Sunday, August 28, 2011

Apple #544: Cummerbunds

Simply put, what the heck are cummerbunds for? I know a lot of men find them annoying and pretty useless.

(And yes, that's spelled correctly. A lot of people pronounce the word "cumberbund," but that's incorrect. The word is "cummerbund.")

Cummerbund, front and back
(Photo from fashionmanifesto)

  • Cast your mind back to the days when the British were in control of India. This would be in the 1850s. Back home, it's the heyday of Victorian England. Lots of stuffiness, etiquette, and above all, lots of clothing.
  • In India, however, it's freakin' hot. Formal dinnerwear that one would normally wear back home in England is black-tie dress: double-breasted jacket, black tie, waistcoat (a.k.a. vest), trousers -- all that is simply way too much clothing to wear in India.
  • So the British officers hit upon an alternate solution. They noticed that Indian men wore a sort of sash thing around their waists when they dressed formally, and they looked quite dashing when they did so. The British men imitated them and substituted the sash for the waistcoat.

British officer in India wearing the sash typically worn by Indian men.
(Photo from The Ohio State University Press)

  • The Indian sash was called, in Persian, a "kamarband." Kamar means "waist," and band means "to enclose." So it's a garment that encloses or wraps around the waist.
  • Side note: in India today, a "kamarband" (or kamarbandh or tagdi) refers more commonly to a jeweled belt that Indian women wear to their wedding or some other formal occasion.

This woman is wearing her kamarband above her waist. She's also wearing a kamarband saree, which has a decorative border at the top of the part that wraps around her waist.
(Photo from ras_kattaria on Photobucket)

  • All right, back to India in the 1850s.
  • Not only did the British officers start wearing the kamarbands, they also took to wearing them with a great many folds, or pleats in it. The pleats were worn facing up; that is, so that the open part of the pleats faced upward.
  • Wearing the pleats facing upward turned the sash into a kind of utilitarian version of the waistcoat. The waistcoat often came equipped with pockets. The sash had none. But worn folded into many pleats, the sash suddenly became a useful receptacle for ticket stubs, receipts, and other little necessaries.

This is pretty terrible -- heads of cotton depicted on both the necktie and the cummerbund -- but at least the cummerbund is shown with the pleats up. I had a lot of trouble finding a photo with the pleats up, so apparently people are wearing them pleats down these days. But traditionally, cummerbunds were worn pleats up.
(Photo from Southern Proper)

  • Some people have since noted that the pleats facing upward have the added benefit of catching any stray crumbs that may fall while you're eating your oh-so-fancy and delectable dinner. But that was not the original intent.
  • Finally, the sash could be tightened in such a way as to act as a male corset, tightening that wine-assisted waistline.
  • Now, today's cummerbunds probably don't do a whole lot to contribute to a slimming appearance. Some men wear colorful or flashy cummerbunds, but drawing attention to a body part typically makes it look larger.
  • The classical approach to wearing cummerbunds is as follows:
  • If at all possible, the cummerbund should be made of silk. Makes a difference over polyester, appearance-wise. It also won't be as hot.
  • In terms of colors, the cummerbund should not match the tie.
  • For black-tie formal-wear, the cummerbund should be in one of the classic colors: black, midnight blue, maroon, or red.
  • So for black tie formalwear, your trousers will be black and your tie will be black too. If your cummerbund isn't supposed to match the tie, then it had better be some other color than black. So thank goodness for the options of midnight blue, maroon, or red. But wouldn't those other colors draw attention to ye olde waistline?

Here, the cummerbund and bow tie match, but the cummerbund is wine-colored, close to the originally recommended darker colors for cummerbunds. You still notice the color, but it's not so garish it pokes your eyes out (see below).
(Photo from

  • If it's summer time and your jacket is white, the cummerbund will often match the jacket. (I've seen photos of white jackets with black trousers and black cummerbund, and that seems to work, too.)
  • All this said, many tuxedos worn to proms and weddings have cummerbunds that match the neckties.
  • In fact, I found zero photos of men wearing suits with cummerbunds where the cummerbund was a different color than the necktie. So I guess that rule about cummerbund colors is so classic, nobody follows it anymore.
  • Generally speaking, however, the matching garish tie and cummerbund doesn't do a man many favors.

See? Your eye goes straight to that garish yellow and orange thing on his waist. Thus his waist, which really isn't that big, seems much more prominent.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

This guy has the misfortune of ranking high on the doofus scale, but that matching bright blue cummerbund and tie aren't helping him any.
(Photo and cummerbund available from

Brad's necktie and cummerbund are in matching plaid, which seems about right for him. Dammit, Janet.
(Photo from Columbia's Closet)

This beats just about everything I've seen. These are camouflage-colored skull and crossbone cummerbunds worn, not with bow ties, but with neckties. No wonder that kid on the right looks like he wants to strangle somebody.
(Photo from Santana Formal Accessories)

Oh dear. Where did he come from?
(Photo from

  • All right, if those are the nos, what are some yeses?

In this photo, sans jacket, it's easier to see how a dark cummerbund can make you look thinner.
(Photo from The modern gentleman)

Black and white. Clean lines.
(Photo from Moss Hire)

Yes, the black tie and black cummerbund are about as traditional as it gets, maybe to the point of yawnsville for many people. But what I like about it is that it allows the eye to go first to the face, which is the part of the human anatomy I find to be the most fascinating of all.
(Photo from

Bows 'N Ties, The History of the Cummerbund, October 11, 2010
WiseGeek, What is a Cummerbund?
Fine Tuxedos, Tuxedo Cummerbunds: What are They?

Shopbeat, Freaky Fashion Friday: The Cummerbund


  1. Mmm... Chad.
    That's a handsome book cover too. Where can I find such a wonder?

  2. Isn't it obvious where Chad comes from? Wisconsin!

    - Mr. Humbly Suggest


If you're a spammer, there's no point posting a comment. It will automatically get filtered out or deleted. Comments from real people, however, are always very welcome!