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Return of the Smoking Jacket

The Venerable Old Smoking Jacket Has a Place in the Gentleman's Wardrobe
G. Bruce Boyer
From the Print Edition:
John Travolta, Jan/Feb 99

(continued from page 2)

Now that [men] had a room to smoke in, the question of what costume to smoke in became of deep concern, and all the fashion-books of the nineteenth century devote pages to fancy designs for smoking-peignoirs for modish gentlemen, smoking-jackets, smoking-waistcoats, smoking slippers, and especially smoking-caps. A smoking-cap was the perfect present for a young lady to embroider for her financé or intimate relation of the male sex, or even for the curate. --The Peacock's Tail

Smoking waistcoats--not to mention the more unusual smoking peignoirs--are no longer with us, but certainly velvet slippers are, as well as smoking caps. "At Turnbull & Asser we still do the traditional velvet smoking cap with tassel to match our velvet smoking jackets," says Gregg de Vaney, chief executive officer of the firm in the United States. This is the same pork-pie design worn by Victorian gentlemen.

The other style of smoking attire, which remains with us, resembles a truncated gown, loosely cut and sashed, with shawl lapels (either self-faced or satin-covered), patch-style pockets and cuffs to match the lapels. Sashes are generally tasseled. This is the style that Robert Talbott specializes in. "With black trousers, fine shirt, and ascot, we find the sash-style smoking jacket is comfortable, practical and beautiful," says Susan Benson, a spokesperson for the firm. "We just made two handsome silk ones for pianist Michael Feinstein. I'm assuming that he'll wear them to perform in, as well as for at-home entertaining."

Once one has decided to take up the practice of wearing the time-honored smoking jacket, the question becomes, how to accessorize it? The simplest way to wear it is as though it were a dinner jacket--that is, with evening trousers (black or midnight blue) and shirt, as well as bow tie. The other possibility is with gray flannel trousers--almost any shade works, but light gray is particularly jaunty--and either an evening shirt and a bow tie or a less formal shirt with a scarf at the neck.

Shoes follow the dinner-jacket model--plain or patent-leather black oxford or slip-on--or the house-slipper model: velvet, tweed or leather thin-soled slippers in any complementary color.

Women wear wonderfully glamorous pajama-style outfits for at-home entertaining. Why can't men add a little sophistication--not to say sexiness--to their wardrobes with a cut-velvet or silk jacket that looks more elegant than a sports coat? *

G. Bruce Boyer is the author of Eminently Suitable.

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