Shirts with French cuffs look different from shirts with standard (or "barrel") cuffs because of the overlapping fold of fabric at the wrist. Shirts with French cuffs should fit a normal sleeve length, but compensation must be made for the extended length of shirt fabric that must be folded back and fastened with buttons or cuff links.
French Cuff Origins
French tailors who dressed the rich and famous Renaissance men of the mid-19th century are considered the originators of French cuff shirts. Alexandre Dumas, author of "The Count of Monte Cristo" and other adventure novels about heroic, horse-riding swordsmen, wrote that the look of a man in a shirt that required decorative cuff links was "admirable and enviable."
The sleeves on shirts with French cuffs extend as far as mid-finger length and are supposed to be folded to the wrist. By contrast, shirts with sleeves that have standard (or "barrel") cuffs stop at the wrist with no backward fold required. A standard cuff normally closes with one button through a single, stitched button hole. Normally, a shirt with a French cuff requires at least four stitched button holes and a separate cuff link to bind the holes together.
French Cuff Styles
French cuffs can either match the fabric on the rest of the shirt's sleeves or contrast against it. Commonly, French cuffs are white in contrast to the dominant pattern (stripes or checks) or color (bright, neutral or pastel) on dress shirts. French cuffs are more prominent to the eye by virtue of their extra fabric and the cuff links required to hold them together.
French Cuff Maintainence
Do not iron French cuffs that are soiled, because the heat and steam can seal in stains and odors. Carefully starch a French cuff so that it folds back with a crisp, sharp appearance as opposed to a soft, unfinished one. To eliminate wrinkles, iron the interior of the French cuff first and then iron the exterior. To save time fastening French cuffs, they can be pressed with the cuff fabric folded back and the cuff link holes aligned.
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