Image: Sven Says
Text: Black Tie Guide
The cummerbund was imported to England in the Victorian era by British officers serving in India. It was originally a long, brightly colored sash that was wrapped around a tunic and called a “kamarband“ (Hindustani for “loin band”).
Image: Defence Forum India
In the 1920s it was adapted into its modern incarnation with pleats replacing the folds of the sash. Although it covered the trouser waist as effectively as the waistcoat, its comparative simplicity designated it as a less formal alternative best suited to a shawl collar jacket and a soft-front shirt.
The most traditional material for cummerbunds is black silk in a satin or grosgrain finish to match the facings of the dinner jacket lapels. However, this overlay’s informal nature makes it an ideal mechanism for introducing tasteful color into black tie.
Pleats are worn facing up, the vestige of a time when dress trousers did not have pockets and gentlemen would often carry their opera tickets tucked into their cummerbund. (The oft repeated claim that the pleat direction allows a cummerbund to catch crumbs is as ludicrous as arguing that the extra fabric in French cuffs is intended for wiping one's mouth.)
Better quality models are distinguished by a gentle curve along its top line, a small hidden pocket for storing tickets or cash and, like the formal waistcoat, an elastic loop for fastening to the trousers.