The Cummerbund and Bond

9
The cummerbund in Skyfall
The cummerbund in Skyfall

Though the cummerbund is a well-known part of black tie, Bond has only worn a cummerbund on a handful of occasions. Traditionally, one isn’t wearing a cummerbund because he’s wearing a waistcoat or a double-breasted dinner jacket, but those situations do not make up the rest of Bond’s black tie outfits. Bond is well-known for omitting the waist-covering altogether, but Bond wears the seemingly pointless piece of silk around his waist a few times.

According to Black Tie Guide, the cummerbund originated from coloured sashes that British officers wrapped around their waist in India. Now cummerbunds ordinarily come in the form of a piece of pleated silk—with the pleats worn facing up—in the front that connects in the back with a strap and buckle. The purpose of the cummerbund is to act as a formal waist-covering that wears cooler than a waistcoat. It covers the bottom of the shirt front and the trousers’ waistband, so it serves an aesthetic purpose if not a practical one. Unlike how braces and belts aren’t worn together because they serve the same purpose, the cummerbund is not a belt and does not hold up the trousers. Thus, there is no rule about not wearing a cummerbund with braces. Braces can be worn with a cummerbund just the same as they can—and should—be worn under a waistcoat. Bond wears both a cummerbund and braces in Licence to Kill and Skyfall. Though belts and cummerbunds serve do different tasks, a belt should not be worn under a cummerbund since it will show as a bump underneath.

Diamonds-Cummerbund
A fancy, coloured silk cummerbund in Diamonds Are Forever

The cummerbund is traditionally black and matches the bow tie in both colour and texture, but it can be other colours. Burgundy is the most common choice for a coloured cummerbund, but the bow tie should always be black no matter the colour of the cummerbund. Coloured matching bow tie and cummerbund sets are often sold and can be worn for “creative black tie” functions and high school proms, but if you’re trying to follow the elegant example that Bond sets the bow tie should always be black. After all, it’s called “black tie”. The only time Ian Fleming mentions Bond wearing a cummerbund it’s a “wine-red cummerbund” that he wears with his white dinner jacket and dress trousers in the Thunderball novel. Since the bow tie isn’t mentioned, we can assume that Bond wears a proper black bow tie. The first time Bond wears a cummerbund in the films it’s a fancy silk in burgundy and black in Diamonds Are Forever. It’s a flashier 1970s take on the “wine-red cummerbund” that Fleming writes about, but the bow tie is still black. It’s the only time in the series that Sean Connery wears any sort of waist-covering with black tie.

Built-In-Cummerbund
The built-in cummerbund in For Your Eyes Only

In For Your Eyes Only, Bond wears trousers with a sort of waistband that acts like a cummerbund. The waistband is very wide, flat silk that extends across the entire front and fastens with two buttons at the right side. It’s a little narrower than a real cummerbund, but it’s a clever design and acts like a built-in cummerbund. The same type of built-in cummerbund returns in Octopussy. It may not be a proper cummerbund, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Licence-to-Kill-Cummerbund
A flat cummerbund in Licence to Kill

The first time Bond has a traditional black, pleated cummerbund is in Licence to Kill. It’s one of the few redeeming qualities of the black tie outfit in that film. But actually there are two cummerbunds used. The one Bond removes is flat silk and is used with the purpose to conceal rope. But later when Bond wakes up at Sanchez’s villa and sees his dinner suit neatly hung up, it’s the traditional cummerbund with pleats.

Quantum-of-Solace-Cummerbund
The cummerbund briefly appearing in Quantum of Solace

When Bond wore his dinner suit without a cummerbund or waistcoat in Casino Royale, many people took note of it and started doing the same. Though Bond’s tradition of foregoing the waist-covering began from the start of the film series in Dr. No, it took 44 years for people to notice and make a big fuss over it. When Bond returned in Quantum of Solace two years later, the cummerbund returned. And Bond wore a cummerbund again in Skyfall despite the cummerbund not being very popular at the moment.

The cummerbund does not work well with the low-rise trousers that make up the majority of suit trousers today since the cummerbund should be worn up at the waist and not down at the hips. Some people say that the cummerbund should be used with such low-rise trousers to prevent the white of the shirt from showing between the jacket button and the top of the waistband, but that’s not a true solution for a poorly-designed suit. The cummerbund’s purpose is not to prevent that bit of shirt from showing. The jacket’s buttoning point and the trousers’ waistband in a well-fitting suit should not be very far from one another. The cummerbund should actually be mostly hidden under the jacket and only show just a little above and below the jacket’s button, if it shows at all.

9 COMMENTS

  1. I had a dinner suit made bespoke about 3 years ago and I requested the “For Your Eyes Only” fitted cummerbund. The tailor was familiar with it having trained and apprenticed originally in London but did mention that he hadn’t seen or had a request for such an item for years. It’s the best solution and, as you say, a very clever idea.

    Furthermore, as you say, Matt, “The jacket’s buttoning point and the trousers’ waistband in a well-fitting suit should not be very far from one another”. Why, oh why, then does one get silly arguments when one states that the current opposite of this = a poor fitting suit, regardless of the fact that this is now considered “normal”?

  2. Ah, I always assumed they were like a vanity girdle to hide or compressed men’s big bellies and Bond didn’t need one hence it’s regularly omission from his outfit.
    There you go, I’ve learnt even more from this blog 🙂

  3. I suppose the higher rise on Bond’s dress trousers in Skyfall can be attributed to the fact that he was wearing the cummerbund. Generally, I thought the dinner suit was the best piece of tailored clothing in the film.

      • Fair enough they appear to have a fuller cut which led me to assume that they were more traditional all around.

  4. Informative post as always. Dislike cummerbunds, tho’ – evening waistcoat both more elegant and more comfortable (apart from when it is very warm).

  5. I never used to think of the cummerbund as a particularly controversial item, but in the last few years I’ve realised that a lot of people dislike them intensely. I own two and will more often than not wear one with black tie. I agree that a waistcoat is a finer piece of clothing, other things being equal, but if the goal, or one of the goals, of black tie is to keep the outfit as simple and elegant as possible then I think you can make a case for the cummerbund being neater and simpler than a waistcoat (especially a double breasted and/or lapelled one).

    The key advantage of a waistcoat to my mind is as a place to keep the pocket-watch (a wristwatch just doesn’t feel right with black tie).

    I’ve always believed that the cummerbund’s main purpose is to cover up the join of trousers/shirt, which it is not quite proper to expose, and make certain that no white shows below the jacket button (n/a to double-breasted jackets, of course). That said, I do like the mini-cummerbund in For Your Eyes Only – smaller and simpler than the usual design.

    • There shouldn’t be any white showing below the jacket button even without a cummerbund. You can use the cummerbund to mask the shirt, but in doing so you’re probably wearing the cummerbund too low.

      • Hi Matt. Thanks for your blog which I thoroughly enjoy. Finally someone who knows and understands fashion. While I agree with your comments that a cummerbund does not replace an ill fitting tuxedo still we should tout its positives. There are too many ill fitting tuxedoes out there. All one needs to do is watch the next academy awards show. It is precisely because of this that we should all get behind the wearing of a cummerbund. Fashion, in the short term, demands it. Thanks for all the great writing. Tony

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