Sies Marjan

If the Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, Sies Marjan, and Acne Studios Fall/Winter 2020 shows were any indication, the cummerbund is poised to make its grand entrance into the fashion juggernaut. Yes, really. Those oversized waistbands worn by old dudes at the opera might soon be a dominant force on the streets of SoHo.

At fashion week, formality surged to the fore as one of menswear’s most sophisticated and least understood pieces emerged on the runway among a blare of sharper silhouettes, establishing itself as one of the accessory champions of the season. While it’s ill-advised to refer to an accouterment as timeless and traditional as the cummerbund as “in” or “out,” it’s safe to say that, until now, you’d be hard-pressed to find it anywhere but smug black-tie dinners and Great Gatsby-themed costume parties. Upper-class formality didn’t really fit into an era where streetwear, athleisure — and in turn, comfort — were considered king.

But is a new wave approaching? At the close of last year, fashion had a fit when Virgil Abloh predicted the death of streetwear in 2020. But, as we’ve mentioned before, the rise of formality doesn’t herald streetwear’s demise. If anything, it appears to be evolving.

Getty Images / Victor VIRGILE

Men’s fashion week set the stage for this evolution, and cummerbunds were signifiers of a seismic shift. At Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh’s “Heaven on Earth” collection reimagined menswear dress codes with his heaviest suiting collection to date. The designer’s take on the cummerbund is deconstructive and looks like something akin to a utility belt. It might have lost its original function — apparently to catch crumbs and neaten tuxedos by covering the waistline — but it hasn’t lost its charm.

The cummerbund as we know it was born in colonial India in 1850, where it was adopted by British military personnel who were inspired by the silk “kammerbands” of the East. In no vision do we see these origins prevail more than at Clare Waight Keller’s Givenchy, where she cited her muse as the Maharaja of Indore — a global nomad from India, who Keller says was “an incredible drifter through different cities, who decided to abandon India and embrace modernism.” Keller reworks the accessory with a zip, giving it a fresh look in line with the current, hardwear-heavy menswear zeitgeist.

Highsnobiety / Eva Al Desnudo

The cummerbund was also seen at Sies Marjan and Acne Studios’ shows, where it was used to celebrate a new kind of masculinity. This season, Sander Lak at Marjan cast his lavish insouciance across cinematic history, nodding to the costumes of period films and challenging the notions of masculinity they present with something — like his fabrics — a little more fluid. See how it looked in the gallery image above.

Over at Acne, well, there aren’t technically any cummerbunds, but the allusion is there. High-waisted, sculpting trousers and shorts create the same defined silhouette, but with a dancer’s air — as if the boys walked straight off the ballet stage, threw on their sneakers, and set to the streets. A master of unexpected contemporary, designer Jonny Johansson again blurs the lines between masculinity and femininity. It’s not androgyny, but a departure from gender norms altogether — something that is emerging on menswear runways the world over and has been a guiding force in Acne’s collections from the very beginning.

The perceived douchery of the cummerbund might have prevented it from appealing to the masses in the past, but that’s part of the appeal now. Labels are offering new slants on the accessory that flip it on its head, taking ownership of its elitism, and creating it anew to challenge the dress codes it was traditionally defined by. Maybe the cummerbund will evolve into a sleeker take on the zipped neckband. Or maybe it’ll be mocked, meme-d, and disappear, like that Balenciaga T-shirt with a dress shirt hanging off it. Regardless, right now it’s representative of a new way of dressing, in an era where change is in the air.

Words by Aaron Mills