grow.

Many young bankers agreed with this, including one analyst who declined to be named.

“Everyone dresses and looks the same so the best way to stand out is with cuff links. Wearing a French cuff shirt makes a statement that you care about how you project yourself.”