What Is A Cummerbund?
So, what exactly is a cummerbund? It’s a pleated waist sash worn with single-breasted tuxedo jackets. Traditionally black, they are also available in other colors, most notably burgundy, bottle green, rich gold, and even white. They are widest around the front and were adopted as a warm-weather alternative to the black tie waistcoat.
The garment has its roots in Asia. Indian men traditionally wore them, and the British adopted it while India was under colonial rule. Etymologically, the word is a corruption/cognate of the Urdu/Persian word kamarband, with kamar meaning “loins” and band meaning “sash.” In Hindi, the word is cummerband.
We can certainly all agree that “cummerbund” has a nicer ring to it than “loinsash.”
Note that in modern Persian, the word kamarband refers to anything belt-like. This is most often an actual belt, but can also refer to a safety belt or a road that encircles a city, such as Washington D.C.’s Beltway.
Why Wear A Cummerbund?
When wearing a tuxedo, an immaculate presentation and attention to detail are of the utmost importance. A cummerbund acts as a waist covering, preventing your shirt from peeking out below the buttoning point of your jacket. This means that the only part of the shirt visible is above your chest, forming a powerful V-shape that makes you look stronger and more masculine. Having white popping out below would be distracting to say the least.
Cummerbund Or Cumberbund: How It Is Spelled?
There is a lot of confusion as to the spelling of this word. This is understandable as it’s an Anglicized Persian word, but make no mistake, it’s spelled “cummerbund,” not “cumberbund,” or “cummerbun.”
Traditionally, cummerbunds are made of silk. Cheaper models at discount stores will often be made of synthetic material such as polyester, and these should be avoided unless you’re on an extreme budget.
When & How To Wear A Cummerbund
Wearing a cummerbund isn’t obligatory, but if you’re going to wear a tuxedo and forgo the waistcoat, we strongly encourage you to wear a cummerbund. This is particularly true in warm weather, when even a backless waistcoat may be impractical.
Do You Have To Wear A Cummerbund With A Tux?
In a word, no. In lieu of a cummerbund, you may wear either a waistcoat or, if you’re going for a more contemporary look, no waist covering at all. If you opt to omit a waist covering, ensure that your tuxedo trousers’ waist is high enough to avoid any shirt showing underneath the button.
Cummerbund Pleats: Up Or Down?
Most (but not all) cummerbunds have pleats. Once upon a time, these pleats were functional, serving as pockets with which to hold ticket stubs and other night-at-the-opera sorts of things. As such, if your cummerbund has pleats, it is only correct to wear them facing up.
Colloquially, a cummerbund was known as a “crumb-catcher,” as upward-facing pleats offered the wearer this fringe benefit.
Should A Cummerbund Match My Tie, Jacket, Or Something Else?
Traditionally, cummerbunds are black and thus match the bow tie, jacket, and trousers all at once. As time has gone on, it has become more common to inject other colors into the black tie ensemble, so it’s totally appropriate to wear a cummerbund in a deep tone such as burgundy, plum, bottle green, or dark blue. Patterned cummerbunds exist as well and are appropriate to wear, so if you happen to find one that strikes you, by all means snatch it up.
In the event that you choose to wear a cummerbund in such a color or pattern, do not wear a matching bow tie, but rather the standard black one. Throwing too much color into a tuxedo compromises its integrity as a semi-formal outfit, and the look is decidedly pre-packaged and a bit clownish.
When people use the term “monkey suit,” this is the look they have in mind. Below, we see a couple of examples of how cummerbunds can be worn incorrectly. At left, we have a matching cummerbund and bow tie set, and at right we have a cummerbund that was intended to match its jacket.
Instead of emulating what you see above, take a look at the graphic below. At left is the classic black cummerbund with black bow tie, and at right is a contrasting cummerbund that doesn’t attempt to match the jacket with which it’s been paired:
Should I Wear A Cummerbund Or Vest?
The choice of wearing a cummerbund or vest is up to you. It’s a matter of personal preference and comfort, as a waistcoat will work better in colder months while a cummerbund is the preferred option in spring and summer.
Aesthetically, though, it’s good to look to your lapels. A tuxedo jacket takes either peaked lapels or a shawl collar. The curve of a cummerbund syncs well with a shawl collar, while the points of a waistcoat coordinate wonderfully with those of a peaked lapel. While coordinating these items on this basis isn’t necessary, it’s a smart design element to consider.
Can You Wear A Cummerbund With Braces?
Indeed you can. In fact, you can wear braces with a waistcoat as well. You may also forgo braces entirely, but only do this if your trousers fit exceptionally well and / or have side adjuster tabs to help keep them where they belong. Further, you can make that decision based on your body type, as some men look better in braces than others.
Conclusion & Other Tuxedo Resources
A cummerbund isn’t necessary for a black tie ensemble, but it’s certainly a dapper way to cover the waist when wearing your tux.
For more tuxedo information, take a look at the resources at your disposal: