It Started With a Robe…
The smoking jacket evolved from silk robes of the 17th century. The robes were very fashionable and it was a common practice to have portraits painted while wearing them. Here’s the history of the smoking jacket and how it became part of cigar culture.
The short version of the smoking jacket became more popular in the mid 1600’s, when men would don the jackets along with caps (which were handmade by wives or girlfriends) to protect their garments and hair from the smoke of cigars, pipes and cigarettes.
The Jacket Became Part of the Smoking Experience
During this time, the Victorian smoking jacket was an informal garment, designed purely for relaxing at home and ended about mid-thigh on the wearer. They were typically made from velvet, fine wool or quilted silk. The jackets were decorated with frogging (ornate designs around buttons), shawl collars, and turned-up cuffs.
After a fine meal, the women would retire for the evening and the men would change into their jackets, caps and sometimes entire suits, to adjourn to the smoking parlor. There they would enjoy a smoke, a libation and conversation.
Which Turned into a Fashion Statement
By the late 1860s, Edward VII, the Prince of Wales, commissioned the Savile Row tailor Henry Poole & Co. to make a blue silk smoking jacket that he could wear to dinners at his Sandringham country estate.
This fashion statement ushered in a more formal look to the smoking jacket. At the end of World War I, the smoking jacket began to resemble a loosely fitted, double breasted dinner jacket.
The use of velvet also became less frequent with silk and wool remaining as popular fabric choices. The ornate frogging also disappeared in favor of conventional buttons on sleeves and jacket fronts.
The smoking jacket remained a fashion statement into the 20th century. Popular celebrities such as Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Hugh Hefner were famous for wearing the garment. Fred Astaire is said to have been buried in a smoking jacket. The smoking jacket seemed to fall out of favor after the 1960’s.
The Jacket Became Unpopular, Followed by a 90’s Comeback
During the 1990’s the smoking jacket had a resurgence of interest. Instead of being used as protection against smoke, the jacket was worn as an alternative for social occasions when a tuxedo was too formal and a suit and tie was not the right look.
Their rich colors and romantic connotations made them perfect for entertaining. Women would also use them as a form of brisk-weather outerwear.
The history of the smoking jacket serves as a reminder that the cigar is part of a gentleman’s lifestyle.
With the popularity of home smoking sanctuaries, perhaps it is time to bring back this form of attire to our smoking environment. The act of smoking a cigar is already part ceremony and part celebration. A special purpose garment such as the smoking jacket could add even more class and luxury to our enjoyment.History of the Smoking Jacket by Tom Ufer