Smoking Jacket History
A Reason For Elation
by Lady Katie
The classic smoking jacket is a mid thigh-length jacket made from velvet or silk, or both. It features a shawl collar, turn-up cuffs, and toggle or button fastenings–or may simply be closed with a tie belt.
In the 1850s, the Gentlemen’s Magazine of London defined 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.
For many, the mere mention of the smoking jacket conjures up one of 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 has become, variously, a curiosity from another age and a symbol of a debaucherous 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.
In the 17th century, goods began flowing into Europe from the Americas–spices, tobacco, coffee, and silks. It became fashionable to be depicted in one’s portrait wearing a silk robe de chambré, or dressing gown.
“Portrait of a Man ‘en robe de chambré'” by Louis Tocqué
The short smoking jacket soon evolved from these silk garments. According to menswear historian G. Bruce Boyer, the Crimean War (1853-1856) made Turkish tobacco abundant in England. The popularity of smoking spiked. After dining, gentlemen would retire to a den or smoking room and don a smoking jacket. The jacket absorbed the odors of pipes or cigars and protected a man’s suits and shirts from ash.