Of Ties and Cummerbunds


(Tropical and summer events lend themselves to a little bit of rules breaking. But what about the traditional holiday season?)

It’s the holidays and this is usually the time that we receive invitations to black tie events. We’re all for personal style here at Leviner Wood, but it might be appropriate to lay down a few ground rules for those of you just starting down the formal path.

Since it is a season in which we are dressing more festively, let’s start with the tie and cummerbund conundrum. Do you need a cummerbund? Unless you favor wearing a vest or a double-breasted diner jacket, the answer is a loud “yes!” Or maybe we should say a quiet “yes” as this is also the time of year that we are tempted to wear “something a little jazzier.”

Two things gentlemen: we are merely the setting for the resplendency of the fairer sex. Like a well-matched frame to an oil painting, we should enhance rather than steal the show. Secondly, for the most part our clothing is distinguished by the cloth we choose and the exacting cut and fit that are the hallmarks of custom and bespoke. Little, subtle details set us apart. The harmonious result should enhance rather than detract from our rugged visages. The rules: when wearing color, choose only one colorful item to include with your formal wear. Matched sets look too high school prom, prepackaged and gift-wrapped.

So, should you choose to wear a more colorful bow tie, please do. But wear it with your standard black cummerbund, keeping in mind that the flash of color may distract from your face.

When it comes to cummerbunds, there is a very traditional look that will set you apart (in a good way). The cummerbund was originally an import from the British colonies in India. Actually, the Indians were the ones who started the whole thing, wrapping a length of material called a kamerband in Hindi around themselves. More often than not, it was maroon. British officers adopted the look. It is particularly suited to tropical white dinner jackets, but looks very good with midnight blue and black tuxedos, too. Adding a splash of maroon at the waist is an elegant alternative to the strict black and white palette.

The vest presents another opportunity to introduce a little jazz into formal wear. Strictly speaking, the safest choices are the more traditional black and white houndstooth, small plaids/tartans, paisleys, or other small repeating patterns. Vests may have a slight sheen to them, as a silk moiré or dull satin or be in a repp fabric.

Finally, don’t forget that one accessory that is almost always a splash of color in all dressier menswear: the pocket square. Frank Sinatra favored an orange silk square with his tuxedo. Regardless of the color you choose, it should be rich enough to stand up to the inky hues of the dinner jacket. Good choices are maroon, red, bottle green, Vatican purple, gold and navy.

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