Black tie, when worn well, is a delight and one of the most elegant and flattering dress codes you can wear. For a polished and tidy look it is often worn either with a waistcoat or a cummerbund, the latter, the focus of this post.
Cummerbund or Cumberbund?
First things first, let’s get one thing clear, this silk sash worn around the waist is written and pronounced CUMMERBUND. It is not Cumberbund, Cumberband, cumberbun or any such variation. The etymology of the word stems from the Persian/Urdu word Kamarband, which kamar meaning loins and band meaning sash. Cumberbund might not be an attractive word when it rolls off the tongue, however, it certainly has a better ring and connotation than Loinsash. Cummerbund is a Hindi word, and we appropriated it when British military officers were stationed in colonial Indian during the 1850s. One can only wonder if the mistake with “cumber…” perhaps comes from the association of it fitting around a cumbersome waistline?
The cummerbund would have been a welcome addition to a gentleman’s wardrobe in the tropical climes of India, as it provided an altogether cooler alternative to wearing a waistcoat, as indeed it does today. Choose which of the two accessories to wear with your black tie, but never wear both.
A Cummerbund serves as the perfect accessory for ensuring your black tie has elegant line and polish. It is important (and logical) to note that it should only be worn with a single-breasted jacket. It sits neatly around the waistband of your trousers, covering up any untidiness where your shirt is tucked in, stopping the tails from coming un-tucked and covering up the distracting triangle that forms below the dinner jacket button and waistband when your tuxedo is worn closed. The white V that appears above the jacket button line presents in a composed and flattering manner, opening up and broadening the chest, whilst below the button, it can look clumsy and unkempt. A good cummerbund, such as those sold by Budd, will have a tab or loop concealed on the inside, allowing the wearer to attach it to the button on trouser waistband, anchoring it safely in place so as it does not ride up.
Cummerbunds are usually black and cut from silk. They are pleated, with the pleats worn facing upwards. They adjust to size, thanks to a simple and discreet adjustable fastening at the back. It is said that the pleats were worn upwards in order to provide a handy slot in which to store tickets or small bills. Cummerbunds are ordinarily worn with a bow tie. When the bow is omitted, so should the cummerbund. You may find that other colours are available when shopping around for a cummerbund, however, the most flattering of all designs is black. It will elongate the legs and tidy your frame. Should you wish to opt for a different colour, do not match it to your bow tie, instead keep your bow tie black and vice-versa. Matching your bow and cummerbund is a little de trop, and is more reminiscent of a game-show host or 70s wedding singer than chic, debonair gent.
One extra point – there is some debate as to whether you can wear both a cummerbund and braces (suspenders) at the same time. Ideally, your trousers will have strap and buckle adjusters and no need for braces, however, we also understand that they do work wonders for the hang and drape. If you are going to wear a pair, opt for black or white. Personally, we find things look a little too busy when all facets are combined, and would advise trying to keep your jacket on. However, braces and cummerbunds are not mutually exclusive, so do what works best for you. There is no sartorial faux-pas at play, let your own eye guide you.