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Amending Perfection
Lessons from the Past
Contemporary Tuxedos
Contemporary Waist
Contemporary Shirts
Contemporary Neckwear
Footwear, Accessories
Contemporary Alternatives









►Tasteful Personalization



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 Contemporary Alternatives.

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

The Rules:

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 vest.

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 jacket.  Consequently, the tall height of a suit-style vest is inappropriate for a traditional single-button 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 opening.

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 doesn’t. 

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 Contemporary 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 Contemporary Alternatives.

Exposed Waist

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 covered.

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 then don’t 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 much exposed.















(Bill Blass)

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.



















The exposed 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). 





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Text and original images copyright © 2012 by Button-Down Services Inc.  All rights reserved.