The humble cummerbund may seem to the unobservant like an unimportant garment, an optional extra on the otherwise complete tuxedo suit. But you would be wrong to think such a thing, for the cummerbund has played an important role throughout the ages. Indeed, it is likely you would not be alive today were it not for the cummerbund - okay, that's maybe an exaggeration, but it is at least theoretically possible.
The cummerbund was invented in Prussia in 1484 by Herman Kummer and Wilhelm Bund, who together wished to avoid the problems associated with medieval stonemasons' arse-cracks. Many a lady or curious man would become aroused on seeing a Teutonic craftsman bent double with his hairy sphincter waving in the air. The garment was originally meant to be worn back-to-front, where it perfectly covered the gap between the jacket and the lederhosen.
The Kummer-Bund was an immediate success, and may have reduced Prussian peasants sightings of arse-crack by as much as 90%, leading to a dramatic improvement in the quality of life.
However, the good times did not last, and Herrs Kummer and Bund were arrested and burned to death for heresy when Pope Innocent the Cummerbundless declared the garment to be satanic. He was infamous for his fondness for a bit of arse-crack, so it is no surprise that he banned it.
It was only in the 1600s, with the lessening of Papal power and the beginnings of the British Empire when the cummerbund began to make a comeback. King Charles II enjoyed dressing up his pet spaniels in cummerbunds. He would often ask his court painters to portray his hounds in amusing poses and add a funny caption, thereby also inventing the lolcat (or loldog). Sadly all of his paintings were burned in the Great Fire of London, along with many of his finest cummerbunds.
The habit of wearing the cummerbund with a suit appeared in the 18th century, when it became an official part of the British army officer's lounge-wear. During the battle of Calcutta in 1757, Clive of India famously wore a cummerbund with his suit while ordering his manservant to bring him another pot of tea, after a stray bullet had unfortunately made a hole in the first pot and lodged into the neck of his Indian butler.
Soon a cummerbund became associated with a stiff upper lip and a well-dressed man. One could barely walk down the street in London in the late 1700s wearing a cummerbund without drawing attention. As Samuel Johnson's friend James Boswell once observed, "Dr Johnson had only to flap open his cloak and reveal an inch of cummerbund, and the quim would be all over him like rats on a discarded McNugget."
The cummerbund also played its part in concealing the portliness of its wearer. Prince Albert once wore one and described it as "like ein jockstrap for mein beer-gut".
In our own century, the cummerbund is still remembered by people who are buying a suit, or putting one on. It is as essential a part of a tuxedo as any other part, and woe betide any man who leaves it behind.
This article was sponsored by the British Cummerbund Association.