The Essential Smoking Jacket Guide

The Essential Smoking Jacket Guide

There is a quote in Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer that seems to perfectly sum up the spirit of the smoking jacket:

“It's beautiful to have a smoking jacket, a good cigar and a wife who plays the piano. So relaxing. So lenitive. Between the acts you go out for a smoke and a breath of fresh air.”

One of the more iconic pieces of traditional menswear, the smoking jacket has evolved from a functional frock coat to what it is today - a sort of pseudo ceremonial lounge jacket for formal evenings, or conversely, whiling an evening away at home with a fine Sancho Panza and a nip of Louis XIII. While its original purpose may have changed along with the general lung health of the population, the smoking is no less loved because there is simply nothing quite like it. Part robe, part blazer, part warm loving hug from an old friend, it is the difference between a good sartorial wardrobe and a splendid one.

An old flame

The history of the smoking jacket is really quite remarkable, and few pieces of contemporary menswear can claim to have such long and interesting lifespans. It is the widely held belief that the first incarnations of the smoking jacket came in the form of the French robe de chambre and most likely date back to the 1600s. With the silk trade going great guns, European nobility were discovering new and increasingly ornate ways to use the fabric, and the more one had on display, the wealthier one would appear. Hence floor-length robe de chambre became the garment to wear for one's portrait.

Smoking jacket archive

It wasn't until the mid-19th century that the robe began to take on more of a jacket silhouette. In 1850, Gentleman’s Magazine of London put out the earliest description of what a classic smoking jacket should look like, saying it was “a kind of short robe de chambre, of velvet, cashmere, plush, merino or printed flannel, lined with bright colours, ornamented with brandenbourgs, olives or large buttons.”

Sounds divine, and yet the popularity of the jacket didn't take off until a few years later with the outbreak of the Crimean War. It was only then that the British people began to sample Turkish tobacco and so the smoking jacket provided the perfect combination of style on the one hand and protection from falling ash and the smell of tobacco smoke on the other. Gents could therefore retreat after a meal to light up a cigar or cigarette wearing their smoking jackets, safe in the knowledge that their wives would not complain of the terrible smell on their clothes. Also popular at the time were smoking caps, which would protect one's hair from the tobacco smoke.

 

It wasn't until 1865 that the smoking jacket ceased to be a purely functional garment and took on a style vocation all of its own, thanks in large part to Edward VII the Prince of Wales who commissioned Henry Poole & Co. of Savile Row to craft him a blue silk smoking jacket that he needn't take off at meals. Since then the smoking jacket has ridden waves of popularity, sliding into the mainstream on the back of Dean Martin and Fred Astaire (the latter of whom was buried in his favourite smoking jacket), but really always remaining on the periphery of fashion. As the world became increasingly more casual from the 60s onwards, the smoking jacket maintained a quiet but secured stance in the higher echelons of society until the 90s when Tom Ford repopularised it and every celebrity worth his salt was turning up to gala events in one. 

 

Today, the smoking jacket is once again charmingly assured yet discreet. Its original functionality has all but disappeared and so is now more of a ceremonial proposition. One can wear a smoking jacket in place of a dinner jacket for formal evening events for example; at smart dinners; or one can be unapologetically decadent and wear it around the house in the evenings. At Favourbrook, we have a number of different smoking jacket styles to suit each different occasion.

 

For example, smoking jackets with frogging details are perhaps best suited to more formal events, whereas smoking jackets with more of a DJ one-button front are more versatile. The double-breasted velvet smoking jacket with frogging details is perhaps the pinnacle of formal smoking jackets, while the single-breasted version is a touch more contemporary. Our velvet cotton Chaucer jackets and shawl lapel velvet dinner jackets are the most modern silhouettes, and can be styled in a number of different guises. Don't rule out wearing them with our denim dress shirt and a pair of jeans should you be going to a dinner party with friends. Perhaps the feature that sets apart the smoking jacket from other formal jackets is the shawl collar. That elegant sweep of silk grosgrain perfectly frames the face, but does so in a softer and more relaxed way than the angular notch and peak lapel variants.

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