Waist coverings are a popular
way to add personal
flair to black tie. To learn how to
do so without sacrificing the outfit's
formal integrity see
X (Not So) Well Suited:
X The Naked Navel
Keeping your jacket
buttoned will help hide an uncovered waist
but still has its limitations. The
coat can easily spread open to expose
formal wear's version of the Bermuda Triangle.
The image on the right has been retouched to illustrate how
a covered navel increses perceived leg length, making a man
look taller and slimmer.
Contemporary Black-Tie Waist
a black cummerbund or low-cut evening
waistcoat is the most traditional way to cover the waist
(with a single-breasted jacket)
a recent trend is to leave the waist uncovered
The classic evening
waistcoat is a rare find these days as it has been virtually
replaced by models that are cut higher, lack lapels and are
exclusively single-breasted. In other words, the new formal
waistcoat is essentially just a shiny version of a regular suit
Formal waistcoats are meant
to showcase the formal shirt's decorated bosom which means
they should barely extend beyond the dinner jacket’s lapels.
This low cut also preserves the physique-enhancing deep V
created by the contrast of white shirt against the closed black
the tall height of a suit-style vest is inappropriate for a
jacket. It could, however, be used to improve the formality of a two-button dinner jacket
the same way a regular vest adds authority to a two-piece business
suit. Just be sure it is
cut to a medium height so as not to interfere with the jacket’s V
Modern waistcoats are
constructed in the full-back style, depriving the wearer of the
comfort of a backless model.
Young men will use this deficiency as an excuse to strip off
their jackets at the first possible opportunity, often thinking that
the silk backing qualifies their vest as a stylish substitute for
their jacket. It
Waistcoats with more than
four buttons should have the bottom button undone, just as regular
suit vests are normally worn.
Modern waistcoat separates are usually
finished entirely in satin or, less commonly, grosgrain and should
match the finish of the accompanying dinner jacket’s lapels.
Cashmere or velvet is also an appropriately luxurious choice.
If buying a separate waistcoat constructed of wool keep in mind that
the fabric will not be identical to the wool of your tuxedo and
might appear mismatched.
Color and Pattern
Colored and patterned vests
offer much more latitude in choice of fabric as they don't have to match the dinner suit’s materials. However,
these variations can be a slippery slope to sophomoric prom wear so
be sure to consult the
Alternatives page before heading in this direction.
The clownish 1980s practice
of matching brightly colored cummerbunds with identical bow ties may
largely explain why the formal sash has significantly declined in
popularity in recent years. It has also been facing increasing
competition from the vogue for finished waistbands on formal
trousers. Regardless, it
remains a perfectly stylish and correct accessory providing that any
modern trends in color or pattern stick to the guidelines found in
Today many men are choosing
trousers with a satin finished waistband in lieu of either type of
traditional waist covering. Despite the fact that an exposed
waistband is still regarded by many as a formal faux pas, this
option was given a significant boost in credibility in 2006 when
Daniel Craig flashed it on the poster for the hugely popular James
Bond film Casino Royale. However, those men intent on
imitating Mr. Craig’s edgy appearance at their next black-tie gala
should make sure to separate fact from fiction:
Craig’s exposed waist is
part of a deliberate dressed-down look for the purposes of the
poster. Unless you plan
to also copy his unbuttoned shirt, undone tie (and unholstered
handgun) you should take your cue from the film itself wherein 007
always buttons his jacket when standing thus keeping his waistband
Craig’s dinner suit was
personally made for him by a master tailor and his stomach is as
flat as a washboard. If you can't duplicate these factors
expect to duplicate his formal waistline.
A black waist covering
extends the leg line thus creating the illusion of longer legs.
Omitting this covering creates the opposite effect.
The absence of a waist
covering reduces the outfit’s formality, particularly if wearing a
long tie and a suit-like dinner jacket.
Even with the jacket closed
the bottom of your shirt will still become exposed anytime you place
your hands in your trouser pockets because this action naturally
spreads apart the jacket fronts.
(This shortcoming is easily overlooked by men who are used to
having their tie cover up their navel when wearing regular suits.)
Finally, would-be imitators
should also keep in mind that traditional formal shirts will not
work with this look as their stud holes do not extend all the way
down to the waist. Consequently, the working button intended
to be hidden behind a cummerbund or waistcoat will instead be very
The striking effect of a
low-buttoning jacket is lost when paired with a waistcoat that rises to the collarbone.
The lower cut and dull finish of this waistcoat
makes it a more understated option than the satin model above.
waistband may look hip in the poster for the 2006 Bond
thriller Casino Royale . . .
. . . but the reality is
quite different for men without Daniel Craig's physique (or his
wherewithal to choose a hidden-button shirt).