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Etymology of ‘Cummerbund’

It’s prom season, and all over the United States high schoolers are making feeble attempts at formal wear (well, technically semi-formal wear).

For anyone trying on their first tuxedo, you may be wondering “What’s with the girdle? Who am I, Captain Kirk?” Well, that girdle is called a cummerbund, and it’s a staple of proms across the nation (by the way, prom is short for promenade. Classy, huh?).

The modern cummerbund comes from an Indian sash called a kamarband (apparently, Hindustani for “loin band”), and was brought to western menswear via the British military during the Victorian Era. Spellings varied from kamar-band to kummerbund to cummerband over the decades until the current cummerbund finally won out (cumberbun has never been correct).

The pleats in the modern cummerbund are meant to imitate the folds of the original kamarband sash. It’s a common myth that these pleats are used to catch crumbs, but come on. Classic menswear is much cooler than that. Really, they were historically used to hide opera tickets, knives, and fat stacks of cash.

In modern menswear, the cummerbund is used as a waist covering and a way to create a softer transition from the shirt to the trousers. Clean lines are a method of creating formality, so you’ll notice many methods of hiding seems, softening transitions and simplifying the silhouette in formal and semi-formal wear.

And fun fact, the word tuxedo is named after Tuxedo Park in Orange County, New York and refers specifically to the tuxedo jacket (a formal jacket without tails). The use of tuxedo as a synonym for black tie or semi-formal wear is generally considered an Americanism.