In this column I always try to discuss style in dress as well as smoking and the overlap of the two as they concern today’s gentlemen and ladies.
As the title suggests, it is the subtle finishing touches of wardrobe and style in general that really create a fully realized whole regarding one’s style and approach to things sartorial, smoking, or otherwise.
I had originally planned to cover several different items and subjects that cluster under the umbrella of “accessories”. As I began to wade into those waters it soon became apparent that I would be in over my head in short order, and, as this column is tardy already, I had better narrow the focus considerably. Therefore I have chosen one wardrobe and one smoking accessory. I am pleased that I did because it enabled me to focus on an aspect that often is overlooked in regard to these two items. I shall discuss cufflinks and lighters.
Both of these items can have an influence that can be far out of proportion to their size and initial consideration.
These diminutive, yet powerful elements are reappearing out and about on many gentleman and some ladies too.
The Power of Subtlety
Just as a one or two millimeter change in dimension on a pipe can vastly alter it’s appearance, so too, can a set of cufflinks have a great effect on one’s projection of personal style.
A Missing Link
Say you wish to be just a bit more dressy for a party or a night out to a nice restaurant, but you don’t wish to go full bore with neck tie and pocket square. You want to look and feel casual, but elegant, nonetheless. To show that the event is special to you, but not too formal and to project a subtle air of relaxed elegance, cufflinks are perfect.
Try it Out
Here are some quick examples of combinations that can achieve very subtle degrees of elegance and raise your game a bit while injecting a very personal touch. Let’s take the nice restaurant scenario from above. Try a solid color blazer or sport coat, open collar white shirt and sterling silver or silver metal cufflinks – nothing too showy. If your blazer has gold buttons, switch to a sport coat as gold colored cufflinks should always be real gold and as such are quite formal.
If you wish to increase the formality, wear a fine, subdued white on white patterned or striped shirt with a good stand up collar and very elegant, understated and perhaps monogrammed sterling cufflinks. Want to loosen up a bit but still remain “classy”? Try a solid color shirt, say light blue, pale yellow or pearl grey and silver metal links with a personally appropriate theme or a bit of artistic design. Vintage links like Art Deco or Victorian styles are great, but a finely rendered sailboat or hunting horn would be great too. You get the idea; something that relates to your interests without being novelty cufflinks.
I’ve seen tasteful links with themes of all kinds: musical notes, various well rendered animals, birds or fish species, automotive motifs, sports specific, financial, various professions and many hobby pursuits.
Art themed links can be specific to certain styles such as ancient Greek, Frank Lloyd Wright, Bauhaus, classical Asian art, African art and so on. I would avoid religious, political or other potentially controversial themes. One cannot be elegant if the atmosphere is not relaxed.
Further tweaking can be achieved by moving from monochromatic links to various degrees of colored enamels, semi precious stone or shell and exotic woods, all the way to very informal graphics such as logos, period art or even skulls and Gothic themes.
Just remember to err on the side of good taste – never a poor choice. In situations where appropriate you can even be ironic and “anti-formal” choosing to express your mood or attitude with whimsical and even humorous and clever themes.
If you remain conservative in tone and style in the overall outfit you create a canvas for the subtle or not so subtle message sent by your choice of cufflinks.
Please do avoid cheap looking links. Like clip on ties, they will only serve to destroy your style – unless you are attending a 70’s themed dress party.
Keeping it Together
There are dozens of variations on the mechanical methods and designs for cufflink closures. The most common are the toggle back type, the chain or bridge link and the solid types.
Toggles have the folding element that can go straight through the buttonholes and then turn 90 degrees, holding the cuffs together. The chain or bridge type are usually two matching pieces permanently joined by a short length of chain, cord or various metal bar links. These include silk and metal knots, chain linked discs and the 70s icon: the belt wrap around.
The solid type include the post, bean backed and barbell types that generally have a larger outside element and smaller inside dimensioned component joined by a solid bar or tang. Barbells tend to have equal sized ends with a solid bar between, thus resembling a barbell. These are not too common, though they are often favored by high end jewelers like Tiffany and Harry Winston for elegant simplicity and offer a facile shape for their creative expressions.
As mentioned, there are many variations on closures, some quite sophisticated and clever, perhaps aimed at engineers and gadget freaks.
One of my favorite methods, popular in the 1900’s-1930’s is the snap type. Both sides of the cufflinks are matching back-to-back discs that securely snapped together. They were well made and remained on the cuffs when unsnapped.
Thus, they were hard to loose, convenient to employ and allowed for a quick rolling up of the shirtsleeves. Some are quite elegant and fancy too. A very practical design, I believe.
Gentleman, especially in the last 80 or 90 years, mostly remained unadorned by jewelry. I’m not sure why this came about, but I’m sure Liberace had some influence here in the West, at least during his career.
Jewelry on men became associated with a tendency toward fussiness and pompous delicacy that came to be (mis) understood as unmanly.
Hip Hop revolutionaries not withstanding, this anti-jewelry stance still is generally persistent today, though it seems to be shifting. Wristbands, bracelets and cuffs are becoming rather ubiquitous and certainly are embraced by top fashion designers as well as tough individualists.
Cufflinks offer an elegant opportunity for a man to wear jewelry in a very conventional way and allows one to avoid what may be a current and passing fad.
Here again, one can express an individual style and be creative, stylish, flamboyant or as elegant as they wish. Here are a few examples of what I would term ” male jewelry” cufflinks:
As with most things, you can spend as much as you like up to rather outrageous sums.
A gentleman, I believe, would do well to have at least one good pair of elegant and understated cufflinks and a good quality white shirt with French or double cuffs for truly formal occasions. Matching or coordinated studs are required for those that will be wearing a tuxedo or formal morning dress, though not many affairs require such dress these days.
More is the pity, I say.
Here are a few of my personal collection. The gold links were my fathers. Typical of Harry, they are simple, small and elegantly monogrammed.
Whether for cigarettes, cigars or pipes, lighters also project a stylistic impression. Visualize receiving a light from an accommodating stranger as they produce a worn Bic lighter sporting an NFL graphic. Now imagine the very same person offering a light from a solid gold Davidoff or Caran D’Ache lighter.
Don’t you receive two distinctly different impressions of your new friend? I offer no judgment here, just the proposition that the two different lighters alone can create a markedly different impression of the same person. Thus, your lighter(s) can also reflect your sense of style.
A Bic lighter is a very dependable, economical, and widely available lighter that offers great utility and can also make certain statements depending on the graphic designs on the body. I have seen and created special sleeves or holders that can be stylistic expressions while still employing these venerable lighters. I keep one in the car, one at my desk and at least one in the shop.
There are many, many smokers that choose lighters as much for their visual and design aesthetic as for their dependability and practicality. And cigar, pipe and cigarette smoking do have variations in lighting techniques that can have a great influence on their choice of a lighter.
The straight up soft flame butane cigarette lighter will certainly suffice for all but the most unusual conditions whether smoking a cigar, cigarette or pipe. The variety of styles, configurations and decorative motifs of these lighters simply defy innumeration. And of course when one includes fluid, or petrol lighters, a vast world of vintage lighters join the already swollen ranks of the butane lighters.
It is highly lamentable that some of the truly well made and beautiful vintage petrol lighters cannot easily be converted to butane fuel.
Zippo has a butane insert that works quite well and allows the use of a cherished heirloom without having to endure the much out of favor petrol, or lighter fluid.
The Bentley and Ronson lines, both early butane lighters, can be made serviceable. I understand that the reliability of these reworked lighters is rather spotty. This is also lamentable as the Ronson Adonis, a Varaflame model, is quite elegant and excellent for lighting pipes as well as cigars and cigarettes. I believe new ones may be available though they are not inexpensive.
Lighters intended specifically to light a cigar tend to fall into three categories: torch, soft flame and dual flame.
Here again there is a broad range of offerings from quite inexpensive and simple to very ornate and sky’s the limit pricing.
Torch lighters produce an intense and focused flame using valve types to create a conical and generally windproof flame that is quite hot. This assures a lit cigar even in all but hurricane level winds. Either with angled or vertical, one, two or three flame nozzles, the distinctive hoarsely hushed roar and bright blue flame of these lighters is unmistakable. They are massive overkill for cigarettes and pure carbonizing death for pipe bowl rims.
|Lotus Triple Torch||Porsche Micro Torch||ST Dupont
Mayan End of the World
The soft flame cigar lighters are generally designed to provide a larger and /or wider flame than a cigarette lighter. These can be angled or vertical flames that are much cooler than the pressurized flame of the torch and permit the cigar smoker to toast the foot of the cigar and avoid actually touching the flame itself to the tobacco. Many feel this is the ideal way to ignite a cigar or a pipe. The notion is to allow the just heat from the flame to cause the tobacco to catch fire.
Two in One
The combination lighters that allow a choice between a torch and a soft flame attempt to cover all the bases and as such probably make the best gift for a smoker if their preference for lighting is unknown, or if one wishes to be prepared for calm or windy conditions with a single unit.
Most all lighters designed for the pipe smoker usually have an angled flame to allow for ease of lighting the mostly vertically oriented surface of the tobacco in the bowl. Angled flames help avoid the dreaded charred rim and the painful and embarrassing “Bic burn” that can result from inverting a regular soft flame lighter when lighting the bowl.
A flame that emerges at a 45 to 90 degree angle orientation to upright allows a nice light with good control and can afford a view of the lighting surface.
A lighter, like with cufflinks, watches, fountain pens, pipes or nearly anything else can be simple and plain or complicated and gaudy. They can also be quite elegant. And, expensive or cheap, they are bloody handy items.
Here are a few examples that run the gamut:
|Urso||ST Dupont||Sarome SD1|
Below are a few of my favorites from my personal collection. This Bentley lighter with integral tamper is simple, light and compact, very utilitarian, refillable and quite reasonably priced. As such, I find it overall, rather elegant in it’s modest way.
This is a bit of a rare beast: a Zippo butane. It is extremely well made, very much akin to an I M Corona or Dunhill. The finish and heft convey true quality. I was told that these lighters had a very short run in the 80’s. They were made in Japan at high cost, hence the quality, and were a tough sell in the U.S. where they were priced higher than the meat and potatoes petrol Zippos. Too bad they didn’t catch on, as this is a very fine and attractive lighter. Though a straight flame cigarette lighter, I love it dearly.
Finally, this is my everyday carry lighter: the I M Corona Old Boy in pewter finish embossed with classic pipe shapes. It too, has an integral tamper. This is a legend among pipe smokers and deservedly so. It is rugged, reliable, a flint ignition lighter ( always my preference ) and the 1920’s design, upgraded for butane fuel is interesting and easy to operate. Many consider this model Old Boy to be the ultimate pipe lighter.
the Gentleman Smoker’s Hint:
Regarding cufflinks, eBay is a great source for some fabulous designs, as is Etsy.com. For French cuff shirts, try the T. J. Maxx and Burlington Coat Factory type stores because they often have these shirts at very reduced prices – especially white and formal (tuxedo) shirts. Also consider getting at least one good made to measure white shirt for formal occasions when a really well fitting shirt really enhances your look and comfort, thus promoting a relaxed and enjoyable affair.
Cheers to all,
the Gentleman Smoker
Steve Morrisette is an artisan pipe maker, relentlessly snappy dresser, and self-confessed Virginia gentleman. He makes artisan pipes for discerning collectors, and scours the internet and shops of all types seeking information and fine garments, hats, watches, shoes, and jewelry – anything related to the gentleman’s lifestyle. Steve also spent several decades as a working drummer and photographer/photojournalist. You can find his pipes at www.smpipes.com, and catch his style photos and latest pipes on Facebook and Instagram.