You could be be smoking the richest, fattest, most deeply flavoured cigar of your life — and still feel that something is missing. But what could that something be? A Cuban sunset? Probably, but there’s little chance you’ll be jetting off anywhere anytime soon. A smoking cap? We wouldn’t advise it, but there’s a top selection here if you’re really into tassels…
No, what you’re missing is a smoking jacket. Finely tailored and crafted from sumptuous silk or velvet, the smoking jacket is a symbol of cigars smoked right; decadent, opulent — and a little bit louche. And, while the garment may have fallen from favour in more recent decades, we’re keen to see its rakish revival. So, where did it come from, what’s it for and why should every self-discerning cigar smoker own a smoking jacket?
Smoking jackets followed tobacco to Britain
The first smoking jackets puffed into view in the 17th Century. It was a time when Asia and the Americas were exporting silks, spices, coffee and tobacco — and the finer things in life were things to show off. Your ‘Indian gown’ or ‘robe de chambre’ was one such possession, and many men had their portraits painted wearing not suits, but smoking jackets.
In fact, by the 1850s, The Gentleman’s Magazine — sounds like a trustworthy publication to us — described the smoking jacket as: “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.”
Sound fancy? It was. In fact, before the smoking jacket took on a more contemporary guise, Simon Cundey — Managing Director at Savile Row tailor Henry Poole & Co. — tells us that the garment was “more akin to a short dressing gown in appearance.”
And, over time, this design changed multiple times
So what changed? The smoking jacket as we know it know first appeared in the mid-1800s, as a short, ‘three-seamer’ jacket and the forerunner of the modern lounge suit. After the Crimean War, Turkish tobacco became hugely popular in Britain — and men began wearing these velvet jackets while they enjoyed an after-dinner smoke. The heavy material was intended to absorb any astringent smells, and protect the wearer’s clothes from falling ash.
According to James Cook — General Manager at bespoke shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser — the smokers would shrug off their snug jackets after smoking, before pulling back on their evening jackets and heading back into the dining room; the picture of neat, clean and smoke-free sophistication.
But, over time, the smoking jacket became less about social standing and more about cosiness and snugness. In 1902, The Washington Post even published a feature that branded smoking jackets “synonymous with comfort”. The once-heralded jacket became a half-hearted attempt at formalwear; one step up from a dressing gown, but several steps behind anything else.
During the 20th Century, the garment became less well-regarded
Dean Martin, Cary Grant, Clark Gable and Frank Sinatra all stepped out in their dinner jackets during the 1950s. But, by then, these style statements were less about flaunting formality than they were about superstars doing whatever they liked. After all, the most famous smoking jacket wearer of the last century was Hugh Hefner — who wasn’t exactly the picture of classic Hollywood glamour.
Fred Astaire tried to keep the smoking jacket on the right side of novelty — and he did rather well. He cut a dash and looked the part in his favoured burgundy velvet number, and was even buried in it when he died. But, by now, most of the bright-coloured velvets and prints that typified older smoking jackets have been translated onto tuxedos — tightly tailored and eschewing the more comfortable cuts of the classic garment.
So why should you buy one?
And that’s a crying shame. Because, as we said, spark up a cigar this year and you’ll feel like there’s something missing. The inimitable combination of soft tailoring, bold shades and sumptuous fabrics will add an air of occasion to your Cohiba, or Montecristo, or Romeo y Julieta.
“And, today,” explains Turnbull & Asser’s James Cook, “many shooting parties require the smoking jacket — as it’s the perfect versatile garment. It’s a brilliant piece of kit, since it can be dressed down with jeans or smartened up with dress trousers.”
“Although, strictly speaking,” suggests Henry Poole’s Simon Cundey, taking a more traditional approach, “it ought only to be worn under one’s own roof, in lieu of a dining jacket — and never as a guest at another’s table.”
Whatever your opinion — and favoured style — we’ve rounded up three ideal options below. From Turnbull & Asser, these green velvet option comes complete with the braided toggle fastening and cord piping. It’s a similar finish to Henry Poole’s own design; a bespoke double-breasted style with vast silk lapels. Or, for a spin on the original dressing gown design, look no further than Derek Rose, and this Black Watch tartan number.
Turnbull & Asser Green Velvet Smoking Jacket
Derek Rose Smoking Jacket
Smoking Jacket by Henry Poole & Co.
Seeking out more style inspiration? A corduroy jacket is this autumn’s most versatile style move…
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