Tuxedo tips: choosing a cummerbund for a black-tie event
We all know that in life, there are rules – and then there are RULES. The dress code for a black-tie affair falls squarely in the latter category. “Black tie” is a universally recognized label for men’s semi-formal dinner attire, which invariably consists of a black or midnight blue tailless wool dinner jacket (single or double-breasted) with satin or silk-covered peaked lapels or a likewise-covered shawl collar and trousers made of the same material with satin or silk striping covering the outer vertical seams. Black-tie accessories are simple and few: a white shirt with a turndown collar and pleated or piqué front, black bow tie and cummerbund or waistcoat (vest) made from either satin or silk to match the jacket facing, hidden suspenders, black silk or fine-fabric over-the-calf dress socks, and black patent or highly polished leather oxfords or pumps. More formal than a business suit, but less formal than the tails and Marcella waistcoat required of white-tie, black tie represents a century of sartorial refinement and is considered by many to be a near perfect form of men’s fashion. In fact, experts caution that setting even one toe outside the universally accepted rules of black tie could be a move fraught with peril and one that should be taken only with extreme care.
Purpose and benefits of a cummerbund
According to men’s fashion columnist Michael Armstrong, today’s cummerbund or waist covering is an offshoot of a sash worn around the waist by men in India. The kamarband, as the sash is called, was introduced to the West by British soldiers stationed in India in the 1850s, who in an effort to escape the heat, chose to wear a kamarband in lieu of a waistcoat as part of their dining wear. Eventually, this men’s evening-wear accessory made its way to New York’s posh Tuxedo Park Resort where young 20th century socialites eager to abandon their traditional coattails began pairing the kamarband-inspired waist covering with a more modern and casual shortened dinner jacket – better known as a tuxedo.
Apart from being cooler than a heat-trapping waistcoat, several other benefits have been associated with the cummerbund. Just as all functional or working parts of a tuxedo (buttons, outer pant seams, lapels) are covered with satin or silk, any unsightly shirt bunching around the waist is covered by a satin or silk cummerbund. Positioned over the top of the trousers and the bottom of the shirt, a cummerbund effectively hides any portion of a man’s white shirt that might be visible between his jacket button and his waistband, while also making him appear slimmer through the middle. Additionally, the cummerbund’s pleats, which open upward, serve as convenient pockets for opera or symphony tickets or other small necessities. In fact, these hidden slots are so well-suited to the task of secreting away all manner of things, they’ve earned the cummerbund the nickname “crumb catcher.”
Choosing the right cummerbund
If you are a traditionalist, the choice of a cummerbund is an easy one. Black-tie dress rules have remained largely unchanged for decades. And literally, every one of the dozen or so men’s fashion sites we scoured for advice on the topic all say the same thing. You can’t go wrong with the classic pairing of a black silk cummerbund and a black silk self-tied bow tie. We agree. There’s no look that screams Casanova more so than that of a man clad in a black tuxedo and black accessories. The simple, clean contrast of a crisp white shirt, black bow tie and the natural V shape formed by black silk-covered lapels draws the eyes upward, framing the face and broadening the shoulders. A man in a tuxedo naturally appears taller, younger, stronger and more masculine than his counterparts dressed in casual wear. Semi-formal evening wear exudes timeless elegance, and no brand does it better than David Donahue. If you’re inclined to want to bet on a sure thing, visit us at www.epicmens.com to peruse our inventory of David Donahue luxury men’s evening wear and accessories. Handcrafted in the USA from 100 percent Italian silk, David Donahue’s premium-quality black self-tie bow tie and pleated cummerbund are genuine marks of true refinement and flawless taste.
If, on the other hand, you’re a rebel at heart and you believe rules are made to be broken, then consider the following piece of expert advice from the fashion aficionados at The Black Tie Guide: less is more. Color should be introduced sparingly, choosing just one tuxedo accessory to alter – either your bow tie, pocket square, or cummerbund (matching these accessories exactly is neither necessary nor particularly desirable). A black velvet bow tie is a solid alternative to silk or satin, but if a splash of color is what you’re after, then try changing up your cummerbund. The large expanse of black trouser and jacket fabric, which surrounds the cummerbund on three sides, will help soften the effect of an additional color or pattern and allow you to distinguish yourself in an understated, but noticeable way. The trick, per The Black Tie Guide is to be “distinctive without being distasteful.” Choose dark, rich colors, such as burgundy, maroon, forest green, or deep gold, all of which can stand up to the weightiness of a black tuxedo, as well as to the formality of a black-tie event.
Successfully pulling off a fashion coup in the world of men’s evening wear depends on several factors: your age (audacity favors the young), your location (Southerners are more receptive to a wider color palette) and your particular event (dress codes are typically more relaxed when attending parties hosted at private clubs or in private homes). Whatever your situation, a black-tie affair is an opportunity to firmly establish your fashion credentials. You can play it safe or dare to be different. But if you choose the latter, take care to bend the rules gently, rather than to break them outright. After all, without the rules, a black-tie affair is just another night out on the town.