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Cufflinks

Gifts That Kept on Giving.

by Everett Wilson
December 17, 2005

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Cufflinks

I belong to what is still called, irrelevantly, a white-collar profession. For the first half of my career the name applied. Most days I would put on a white shirt and tie to go to the office, even when the office was in my house. I was a "suit," though my income didn't justify the expense. For as long as  I still had a boyish figure I was kept in wearable suits  by other professionals who had outgrown them — that is, gotten too fat to button the jacket.

 

In those days shirts with French cuffs were common and readily available. They required cufflinks. I had two or three pair, gifts from my parents and in-laws. The most durable set was given to me by my parents the Christmas after I graduated from college, forty-eight years ago. They are sterling silver with gemstones of a translucent midnight blue — perhaps moonstone, but I am not sure of that. I still wear them.  I hope someone will want them when I am gone, though the fashion that requires them may also be gone by then.
 
Indeed, there came a time when French cuffs were no longer available on the shelves of men's departments, at least of the ones I could afford. I would not have resented this so much if they hadn't still been selling cufflinks — for what purpose I couldn't fathom, except "We've still got to get something for Dad!"
 
I had to put my cufflinks away in a dresser drawer.  
 
I don't remember how long this period lasted, but about thirteen years ago I spotted, across a boardroom table, a colleague in French cuffs! I didn't interrupt business, but I made a beeline for him at the coffee break and asked where he got his shirt. The Penney's catalog, he said, was the only source he knew.
 
I went home and ordered a shirt, and have had at least one in my closet ever since. I brought my cufflinks out of hiding and began wearing the shirt to worship. Before long one of the widows in church noticed, and offered me her husband's cufflinks. Most of them had been gifts from her to him over their long marriage, and their son did not use them. She said they were good ones, and they are indeed. I took them with gratitude, not only for their own sake but to perpetuate the memory of the man who had worn them before me, and whom I had admired and respected. 
 
There were several sets. For more than ten years now I have been wearing them in turn with those I already owned, which were originally gifts to my father and my father-in-law, as well as to me. In my family, and my wife's too, I am the only man of my generation who wears cufflinks.
 
Most gifts for men today, if they are not perishables, tend to be tools or toys, including their electronic variations. But cufflinks in their day were excellent gifts — small, beautiful, pound-for-pound very expensive, but still had their own arcane practicality. They aren't just to look at. When your shirt cuffs are buttonless, there is every reason to wear cufflinks.    
 
But the main reason they are among my favorite things is that, when I put them on, I remember with gratitude those from whom I received them, whether by gift or inheritance.        

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Robert McNaughton from Middletown, CT writes:
December 17, 2005
Everett: I'm sorry you have succumbed to the dress of the sloppy generation, which parades itself as wearing comfortable clothing. Which also includes the latest trend in school clothing - pajamas and other bedroom wear - because it's comfortable. Is there anything more unsightly than men, or especially women, wearing sweat pants in public? All in the name of being comfortable.

Is there no sense of dignity? No sense of professionalism? I don't want to do business with an attorney, or a financial manager, or a banker wearing sneakers, sweatpants, and a t-shirt with some vulgar saying, or advertising some company or product.

I've worked in construction, road work, factories, and a number of other places, and dressed accordingly. I do so today - wearing shirt and tie to work daily, except for an occasional sweater in the winter.

Bob

Everett Wilson from Chetek, WI writes:
December 18, 2005
Bob's letter reminds me of Mrs. Truman, when somebody asked her about her husband, the President, saying manure. It took me thirty years to get him to say 'manure.'

In this case, figuratively speaking, Bob sees people who used to say manure now saying something else. But there is a middle ground between a suit and sweat pants, which is where the clergy around here generally identify with--and I've always been a middle-ground fella. But with my cufflinks I take the high ground.

My main point was my delight in returning to french cuffs and cufflinks.

Don't even try to count the mixed metaphors in this letter.



Rita Ayers from Fairhope, AL writes:
December 19, 2005
I read with interest Everett Wilson’s “Cufflinks” article, as well as the response from Robert McNaughton. I viewed the article as a whimsical piece, one which reminded me of bygone days and various beautiful pairs of cufflinks worn by my dapper grandfather. Mr. McNaughton seems to have used this lovely piece of nostalgia to blast today’s society for their sloppy dress.

A few years ago, I had the incredibly good fortune to produce and edit a book for a local Mardi Gras society which was celebrating its first fifty years in existence. I was provided thousands of old black and white photographs to sift through. I was amazed to see the streets of downtown Mobile lined with men, women and children in suits, ties, hats, gloves, dresses, high heels, fur coats – in short, even better than Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes. Today, the entire throng of 100,000 parade-goers is donned in identical garb of blue jeans and sweatshirts, with the occasional exception of the well-dressed couple who plans to attend the parading society's accompanying ball in just a short while. I can also actually remember that I had to wear dresses to elementary school and, when we were finally allowed to wear slacks, they most certainly could not be blue jeans. So, from these two reference points, I can clearly see Mr. McNaughton’s point.

Ironically, we can probably place the blame for our decline in attentiveness to personal care to the man who was President when Mr. Wilson graduated from college – Dwight D. Eisenhower. Under President Eisenhower’s guidance, the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways was funded.

You may be thinking that I have totally lost my mind when I make this great leap of faith, but consider this: prior to the Interstate System, most businessmen lived within a short distance of their workplace. The typical businessman could walk to his office or perhaps take a short cab or bus ride. The suburbs, as we know them today, did not exist. With the coming of the Interstates, it became possible for the businessman to move his family out of the congestion and into what he perceived would be a simpler way of life. At first, seemingly, his quality of life improved. His family could have open space - he could get to work in his P.O.V. (Personally Owned Vehicle) in a relatively short period of time - and he could continue to have the amount of time necessary to dress in a manner which would allow him to wear – you guessed it – cufflinks.

But then, others jumped on the same bandwagon, and his direct connection to work became just as congested as the city traffic had been – and now it was farther away, with no alternate methods to take other than a long commuter train ride. No matter which way you slice it, something had to give. As we spend more and more time in our cars, we have less and less time available for things such as cufflinks. I can personally hop into a pair of jeans much faster than I can struggle to put on pantyhose, a skirt and heels, and I frequently choose to do so to save that time to do something else that I deem more important for the day. This is not to say that I enjoy seeing everyone slouch around. It’s simply a way of saying that our dress, like so many other personal choices that we make, is in direct relationship to the increasingly harried lifestyles we all find ourselves living. Here’s hoping that this Christmas, we all slow down long enough to put on a pair of cufflinks.



Robert McNaughton from Middletown, CT writes:
January 2, 2006
What an interesting and novel analysis: Ike, Interstates and sweats!

The cufflinks are great, and I still have some, though at the moment I own no shirts with French cuffs. And yes, I did launch from cufflinks to sweats, though I knew full well that Everett, though more causual during the week, was still dignified.

A year ago we were vacationing in February in a warm climate: daily temperature was 85. We attended worship one Sunday in an Episcopal church, and another Sunday with a Methodist congregation. Though it was warm, and there was no air conditioning, worshipers clearly understood that they were presenting themselves to the Almighty, and dressed accordingingly. There were no shorts, no open collars, no flip flops - white dresses, men in suits and ties. It was wonderful!

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