History of Silk Knots

We can thanks French tailors of the mid to late 1800’s for the Silk Knot, an item they created out of necessity that has evolved into a fashion staple. But let’s step back for a minute and look at look at the historical context.

The fasteners we take for granted today like buttons and cufflinks are relatively recent inventions. The earliest fasteners were pins and drawstrings. Buttons came next and were followed by cufflinks in the 1600s. But it was not until the 1800’s when the French Cuff shirt gained ascendency over the ruffle sleeved shirt that the cuff link really became ubiquitous.

The highly ornamental cuff links of the time where meant to highlight the wealth of the wearer or commemorate some event, which again placed the wearer as someone of high status.

The silk knot started when tailors of the time needed some alternative to the highly ornamental cufflink for displaying their wares. The ornamental cufflink distracted attention from the construction of the shirt and was cost prohibitive. So tailors begun closing cuffs with a loop of silk thread which eventually became what we know as the silk knot cufflink.

A silk knot was essentially three white threads (for bulk), tied into a turk’s head (or monkey’s fist) knot around a small bead. The simplicity of the silk knot provides a fastener for display that was elegant yet did not distract from the color of the shirt. Tailors expanded the range of colors and patterns used in silk knots to match their shirts.

At the fin de siècle (end of the century), the highly ornamental styles of the past gave way to a more organic aesthetic movement where shape and clean lines became more important. It was at this point the silk knot began to gain popularity outside the tailor’s studio.

The design of the silk knot has not changed much since the beginning of the 1900s. The only significant change is that discovery of new materials such as elastomers and rayon have meant that silk knot cufflinks are now made of more modern materials that have improved their functionality. Modern machinery now allows silk knot cufflinks to be mass produced, however the best silk knots are still produced by hand.