“It’s the scrupulous attention to dress details that marks the man of distinguished appearance,” ran the ad copy back in 1921. “The lack of it frequently mars an otherwise perfect attire.”
Well, yes—only a monster would quibble with this—but what were they shilling? Shoes, ties, shirts, suits? I’ll bet a buck you didn’t guess Kum-a-part snap cuff links.
Snap cuff links are significantly harder to describe than to use. Imagine a cuff link, cut in two, where the halves are joined not by a chain but by a press stud. This allows your double cuff to be “clicked” open or “snapped” shut, and for your shirtsleeves to be rolled back quickly and without fuss. It’s the dress- shirt equivalent of a jacket’s “surgeon’s cuff” but significantly more useful to those, like me, who enjoy the breeze on our wrists while typing.
I first encountered Kum-a-part cuff links in Leo Design, a curio shop on Bleecker Street in Manhattan, and was instantly hooked (if one can be hooked by a snap). Where had this miraculous invention—zip-like in its revolutionary simplicity—been all my life? Why had no one told me that French-cuff handcuffs could be picklocked by something as simple as a press stud? I bought six pairs that day, and so began my obsession.
I now have at least 60 pairs, the trademarks of which conjure a deliciously muscular age of pre-war branding: Kum-a-part, Snap-Link, Lion Brand, Jem-Link, Jiffy-Links, EverSnap, Twentieth-Century, the Pioneer, as well as a host of unmarked impostors.
Although one can find snap cuff links in platinum, silver and gold, no pair of mine cost more than about $25. Their fastenings are made of nickel or brass, and their decorative details are fashioned from glass, plastic, rhinestone and (faux) mother-of-pearl. Which is not to say they don’t look fancy, but the true luxury of wearing them is their ease of use.
My collection includes a shimmering mauve hexagon in deep-faceted glass, an enamel octagon in a green the hue of poisoned icing, a clunky square with a radioactive chevron of yellow and black, a rhombus lozenge in the colors of the German flag and a brilliant blue rondelle that glints like a cat’s eye. I have a number of Art Deco initials (“S’s” and “B’s” and a “P” for my wife) and a pair with Scottie dogs in memory of my maternal grandmother. One long-owned (and never worn) pair resembles the pustules of an especially antisocial skin disease… Indeed they’re so unpleasant that I’ve just paused typing this sentence to throw them away.
Given that each set of snap cuff links has four individual parts, you’d think they’d be easily lost. But in my experience, the dexterous pleasure of tucking each quadrant in and out of a shirt’s buttonholes means they tend to stick and click together. (In theory, one could mix and match four contrasting pairs to create a kooky kaleidoscopic effect, but this would be as tiresome as deliberately sporting odd socks.)
I’ve often wondered why more people aren’t aware of snap cuff links. They were all the rage in the Jazz Age. Indeed, during the 1920s more than four million pairs of Kum-a-parts were sold each year. You can find plenty of these still around online, too. Of course, fewer and fewer men regularly now wear double-cuff shirts, but those who do still need to roll back their sleeves now and then.
Perhaps this should be my new side hustle. Yes… keep your eyes peeled for Schott-Links… or Snap-Schotts (patent pending). Coming soon.