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Cummerbunds Explained

Curious about cummerbunds? We explain exactly what they’re used for and why. We also have instructions for wearing one properly.

cummerbunds-explained

When it comes to formal dress and choosing a suit or tuxedo, the cummerbund, or ‘tuxedo waistband’ as it is commonly referred to, is one of the least well-known accessories, as well as being one of the least popular in modern times. That said, it’s also one of the longest-standing facets of the black-tie dress code, with its roots firmly placed in history.

Adopting a cummerbund as opposed to a waistcoat can enhance your tuxedo’s appearance and make you stand out from the crowd, while also giving you a range of benefits not found in your typical suit waistcoat. Below, we’ll looks at the origins of this accessory, as well as the correct means in which to wear one with a tuxedo.

Cummerbund-sketch

Sketch of a cummerbund (waistband)

Origins of the Cummerbund

The cummerbund has its origins in India, towards the end of the British colonization of the continent. While stationed in the country, senior-ranking individuals from the British Army were impressed by the sashes worn around the waist of wealthy Indian gentry, and decided to adopt the style themselves. It is said that this was done, in part, due to the desire to find a cooler alternative to waistcoats as part of the British officers’ evening wear.

It didn’t take long for the garment to penetrate Western society in London, with gentlemen substituting the waistcoat of their formal wear for a cummerbund. Though the Indians, and to an extent the British officers, favored this look for the hotter climate of India owing to it being more lightweight than wearing a waistcoat, it was simply adopted in England as a style icon.

The actual word cummerbund comes from the Hindustani term kamarband which is used in India to describe the article of clothing. Kamar means ‘waist’ and band means ‘strap’. The Anglicized term cummerbund is said to have been adopted in the English language in the early 1600s.

Modern Use

We’ve obviously progressed a couple of hundred years since the first adoption of the cummerbund as an article of formal wear. Its modern use is as a covering for the waist, occluding the mid-section where the formal trouser waist would meet the dress shirt. Though it may have originally been adopted as a cooler form of formal wear, there are more modern justifications for the accessory.

cummerbund-on-bed

Black-tie formal wear has principles dictating that the working parts of the outfit should remain covered or dressed by a more attractive shroud. For example, buttons on the shirt are often studded, and sleeve buttons replaced by cuff links. However, in a suit that is absent of any cummerbund or waistcoat, awkward bunching of the tucked-in shirt can present itself. This is something that the cummerbund counteracts.

What’s more, wearing a cummerbund means that the only visible part of the dress shirt is a strong V-shaped front, leading up towards the shoulders. This lengthens the appearance of the wearer’s legs and suppresses the waist, placing emphasis on the shoulders. Broad shoulders are historically – and often in modern times – associated with a powerful male figure.

Why Wear a Cummerbund?

Despite falling out of popularity, there are still many good reasons to wear a cummerbund with your tuxedo. Though some of these benefits are more suited to modern attire now, they’re all still relevant.

1. Color coordination

This is an important part of many weddings, at which men will often wear tuxedos. The cummerbund offers an alternative accessory for color-matching the wedding theme, aside from the usual tie or pocket square. That said, there is a downside, in that a largely feminine color such as violet or pink could become the focal point of the tuxedo, as opposed to a smaller facet of the ensemble.

2. Slimming effect

Wearing a waistcoat can bulk out a suit or tuxedo, making the waist appear larger than it actually is, particularly if the waistcoat is not well-fitted. On the other hand, a cummerbund tends make the wearer look slimmer, whilst also elongating their height.

3. Cooler

As mentioned previously, the origins of the cummerbund were in keeping the wearer cool in hot climates. This is an effect not lost over time; wearing a cummerbund will typically be cooler than wearing a waistcoat.

4. Ticket holders

When the cummerbund was first introduced to Western society, the wealthy theater-goers of London would use the cummerbund as a convenient means of storing their tickets to the show. Thus, they would be readily available as and when needed.

5. Crumb catcher

As we touched on above, the cummerbund should always be worn with the pleats facing upwards. The British officers who adopted the look first discovered how the upward-facing pleats would make excellent crumb catchers while eating. Though a handkerchief or napkin is clearly preferential, this is a benefit not lost over time.

How to Wear a Cummerbund

By appearance, how you wear a tuxedo cummerbund might seem straightforward; however, there is a correct way and an incorrect way to wear the accessory as part of a tuxedo.

Often, one of the biggest unknowns for people new wearing this sash is whether to wear the cummerbund up or down. That is, whether or not the pleats in the design should be work facing upwards or downwards. The correct way to wear the cummerbund is with the pleats facing upwards.

Additionally, it’s important to get the exact placement of the accessory correct, as wearing it too high or too low around the torso can worsen the effect. The sash should be placed so that half of the cummerbund covers the shirt, with the other half covering the trousers. It’s also worth noting that cummerbunds are designed to be worn in conjunction with a bowtie, as per black-tie tradition, and never with a regular tie.

Now that you’ve reviewed the origins of the cummerbund, as well as the correct way in which to wear them with a tuxedo, you’ll be empowered to continue on with this tradition, while understanding the benefits that this accessory can have over a typical waistcoat. We believe that this is one accessory that, when worn correctly can enhance the overall appearance of black-tie formal wear, and give the wearer a more powerful and unique look.


We hope that’s cummerbunds well and truly covered. However, if there’s still anything that you’re curious about then drop us a message and we’ll do our best to get your question answered.

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If you’re considering wearing a cummerbund then I’m going to make a massive generalization and say that you might find our facts about caviar post interesting too 😉

On the theme of food, our post on Costco cakes just went live too.


Image Sources:

By Charlie Huang 【遯卋山人】 [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

[CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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