With the start of spring comes many things: longer days, blooming flowers and plenty of glamorous black-tie events. Prom season is already in full swing, and wedding season is well on its way too, which means there will be many more excuses for men to don their classiest tuxedo. However, this year there seems to be a visible absence of one traditional tux component: the cummerbund.
“When heading to a black-tie event, one cannot get much classier than a tuxedo paired with a cummerbund,” Brent Reece, Store Director at Oak Hall, emphasizes. “However, as of late, it has become an option.”
Brent gives us a little background on the cummerbund, explaining the reason it’s always been a classic component of a tux as well as the appeal of it.
“This traditional piece of men’s formalwear goes around the waist, making for a neater profile and hiding the billowing fabric where the shirt tucks into the waistband,” he says. Coupled with a dark jacket and crisp bow tie, Brent says a cummerbund will tie together a look that’s clean, classic and never out of style.
Then why the noticeable decline in this formalwear staple?
One reason, according to Brent, could be that more men are changing up other parts of their ensemble, which in turn affects the need for a cummerbund. “The rule here is to never wear a cummerbund with a long tie or a vest,” Brent explains. Also, if men don’t want to adhere to the other “rules” of cummerbunds, they may simply rule out a cummerbund altogether.
“Another rule is that a cummerbund should match the lapel of the jacket and tie,” Brent continues. “If the tux lapels are ribbed or grosgrain, then one will want to shop for a cummerbund in a material with a similar texture. When wearing a cummerbund, the pleats are always to face up. While they are not usually too conspicuous, downward-facing pleats can send the message that the wearer is unfamiliar with the accessory.”
We asked Eric Viars, owner of The Oxford Shop, to weigh in on this dwindling tuxedo tradition. “Although proper black-tie attire calls for a cummerbund or vest to accompany the bow tie, a lot of guys (including myself) are opting out,” Eric says. “For me, when I’m standing, I like to button my jacket. And when I’m sitting, well, no one notices anyway.”
Eric reiterates that while black-tie attire still technically calls for a vest or cummerbund, sometimes personal style and flare may dictate how a man gets dressed and override the “rules.”
The no-cummerbund effect seems to be trickling down into the high school scene as well. Eighteen-year-old Sam Staggs made it pretty clear to his mother, Ginny, that he doesn’t intend on getting a cummerbund for his prom tux this year, and that his friends aren’t getting one either. According to Sam, he and his friends like the simpler look of the tux without the cummerbund, and the guys who do want a cummerbund seem to be opting for more outlandish styles and not the traditional look. “I don’t want to wear a useless piece of clothing that just makes me sweaty when I’m moving around,” Sam told his mom. “Not to mention that it doesn’t look right when the tuxedo jacket is unbuttoned. It’s just a nuisance.”
But Brent sheds some light on this argument, insisting that the pleats in a cummerbund are not just there for aesthetic purposes. “The pleats can be used to hold loose cash, tuck away ticket stubs or even catch wayward crumbs at a fancy dinner,” he says.
If you’ve noticed a change in other formalwear trends, you’re not alone. “In addition to cummerbunds, the dress hat has almost completely disappeared, and neckties are certainly on the decline,” Eric says. “However, one bright spot in men’s accessories has been the pocket square; its numbers are growing! With black tie, I recommend solid white or white with a black edge.”
If a man does choose to wear a cummerbund, Brent offers up a bit of fashion advice: “To mix things up, wear a brackish bowtie with the standard cummerbund; it gives interest and charter to the tradition. However,” he adds, “007 only wore one a few times. So remember: There are no rules to the one guided by personal style.”
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