Classical cadherins are calcium-dependent cell–cell adhesion proteins that play key roles in the formation and maintenance of tissues. Deficiencies in cadherin adhesion are hallmarks of numerous cancers. In this article, we review recent biophysical studies on the regulation of cadherin structure and adhesion. We begin by reviewing distinct cadherin binding conformations, their biophysical properties, and their response to mechanical stimuli. We then describe biophysical guidelines for engineering Abs that can regulate adhesion by either stabilizing or destabilizing cadherin interactions. Finally, we review molecular mechanisms by which cytoplasmic proteins regulate the conformation of cadherin extracellular regions from the inside out.