Options for Waist Coverings

“The well-dressed man makes the most of his body contouring. He clothes himself with a sense of style and flare, but in a way that accentuates his body and makes it appear more athletic. Today’s fashion is coming out of comfort. Still, there must be shape. Shaped clothing is always more flattering to the physique, as opposed to the mere body covering that someone puts on only because it’s big enough to button.” — Pierre Cardin[1] “There is a way of dressing for each age. If you stick to it, you always look the best. If you try to play another role, you look the worst.” — Egon von Furstenberg[2] The waist covering—whether you choose to go with a vest (waistcoat) or cummerbund—is an excellent place to start experimenting with different textures, colors, patterns, and styles. It’s surrounded by black (or midnight blue, or other dark color) and shows just a hint of whatever style you’ve selected above your buttoned dinner jacket. The waist covering is responsible for keeping your ensemble as a whole classically formal despite an unmistakable pop of individuality. In addition to your vest or cummerbund, suspenders (or “braces” as they’re known in the UK) are an important component of your formal ensemble—though, if worn correctly, they shouldn’t really be seen. The interplay between waist covering and suspenders, though discussed in our “Classic Styles” section, is crucial for developing a formal look that fits and stays in place impeccably, no matter how wild the night might get! Another modern trend is to forgo the waist covering (and even, sometimes, suspenders) altogether. While when executed perfectly this can lend an air of softness and ease to your otherwise formal look, it must be executed perfectly: so consider the information provided here before selecting this “naked waist” look as your style of choice!


Traditionally, a formal vest or waistcoat differed significantly from a standard three-piece business suit waistcoat in several ways. Dress waistcoats were shawl collared with three buttons, and those buttons stood much lower on the vest than standard business vests. This allowed the combination of low-cut vest and the dinner jacket’s low button closure to create a deep V, exposing a broad expanse of starched white shirtfront.[3] Traditional black-tie vests are black and made of the same fabric as the dinner jacket. [caption id="attachment_319" align="aligncenter" width="249"]striped-satin-midnight-blue-vest.jpg_1 The Popular Midnight Blue Vest has standard of 5 Buttons[/caption]   However, most contemporary vests are much more similar in cut to standard business suit vests: there are more buttons (five is standard) and they button higher up the chest, minimizing the formal deep V. In addition, there is generally no lapel, and vests are increasingly made of a fabric with more sheen to complement the lapel facings. Because it’s surrounded by black (or the dark color of your tuxedo jacket and trousers), it’s the perfect place to add a dash of individuality according to Flusser’s suggestion.[4] In particular, Flusser recommends classic patterns and fabric contrasts: for example, “Black ground silk foulard printed in paisley, polka dot, small plaid”; or a “geometric Macclesfield woven design in black ground pattern” or “ small figures, checks, paisley, repp stripe, or black moiré” in fabrics with “a slight sheen such as a dull satin effect.”[5] Another elegant yet unique option is to borrow a bit of white-tie style and incorporate a white piqué vest (preferably in traditional dress vest cut as well!).[6]


Cummerbunds remain a perfectly acceptable formal waist covering, tying your ensemble together, covering up and smoothing over any signs of construction or potential scruffiness where does shirt tucks into formal trousers. If you do decide to go with a cummerbund, it, just like the vest, is the perfect place to add a touch of color or pattern in contrasting fabrics such as brocade or silk.[8] If you’re wearing a black bowtie and black cummerbund, the two should be of the same kind of fabric (either a satiny sheen or matte). However, if you’re wearing a differently colored or patterned cummerbund (and/or bowtie), be very careful not to match them exactly! Instead, go for complementary colors/fabrics to avoid looking like your outfit came from a boxed set. [caption id="attachment_317" align="aligncenter" width="219"]venetian-chocolate-cummerbund.jpg.png The Chocolate Venetian Cummerbund is just one of the many unique color and style varieties.[/caption]

Bare Waist

Another modern trend is to forego the waist covering altogether (with a single-breasted jacket, that is; double-breasted tuxedos never require a waist covering). When done well, this can add a touch of softness and breeziness to an otherwise carefully constructed ensemble. Be careful when trying out this look, however, as it requires not only impeccable tailoring but also impeccable fitness! The vest or cummerbund serves two purposes: first, to cover up things like your trouser waistband’s closure and the potentially sloppy way in which your dress shirt might bunch as it’s tucked into the trousers. Second, to cover up any bulging above the trouser waistband, and to prevent your shirt from showing through if, say, you put your hands in your pocket and the bottom of your jacket spreads open.   A waist covering can create a slimmer and more put-together appearance. No matter how trendy the look, it’s not worth it to risk not wearing a vest or cummerbund if it means adding sloppiness into an otherwise sleek and elegant ensemble!


“Braces with clip ends are probably ok for farm work but not under a suit of clothes.” — Alan Flusser[9]  Finally, suspenders (or braces as they’re called in the UK) are still generally required for ensuring your trousers’ perfect fit and your look’s overall smoothness. Note that it’s acceptable today to wear trousers with waist tabs alone (and no suspenders): like going bare-waisted, though, this choice requires impeccable tailoring for a comparable suspender-less fit! [caption id="attachment_318" align="aligncenter" width="215"]Black Silk Formal Braces Black Silk Formal Braces[/caption]   Formal suspenders should be made of rayon for durability and should button to the inside of your trousers—no snaps![10] Black-tie suspenders are traditionally black; if you do choose patterned suspenders, be sure that the pattern is subtle (and must be woven rather than printed).[11] However, of all your formal wear components, suspenders are perhaps the least likely candidates for individual embellishment. After all, though they’re often worn as quirky fashion accessories on the street, for formal purposes, their job is to remain hidden. Always be sure that your suspenders lie underneath your vest or cummerbund, never on top. [1] Quoted in Hix, 24. [2] Ibid., 26. [3] Flusser (1996), 84. [4] Ibid., 83. [5] Ibid., 83-4. [6] Flusser (1985), 132. [7] Jones, 200. [8] Flusser (1996), 85; (1985), 132. [9] Flusser (2002), 223. [10] Ibid. [11] Ibid.