The cummerbund has always had an interesting relationship with the tuxedo. Many who think of the “classic” look of a tuxedo assume the cummerbund goes right alongside it. There’s also a military association, with The Gentleman’s Gazette reporting that various papers suggest cummerbunds were favored by English military officers during Victorian times.
It’s an interesting accessory. And you’re wondering if you need to wear a cummerbund with a tuxedo to complete the look, or if you can get away with not having one.
The cummerbund first came to prominence in the 1850s when British military personnel stationed in India tended to wear them when dining. Perhaps you could think of them as a “bib” for the stomach, only one that’s far more stylish. Cummerbunds quickly replaced the traditional vests the British officers wore, not least because cummerbunds were far lighter, and thus better for handling the Indian heat.
With the introduction of the tuxedo, the aristocrats that typically wore them looked to existing fashion to accessorize. That’s how the classic black bow tie and dress shoes came into being, and this same aristocracy decided the cummerbund made the perfect accompaniment to their new style of suit.
As for what a cummerbund is, the answer’s simple – it’s a fabric wrap that envelops the waist and part of the stomach. The wrap goes over the shirt and trousers, creating a solid line of color between your chest and your midsection.
Given that it has such a long history, you may wonder if the cummerbund is still relevant today.
In short – yes. But for a longer answer, the cummerbund is still a relevant fashion choice as long as you choose the correct venue in which to wear one. And that venue is any formal event where you wear a classic tuxedo (think black tux jacket and trousers, white shirt, and bow tie). Formal black-tie events often see cummerbunds come out in full force. And many grooms use cummerbunds as theme setters in their wedding parties, with each of the groomsmen wearing matching cummerbunds to indicate their positions. If you're curious about what other styles of tuxedos you can wear, check out our article on types of tuxedos.
Given that the cummerbund is still somewhat relevant in the fashion world, the question now is how do you choose the right cummerbund for your tuxedo?
The general rule of thumb, at least according to GQ Magazine, is to choose a cummerbund that matches your trouser stripe or lapels. If you're wondering about the different types of lapels you can choose from, take a look at our article on Peak vs Notch Lapel. Dark hues are often favored (many go with traditional black so the cummerbund doesn’t stand out). And you’ll be more comfortable if you choose a cummerbund made using a soft material, such as satin or velvet.
But the generally accepted wisdom may not suit your sense of style. Many use cummerbunds to create a theme, such as at weddings, meaning exploration of different colors may be required. Deep red is a classic choice because it combines well with the classic black tux.
It’s also a good idea to avoid trying to match your cummerbund with your bow tie simply because that creates an “off the rack” look that suggests you’re borrowing your style instead of creating your own. Of course, throw that advice out of the window if the classic look is exactly what you’re trying to achieve.
You’ve opted for a cummerbund to complete your look. There’s just one problem – you don’t know how to tie it. These steps help you to put the accessory on and adjust it so you get the right fit.
It may take a couple of tries to get the perfect fit, especially if you’re new to cummerbunds. But keep trying and you’ll eventually get it right.
You may feel like the traditional cummerbund feels stuffy, and you wouldn’t be alone. Even GQ Magazine, which we referenced earlier, has articles encouraging men to “Ditch the cummerbund. It makes you look like you’re going to the prom.”
Thankfully, there are ways to wear the cummerbund that help you move away from the prom look while infusing a modern twist into a traditional accessory.
Color and accessorizing are the two keys to finding more stylish and modern ways to wear your cummerbund.
Starting with color, any move away from the traditional black creates a twist that will surprise people who expect a classic look. How big that move may be depends on how much of a splash you want to make with your cummerbund. If you’re still concerned with matching your cummerbund to your tux’s lapels, a dark navy or similar color does the job while still being different enough to catch the eye compared to a black cummerbund.
Bolder colors, such as reds and whites, are for the more daring. You make the cummerbund the star of the show (rather than the tux), and you can still complement the stronger color with your pocket square to create some consistency.
As for accessorizing, the cummerbund’s pleats can help here.
For instance, grooms and their groomsmen tend to wear floral decorations, named “buttonholes,” during a wedding. Matching that buttonhole with a floral decoration tucked into a cummerbund pleat, close to the hip, is a great way to accessorize and breathe some life into a “stuffy” garment.
Ultimately, it depends on how much you want the cummerbund to stand out compared to other parts of the tuxedo. The further you move away from classic black, either by changing colors or adding accessories, the more the cummerbund draws the eye and becomes the highlight (or lowlight) of the ensemble.
No, a cummerbund isn’t a necessary accessory to combine with a tuxedo. Despite its history, it’s actually a fairly recent addition to the tuxedo ensemble, and one that isn’t as important as your bow tie or pocket square. It falls into the same category as suspenders – it’s nice to have if it suits the occasion, but you won’t get any weird looks from traditionalists if you eschew it.
In fact, men’s fashionwear company John Henric says that the only time wearing a cummerbund is mandatory is if you’re wearing a single-breasted tuxedo jacket. That’s a somewhat traditionalist view, and you can get away with wearing a cummerbund with different types of jackets or skipping it if you have a single-breasted jacket.
To sum up – a cummerbund isn’t necessary and it’s up to you whether you choose to wear one.
Let’s assume you’ve decided the cummerbund is right for your tuxedo. Here are a few dos and don’ts to help you navigate the traditional etiquette of getting your cummerbund right.
Do – Wear your cummerbund with the pleats facing up so you can use the pleats to store change, notes, tickets, or other personal belongings.
Don’t – Wear a waistcoat or vest over your cummerbund because you make your midsection too “busy” and will find yourself feeling uncomfortable.
Do – Wrap your cummerbund over your suspenders, if you choose to wear the latter, rather than tucking it in.
Don’t – Strap on a belt because the cummerbund serves the belt’s purpose. You’ll just end up with a funny outline of your belt through the cummerbund if you try and combine the two.
Do – Ensure the cummerbund is worn around your natural waistline, meaning it should cover the top of your trousers and the bottom of your shirt.
One of the “don’ts” in the previous section may have caught your eye – don’t wear a cummerbund with a vest or waistcoat. You have to choose between the two, and your choice has a surprisingly large impact on how you style your tuxedo.
Your body shape may have the biggest impact on your decision to wear a vest. A good waistcoat or vest offers a better fit for more rotund man, helping you to hold in your tummy and creating a more streamlined look across the entire torso.
The temperature you’re expecting at the event also factors into your decision. The colder you expect it to be, the more a vest becomes desirable simply because it covers more of your body than a cummerbund.
Speaking of temperature, remember the original use for the cummerbund – British military officers wore it as dinner wear to combat the heat in India. Naturally, that means a cummerbund is a better choice than a vest for keeping you cool, such as at a summer wedding.
Other than that, cummerbunds are good choices for those who want to slimline their look (think keeping a dad bod under control) and for formal events that require a single-breasted tuxedo jacket.
If you think a cummerbund is right for you, your next step is to find the right place to buy one. Here are three options:
For those who are still unsure if a cummerbund is right for them, this gallery of people pulling off the look with sophistication and elegance helps you see what a cummerbund brings to your ensemble.
Clean, simple, polished, and practical. Those are the words that define the look you achieve when you add a cummerbund to your tuxedo. Of course, the accessory isn’t a necessity, and you’ll still look great even if you choose not to wear it, but there’s something complete about a tux with a cummerbund that you can’t deny.
It’s the ideal choice if you need the pleats to carry change and small slips. Plus, cummerbunds work better than vests in warmer climates, though you may opt for a vest if the temperature drops or you want to achieve a more streamlined look with your tux.