What is a Cumberbund?

Greer Hed

A cumberbund, or cummerbund, is a wide waist sash worn by men in place of a vest or waistcoat. This type of sash is primarily worn with formal attire, such as a dinner jacket or tuxedo. Cumberbunds are frequently made with silk or brocade fabric, and come in a wide range of colors, though black is the predominant color. One side of the garment is often pleated, while the other side is plain.

Cummerbunds were inspired by waist scarves worn by men in India.
Cummerbunds were inspired by waist scarves worn by men in India.

British military officers in colonial India are responsible for the creation of the first cumberbunds. These gentlemen found the climate in India to be too hot to wear a waistcoat, so they substituted the waist sash instead. This sash allowed the officers to retain a trim, neat appearance without feeling weighted down by a vest. The cumberbund's origins in colonial India are evidenced by its name — cummerbund is an English language interpretation of the Urdu word "kamarband," meaning "waist restraint" or "loin band."

The cumberbund evolved gradually into a necessary component of the black-tie dress code. In this guise, it was worn at formal occasions by civilians and military men alike. The standard color for the garment became black, to match the tuxedo. Navy blue cumberbunds were also not uncommon, and an 1893 article in a London newspaper stated that the garment should be "crimson" in color.

Historically, gentlemen wore their cumberbunds with the pleated side facing up. The pleats of the cumberbund substituted for the pockets usually found in a waistcoat. A man could store theater tickets or other small personal items inside the folds of the sash.

The proper way to wear the garment in modern times is with the pleats facing up or down, according to the wearer's preference. A cumberbund still serves as an alternative to a vest and is usually worn with a single-breasted tuxedo jacket and trousers. Men may wish to wear a bow tie or neck tie with a tuxedo, as well. In this case, the color of the tie typically should match the color of the cumberbund. At weddings, it is not uncommon for the groom and his groomsmen to wear cumberbunds that match the dresses of the bridal party.

Contemporary cumberbunds are usually elasticized, with buckles at the back for fastening. This makes it easy to adjust the fit of the sash around the waist. When wearing a cumberbund, most men choose to wear suspenders to hold their trousers up, rather than a belt.

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Discussion Comments


I thought that cumberbunds were not common. However, when I asked my husband if he had ever worn one, he said he had, in fact he had every time he wore a tuxedo.

He also mentioned that his have always matched his bowtie, and typically the bowtie has just been black so he has typically worn a black cumberbund.

I personally just think cumberbunds are funny, I think they look like male spanx (which is a slimming undergarment brand for women that literally sucks your body in via some very strong elastic).


When my daughter got married, the men in the wedding party wore black silk cumberbunds with black tuxedos and black bow ties. I definitely liked the bow ties with the cumberbunds. A regular tie would not have looked good. Anyway, all the men looked very handsome.

I had no idea of the story of the origin of the cumberbund. I didn't know it got started in British Colonial India because of the heat. It's interesting what drives fashion in clothing.

I just thought of something funny. When I was a child, I remember my mother was watching a very heavy opera singer on TV. He hit a high long note and his cumberbund popped off! We joked about that for a long time after.


I have never been a fan of bow ties, but I think that with a cumberbund, they look way better than neck ties. So, when my friend asked for my help shopping for an outfit for a formal affair, I did something I never thought I would do - I recommended a bow tie.

I was drawn to a pair of dark gray trousers with a matching cumberbund and bow tie. I told him that gray would help him be noticed in a favorable way, because everyone else would blend in with their black outfits.

While we were shopping, I saw one poor guy who had tried on a neck tie with a cumberbund. It looked so out of place! I wanted to offer him fashion advice, but I thought he might not appreciate tips from a stranger.


The choir director at my church decided to do something special with the uniforms for Easter Sunday. He got all the girls to wear white gowns and all the men to wear white cumberbunds with matching pants and shirts.

The cumberbunds were very silky and almost shiny. They went with the spring colors of Easter very well. They gave the choir a heavenly look to match their beautiful voices.

I heard that the director kept some emergency stain remover pens in the back just in case someone stained their cumberbund before the performance. He wanted everyone to look their best for that special day.


When my husband had to buy a cumberbund to wear to his office’s annual banquet, I tried it on just out of curiosity. I was surprised by how comfortable it felt!

Generally, anything that constricts my waist makes me feel a bit nauseated. This particular cumberbund had enough elastic in it to flex and fit different size waists.

I told him that I was jealous of how comfortable he would get to be at the banquet. I was stuck wearing high heels and a tight dress, but he got the stylish and flexible comfort of a cumberbund.


I had always wanted to get married in the fall, so when I set my date for October, I knew that I wanted autumn colors. I figured that the guys would have less of a problem with wearing burnt orange cumberbunds than they had with wearing the pink ones at my sister’s wedding.

I had seven bridesmaids, so I mixed up the colors a bit to depict the leaves of fall. Some wore burnt orange, some wore butterscotch yellow, and some wore dark red. I did the same thing with the guy’s cumberbunds. Each one wore a color to match the dress of the lady they escorted down the aisle.


When my son got married all the males in the wedding party wore a tuxedo cumberbund. Their cumberbunds and bow ties matched the dresses worn by the girls.

I think this really looked sharp and added a lot more detail than wearing black cumberbunds. Some of the guys weren't all that excited about the color, but they were good sports about it.

They didn't really like dressing up all that much anyway, but it certainly doesn't hurt them to do it once in awhile, and they all looked so handsome.

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