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 put it on over your head.
- Attach the waist covering’s tab first (as it’s the outermost layer of the waistband ‘sandwich’). 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 second (the inner layer).
- 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.)