I spent three years working in a luxury glasses boutique on New York’s infamous Madison Avenue. Our clientele predominantly consisted of seasoned society fixtures, people who were cool in the 1980s, and men involved in creative industries from advertising to music management and architecture. Across demographics, clients would often ask, “What’s on trend this season?”
“Being yourself,” I’d reply, every time.
While this might sound like the stuff of a self-help book, it’s actually a marked style strategy I’ve honed throughout my adult life, growing up in this perilously saturated era of information overload. “What am I supposed to do now?” asks a younger, saner Kanye West on his seminal album Congratulations. “Man, the game all messed up—how I’m supposed to stand out when everybody get dressed up?” Individuality is all we have left when the internet lights up and extinguishes mass trends quicker than fast fashion can account for. Being yourself isn’t kumbaya shit. It’s the only unadulterated option for originality in the postmodern epoch where personality has been pillaged and artistic integrity looted.
In matters of men’s clothing, the same motifs reign timeless: good fits, strong materials, and sturdy shades. This firm foundation allows new innovations to take shape on a personal level. Every man should add accents that speak to his distinct individuality. Throughout recent history, some of culture’s most influential and stylish fellows have employed the smoking jacket to show their artistic affinity. Equal parts elegance and, at times, dada, the smoking jacket is an excellent addition for any man looking to share a bit of his personality with strangers on the street or good friends in his home.
What is a smoking jacket?
While the term ‘smoking jacket’ has become a stand-in phrase for many inaccurate (albeit beautiful) garments, there are specific parameters separating the smoking jacket from its cousins. At its core, the smoking jacket is an informal piece of lounge wear attire most often crafted from velvet, silk, or both. More adventurous versions can incorporate cashmere, plush, merino, or printed flannels, with ostentatious hues illuminating its lining.
The smoking jacket is an ornate object, in spite of its simple silhouette. At its most accurate, the garment will feature a shawled collar, a type of notchless lapel rendered in one smooth, continuous curve. It will also have turn up cuffs folded back on themselves at the wrist, and feature some type of ornamental fastening, usually brandebourgs (known as ‘frogs’ or ‘frogging’), olives, or very large buttons. A true smoking jacket balances sleek lines and over-the-top accents, just like your style ideally should.
The smoking jacket traces its roots to captialism, that same force which necessitates it as an individuating staple, but also, counterintuitively, that same force which will enable you to acquire the garment. Anyways. At the dawn of the 17th century, new consumer goods began proliferating throughout Europe—the result of increased trade, exploration, and oftentimes colonialism. These activities stimulated the flow of delicacies like spices, coffee, silk, and tobacco. While silk paved the way for the literal craft of creating smoking jackets, tobacco is the true force behind the garment’s germination.
By the 18th century, men had adopted pipe-smoking pastimes, whiling evenings away in the parlor over port and a puff. Tobacco smoke sinks into everything it encounters, leaving a stale odor. Men of this era didn’t have the means or technology to own expansive wardrobes like we do today, so they had to painstakingly care for those clothes they did have. The smoking jacket began as a ‘banyan,’ a longer dressing robe intended to shield their clothing from the scent of smoke and the debris of falling ash. It soon became fashionable to be photographed in one’s sumptuous dressing clothes, the immortalization of an elegant inner life.
The Crimean War of the 1850s expanded smoking’s European reach as Turkish tobacco grew more readily available and extremely popular. The smoking jacket evolved in tandem into its shorter shape, the shape we know today, making it more feasible for outdoor fashion and inviting further ornamentation.
In Modern Times
Smoking jackets retained their popularity into the 1900s, as western culture gained dominance across the Atlantic in America and life began to resemble what we recognize today. Wikipedia states that in 1902 The Washington Post heralded the smoking jacket as “synonymous with comfort.” In 1908, another Pennsylvania-based newspaper enthusiastically proclaimed that it would be “putting it mildly to say that a new House Coat or Smoking Jacket will give any man reason for elation.”
The smoking jacket rose to its greatest prestige throughout the 1950s, as the greatest names in show business exalted its simple elegance over and over. All of history’s greatest celebrities fostered their own iconic trademark—Fred Astaire notably donned a smoking jacket in ads for Chesterfield Cigarettes. The smoking jacket became so central to Astaire’s identity that he opted to be buried in one. Other smoking jacket disciples included Cary Grant, Dean Martin, Jon Pertwee, and Frank Sinatra.
After its prominence in the 1950s, our beloved smoking jacket began to fall by the wayside. Fortunately, taste-maker and absolute legend Hugh Hefner graced the garment with his midas touch throughout the 1970s and 1980s, often appearing in pictures flanked by two Playboy bunnies and swathed in one of his many smoking jackets. As Footwear News wrote on the day of his death in 2017, “Hefner’s suave loungewear style stood for a man who no longer was required to work but could simply spend the day in bed— having amassed a fortune estimated today at $50 million. And while that type of lifestyle is not an option for most men, it certainly is something to aspire to.”
Today, costume iterations of the smoking jacket in Hefner’s image abound—every Halloween you’re sure to see at least one out on the streets. More seriously, the smoking jacket prevails in little bits and bursts, even as the act of smoking has fallen out of favor in accordance with health warnings. Here in 2021, it’s no use wondering about whether smoking jackets rule the moment or not—trends seem to change on a daily basis. Just know that if its rich history and entertaining style appeals to you, then you’re in good company. While many lump the smoking jacket in with slim tuxedo jackets and dinner jackets, the real, authentic deal still makes its appearance here and there on red carpets, even if only in echoes.
Check out the options below and make your pick if one hits. Even if the smoking jacket finds itself in a bear market, things will inevitably turn bull.
An sartorial starter pack to begin your journey:
Stylish Black Smoking Jacket by Abruzzomaster
This versatile staple checks all the boxes: shawled collar, turned cuffs, and frogged clasps. Its symphony of distinct components create one garment that can go from indoors to outdoors, from cozy evenings with a cigar to dinner parties at highly regarded establishments. This sleek velvet jacket scores rave reviews on Amazon, where newfound dandies espouse its fine sewing and excellent tailoring—the seller even encourages those who order to provide their precise height and weight for the perfect fit. If you’re looking for a simple, authentic smoking jacket to lend a bit of distinct style to your wardrobe, then look no further than this excellent starter jacket that promises to last for life.
Maxwell Smoking Jacket in Midnight Blue Velvet from Historical Emporium
Historical Emporium specializes in timeless garments of maximum authenticity for any man looking to imbue his wardrobe with a tasteful blast from the past. While many garments available on the site appear audacious in their commitment to factual veracity, this relaxed velvet smoking jacket provides an option that can exist comfortably in the twenty-first century. This “more modern take of popular gentleman’s lounge wear from the Victorian era” features a notch lapel and plush exterior made from 100 percent cotton velvet, according to Historical Emporium’s listing. They’ve line its interior with satin-finished polyester, including three exterior pockets on the waist and breast, with three more interior pockets for the secluded storage of valuables like rare cigars. “This is a beautiful jacket,” writes Andrew from New York City in the reviews. “It fits perfectly and is of very high quality, which I appreciate as the price is reasonable. This is a great jacket to wear for a night on the town.”
Burgundy Shawl-Collar Velvet Tuxedo Jacket
If you’re seriously vibing with the notion of a smoking jacket and ready to drop a bit more dough on one that can grow with you, consider this triumph of material and tailoring from Favourbrook, an English stronghold established on London’s Jermyn Street in 1993. “It could be described as a slightly more rock-and-roll black tie,” remarks Favourbrook’s Oliver Spencer on the art of rocking velvet smoking jackets. While this incredible garment won’t go easy on your wallet, it just might pay for itself when strangers start offering to cover your next round. Rendered with authentic details from the shawled collar to frogged clasps, this smoking jacket invites the committed viewer to find these details after tearing their eyes from its hypnotic hue and texture. Guaranteed to attract beguiling experiences, discover a bolder you in this lap of luxury.
Any man expressly interested in harnessing the smoking jacket as a tool for outright declaring their individuality should consider a louder option like this bright patterned offering from Mens Tuxedo USA. “It’s a modern fit, with a Chinese decorative closure, bold black satin trim on the pockets and the sleeves,” their website reads. “This will make an impression.” The frenetic pattern resolves into a pleasing contrast of light and dark, between sturdy black and iridescent gold brocade—definitely not for the faint of heart. Indeed, in this modern era men ought to keep one completely unique sartorial device in their repertoire. Great over any simple outfit, this smoking jacket just might put you over the edge in your journey towards building a wardrobe that speaks to you, and of you, alone.