Judging by the requests I receive for more details of the tabs on formal shirts and waist coverings I didn’t do a very good job of explaining this in the Guide. So here’s a close-up look at everything you wanted to know – or didn’t want to know – about this interesting example of formal engineering.
The practice of buttoning one’s shirtfront to one’s trousers to prevent it from riding up apparently became popular in the 1880s although I have found examples of tabs dating back to the 1860s. The appendage’s appearance on waist coverings goes back even further, debuting on evening and wedding waistcoats around 1840. Cummerbunds have been sporting tabs of their own since some of the earliest models were patented back in the mid 1920s. (See the Vintage section of the Guide for examples of all three.)
While this previously standard feature of fine formal wear is rare these days it is fortunately a simple matter to attach one to existing garments. Indeed, fabric tie-stays make a perfect substitute. You will also need a button inside the trouser waistband to hold the various tabs. Just bring your shirt, waist covering and trousers to a tailor or seamstress and he or she can determine where the button and/or tabs needs to be placed in order to line up properly.*
Once you’ve got the parts in place it’s time to get dressed:
- Put on your shirt and trousers leaving the trousers undone.
- If wearing a waistcoat, put it on with the neck strap fastened but not the back strap (this will allow more manoeuvrability in the next step)
- Attach the waist covering tab to the trouser first. (The tab is found on the reverse side of the covering, near the top of a cummerbund and near the bottom of a waistcoat.)
- Attach the shirt tab to the trouser, thus sandwiching the waistband between the inner layer of the shirt and the outer layer of the trousers.
- Fasten the trousers.
- Fasten the waist covering behind your back as usual and voilà, you’re done.
Like suspenders, these tabs may seem fussy when getting dressed but once you’ve suited up you can rest easy knowing that the waist of your outfit will remain perfectly in place throughout the evening. (Admittedly, also like suspenders, they add a little extra fidgeting when answering the call of nature.)
Postscript: DIY Tips
February 11, 2014
My recent experience with a new tailor and a new three-piece tuxedo has shown me that this sort of alteration is not within the pervu of the typical tailor or seamstress. Here’s some helpful hints you may want to share with them:
- with the shirt and trousers on, pin the shirt tab to the shirt and use this to determine the position of the corresponding trouser button.
- it is okay for the shirt tab to be attached above the waistline as you’ll be covering it with a cummerbund or waistcoat; just make sure it’s aligned with the buttons on the shirt
- the horizontal positioning of the shirt tab button should align with the fly as that is the centre line of the trousers; its vertical positioning will depend on the positioning of the button hole in the shirt tab but generally speaking it shouldn’t be too far below the waistband because it will ideally be used to also fasten the waistcovering
- use a shirt button instead of a larger trouser button as it will fit more easily into the eyelet in the shirt tab
- the cummerbund tab should be an elastic loop and be positioned in the centre of the cummerbund at a height that allows it to attach to the same button used for the shirt tab (there’s much more leeway here as the elastic tab will stretch, unlike the shirt tab)
- generally, the cummerbund’s vertical centre line is at the same height as the trouser waistband; if it sits too low it may expose the bottom of the shirt bib (and possibly the working button and shirt tab below that), if it sits too high it may give the impression that your pants are hiked up to your chest
- the waistcoat tab should also be elastic and also positioned to attach to the same button as used for the shirt (I noticed that Brooks Brothers full-dress waistcoats have the tab set slightly to the left of the vest’s centre line (when viewed from the front) which requires a second similarly off-centre button be added to the trouser waistband. However, I don’t understand the benefit of this asymmetrical alignment.)
- generally, the evening waistcoat’s centre button sits at the same height as the trouser waistband