The Smoking Jacket

The Smoking Jacket

A garment as traditional as the smoking jacket—in use since the mid 19th-century and with a pedigree that reaches back to the 1500s—isn't expected to make fashion turns. But this coat, made for one special purpose—enjoying tobacco—has a few tricks up its, er, sleeves.

No, smoking jackets are not making a splashing comeback on the runways. But the garment, once reserved for leisurely, at-home entertainment amongst a small klatch of like-minded cigar lovers, is now known to travel far afield. Going out on the town, at nightclubs and fevered parties, these cheeky coats are as likely to resemble traditional tuxedo jackets (albeit with certain flamboyant liberties) as they do the parlor robes they are descended from.

Smoking jackets became a fixture of gentleman's attire around the start of the Crimean War (1853), when Turkish tobacco began to flow into England. They were typically made of velvet, silk or satin, with a shawl collar and overstated cuffs. The front was kept closed with brocade toggles called frogging or a cord tied as a belt. Even while the form is much like a suit coat, the appointments were handed down from the long, silken garments called robes de chambre, which had been popular in English society since the beginning of the 16th century and much more resembled a dressing gown.

De rigueur into the Edwardian period, the look hung on in the movies as an at-home uniform for the perceptive Sherlock Holmes and the humorously homicidal Louis Mazzini of Kind Hearts and Coronets. Such celebrity notables as Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Dean Martin and, of course, Hugh Hefner sported them as well.

Today Leonard Logsdail, a Savile Row tailor now practicing in New York, reports a major shift in the style and general purpose of the smoking jacket. A specialty of Logsdail's is the creation of the classic garments on a custom basis. His experience is that frogging is out, buttons are in—and clients want smoking jackets to do double duty as dinner jackets, but with brocade fabrics and colors of deep green or blue, for parties and extravagant nights out on the town. Another fabric avenue is velvet and velour, which serves to absorb smoke.

Plenty of room still exists in the smoking jacket's aesthetic landscape for fashion designers to play with new and interesting ideas. Randi Hillesø, of Hillesø Designs and the AlternaTux collection, who also makes bespoke smoking jackets, incorporates fabrics with bright, eye-catching designs, which often include Asian-inspired elements or sprawling patterns of gilded fern.

Traditional or updated, the smoking jacket serves fashion and function. Keep in mind that the latter is to keep smoke, ash and odors off your clothers while you enjoy the virtues of premium tobacco.

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