Antique dress sets often include only two or three shirt studs. In contrast, modern dress shirts usually require four studs. The natural question is "What happened to the missing studs?"
Undoubtedly some shirt studs have been lost over the years, others damaged and maybe some even repurposed as earrings or other jewels. But the mystery of the missing shirt studs is best explained by the evolution of the dress shirt over the past century and a half.
During the Victorian era dress shirts were a pullover style - somewhat like a golf or rugby shirt but with a detachable collar. The shirts did not have fully buttoned fronts, but instead were closed with just one or two buttons near the neck. As a result, often only two shirt studs were included in 19th century dress sets. Of course, the Victorians had other bits of paraphernalia to worry about, like collar buttons to secure those detachable collars.
With the dawn of the 20th century fully buttoned dress shirts became the fashion and additional shirt studs were required. During the first half of the century formal dress included a waistcoat (vest) or, after its introduction by British military officers returning from India, a cummerbund. Three shirt studs sufficed to close the shirt front. During the first half of the century most dress sets included this number. The stud sets illustrated in this note are largely from this period.
After World War II, the definition of formal attire continued to evolve. With changing times and social mores, tuxedos were increasingly worn without a waistcoat or cummerbund. The more fully exposed shirt front resulted in an additional stud being needed. Thus, contemporary dress sets include four shirt studs.
Having addressed the mystery of the "missing" shirt studs, the question remains "How do you wear an antique dress set with a modern dress shirt?" There are several workable solutions.
1. Employ a discreet mother of pearl or matching stud to secure the lowest button hole of the shirt and, of course, keep your jacket buttoned.
2. Have a dress shirt custom made to accept three shirt studs. Not a bad way to complement your investment in an antique dress set.
3. Adopt either of the above solutions and wear a waistcoat or cummerbund. Being somewhat of a traditionalist this is my preferred approach.
To view antique cufflinks and dress sets from the past,
please visit our Antique Cufflinks Gallery.