The cummerbund is an elegant sash worn around the waist as part of a black tie attire. It is usually black but can be worn in a contrasting colour or in a tartan.
Cummerbund is an old Persian word combining ‘kamar’ (waist) and ‘bund’ (closed) and was worn by men in India and Afghanistan as a sash around the waist. It was adopted as dining wear in the 1850s by the British Army in India, whose officers started wearing it as a cooler (in the old sense of the word) alternative to waistcoats (vests) in the Indian heat.
During the 1930s when formal civilian dress started to move away from white tie and tails to what was then semi-formal black tie for formal occasions, the cummerbund was incorporated as an alternative to the waistcoat for covering the waist. As fashions progressed through the 20th century, coloured and tartan cummerbunds also started to become popular.
As black tie became standard formal attire, replacing the white tie (apart from the most formal of occasions such as when you’re invited to Buckingham Palace for dinner), so the rules of wearing black tie have themselves become formalised. The rules guide the wearer in covering the mundane ‘working parts’ of the clothing; so buttons have a satin or silk covering and are replaced by studs on the cuff, while the seams of trousers are covered by silk tape.
The waist is obscured by a low-cut waistcoat or a cummerbund (but never both!) with the objectives of covering the trouser waistband buttons and fastenings and where the shirt tucks into the waistband, thereby avoiding any unsightly or awkward bunching.
As with other components of formal attire, there is a correct way to wear a cummerbund. The cummerbund itself is formed from a series of pleats and it is important that the pleats should be worn facing upwards. If you can tuck your cloakroom or theatre ticket into a pleat then you’re wearing it correctly.
The lower half of the cummerbund should cover the trouser waistband and the top half should cover the shirt. Look in the mirror. If you’re looking slightly taller with a tighter waist than you’re perhaps used to, then you’re all set.
You don’t have to match your cummerbund design to your bow tie but it’s generally accepted that this is the best pairing.
If you’re feeling slightly rakish, try contrasting your black tie with a tartan cummerbund or waistcoat. You’ll still achieve that formal style but by sporting your tartan in your cummerbund you’ll have introduced some Scots individuality into your appearance!
If you decide on tartan, choose from a fine wool or the extra elegance that wearing silk exudes.