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Where There's Smoke ...

The Venerable Old Smoking Jacket Has a Place in the Gentleman's Wardrobe
G. Bruce Boyer
Posted: February 1, 1999

Not so many years ago, the mention of the smoking jacket conjured up two vivid images: a brace of elderly fin-de-siècle gentlemen reading in their overstuffed easy chairs at the club, or a certain libidinous publisher, entertaining in pajamas at his mansion, pipe clenched in teeth and bunny-costumed ladies on either arm. The garment had become, variously, a curiosity from another age and a symbol of a sybaritic lifestyle.

But like anything that achieves a sublime marriage of form and function, the smoking jacket is back (not that it ever truly left us) as a quite useful part of a gentleman's wardrobe--an item that imparts casual stylishness to the wearer and, of course, protects his other apparel from the residual odors of smoking.

The Edwardian Age was the last period in which men dressed according to the occasion and the time of day with any scrupulousness. Witness all the morning coats, dinner jackets, evening coats, lounge jackets and suits, and day frock coats, not to mention all the special jackets for seaside wear, walking in the country, and a variety of sports. Unsurprising, then, that they would have had a whole range of garments for the popular pastime of smoking.

Today, the smoking jacket should more properly be considered a general, all-purpose, at-home entertaining jacket. With all the apparent choices about what to wear for at-home dinners, there seems to be a lot of confusion. Some men will wear a suit with a casual shirt or sweater in an attempt to soften its demeanor for the evening. Others will fall back on some sort of sports jacket or the trusty blazer. Even the cashmere cardigan has been brought into play.

But if a tuxedo is too formal and a suit too pedestrian, a sweater a bit too casual and a blazer a cliché, what to do? The smoking jacket is the perfect alternative. There's much more styling variety here than supposed. An at-home jacket of this type can first either be a buttoned or a sash style. The buttoned version is coat-shaped, either single-breasted with shawl lapels (usually self-faced) and one-button closure, or double-breasted with one-, two- or three-button closure (usually with braiding, called frogs). It's also ventless, with piped lapels, cuffs and pockets.

The concept of an elegantjacket for entertaining, naturally, has never been lost on the purveyors of better clothing.

"At Sulka we've got over a hundred-year history of making the finest at-home wear," Gary Wasserman, head designer for the firm, proudly states. "In our stores we've always had a separate section dedicated to loungewear. It continues to be an important part of our business, and I must say that smoking jackets have been selling nicely--for both men and women. Women will buy the men's jackets to wear as coats, over everything from party dresses to jeans. Men mostly wear them for personal at-home wear."

"They are at-home wear, of course," agrees Joseph Barrato, chief executive officer of Brioni USA, "but I think they should more properly be presented as an alternative type of formalwear. That way, a man can be made more aware of the possibilities of the garment, that it's really a jacket meant for entertaining."

"Well, what I see is that men like to wear these jackets for at-home dinners and entertaining," says Mr. Leonard Logsdail, a Savile Row tailor now based in New York. "They're comfortable, not as formal as a dinner jacket, and quite distinctive.

"We do them in the traditional cut velvet--most of our customers buy them in bottle green, dark blue or claret red--and in traditional styling: one-button single-breasted, with shawl lapels, frogging on the cuffs and pockets and around the lapels, and ventless. Very traditional."

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Comments   1 comment(s)

Preston Weiters — Jersey City,, NJ, US,  —  February 25, 2011 12:05am ET

2/25/11, Elegant, yes. Practical, no. Who needs a jacket (of any kind) at home anyway?

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