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History of the Cummerbund

The History of the Cummerbund in Men's Fashion

by Turner Van Ryn‭

cummerbundsSo,‭ ‬first off,‭ ‬the proper spelling for this garment is‭ ‘‬cummerbund‭’; ‬not‭ ‘‬cumberbund‭’‬.‭ ‬I know.‭ ‬I was surprised too.‭ ‬As a fashion accessory,‭ ‬the cummerbund and I have a mild history together.‭ ‬I was in the school band back in high school,‭ ‬and our concert tuxes came with cummerbunds.‭ ‬At the time,‭ ‬I remember one of my band mates telling me to be sure to tie it around my person with the pleats facing up.‭ ‬Why would this be,‭ ‬I wondered‭? ‬Why up‭? ‬What possible use could that have‭? ‬And,‭ ‬I remember being told that in the old days,‭ ‬the pleats were meant to catch crumbs from falling into one’s pant’s waistband.‭ ‬That has to be made up,‭ ‬I thought.‭ ‬It’s too ridiculous.‭ ‬To catch crumbs,‭ ‬of all things‭? ‬Please.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬from then on,‭ ‬I made sure to keep my pleats up.‭ ‬The real joke,‭ ‬is that all of this turns out to be true.‭

‬Imagine that you’re a British military officer stationed in India in the‭ ‬1850‭’‬s.‭ ‬These were the days when‭ ‬black tie attire was mandatory for a dinner occasion.‭ ‬And,‭ ‬in colonial India,‭ ‬with no one really to fight,‭ ‬there were many of them I imagine‭; ‬dinner occasions,‭ ‬that is.‭ ‘‬Black tie‭’‬,‭ ‬of course,‭ ‬means a full three-piece tuxedo,‭ ‬with a waist coat and double breasted dinner jacket.‭ ‬That’s a lot of clothing to wear in a tropical climate,‭ ‬and the British officers,‭ ‬not being wholly foolish,‭ ‬opted to leave their waist coats‭ (‬a fancy British term for‭ ‘‬vest‭’) ‬out of the equation.‭ ‬Instead,‭ ‬they began to adopt a sort of sash accessory worn by Indian men‭; ‬the‭ ‘‬kamarband‭’‬.‭ ‬The kamarband,‭ ‬a word literally meaning‭ ‘‬waist-band‭’ ‬was worn by Indian men for all occasions,‭ ‬not just formal events,‭ ‬and was a colorful and somewhat flamboyant addition to their attire.‭ ‬The British seized on this local fashion practice,‭ ‬and the formal cummerbund was born‭; ‬eventually evolving from a sash into a pleated device.‭ ‬As the British imported various goods back to the home island from their colonies,‭ ‬so too did they bring fashion customs with them.‭ ‬Long story short,‭ ‬the cummerbund made its way to Victorian England,‭ ‬where it became a staple of formal men’s attire.‭

‬Out about town,‭ ‬that the cummerbund did happen to catch to occasional food crumb at dinner parties,‭ ‬is almost a certainty.‭ ‬After all,‭ ‬you’re chomping down a joint of beast with some nice Yorkshire pudding,‭ ‬and some crumbs get loose‭; ‬where are they going to go‭? ‬Yup,‭ ‬those pleats’ll take care of that problem for you.‭ ‬Like it never happened.‭ ‬Just don’t forget to empty them after your evening is through.‭ ‬Now,‭ ‬whether or not,‭ ‬the pleats were designed with this purpose in mind,‭ ‬may never be known for fact.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬what is known is that men did very much use them to hold a receipt say,‭ ‬or a ticket stub from the opera,‭ ‬when the intermission was in.‭ ‬As an interesting side not,‭ ‬the cummerbund does have the added benefit of giving the illusion that a man’s legs are longer and leaner than they really are.‭ ‬I’m just saying‭…

‬But,‭ ‬how does one wear a cummerbund,‭ ‬other than making sure that the pleats are up‭? ‬These days,‭ ‬there are all kinds of cummerbund styles‭; ‬every color,‭ ‬and conceivable pattern.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬if you’re going to a true black tie event,‭ ‬which color is correct‭? ‬Black‭? ‬Should the cummerbund match your tie‭? ‬Your shirt‭? ‬As it turns out,‭ ‬there are differing schools of thought on these points.‭ ‬The classical view is that the cummerbund itself may not match the tie‭ (‬the tie is meant to match the trousers‭)‬,‭ ‬and should be worn in the limited range of colors permissible with‭ ‘‬black tie‭’; ‬black,‭ ‬midnight blue,‭ ‬maroon,‭ ‬and red.‭ ‬In summer weather,‭ ‬your dinner jacket may be white,‭ ‬and in this case the cummerbunds will often match the jacket.‭ ‬In contemporary American use,‭ ‬it’s quite common to see matching ties and cummerbunds in all sorts of colors.‭ ‬This,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬is universally condemned by serious fashion authorities.‭ ‬When I was in the band,‭ ‬ours matched,‭ ‬and were red.‭ ‬And for the years I wore that outfit,‭ ‬no one ever came out of the shadows to serve me with a fashion citation.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬neither did I actually catch any crumbs in mine either.

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