Synonymous with gentleman’s comfort at home, the smoking jacket has long been a traditional coat reserved for evening wear in the comforts of your estate as you sip fine port, read your paper and enjoy the pleasantries of a pipe or cigar.
Over the years, the jacket changed the course of men’s style and what was once reserved exclusively for home has now become a style staple of black tie and evening wear for a night in town.
The History of the Smoking Jacket
As international trade grew, the early 17th-century proved to become rather successful for Europe as it imported its favored goods into India, North America and much of Asia.
Some of the treasures of the time included items such as coffee, textiles, spices and tobacco. As many gentlemen didn’t own a wardrobe the size of the one’s today, most men did what they could to protect their most prized garments. Overcoats, tunics, and cravats were virtual magnets for the smell of tobacco, and so men began to wear robe de chambres over their clothing when partaking in a smoke at home. Most of these dressing gowns were made of silk, and as the old world changed into a newer old world, it became trendy to have your portrait taken while wearing your favorite dressing gown.
One of the first documented mentions of the dressing gown was charted on March 30, 1666, in the private diary of Samuel Pepys. An elegant gentleman without the financial means to acquire his own robe, he rented one. In his diary that day, he wrote ‘Thence home and eat one mouthful, and so to Hale’s and there sat until almost quite dark upon working my gown, which I hired to be drawn (in) it—an Indian gown, and I do see all the reason to expect a most excellent picture of it.’
As the years passed, the dressing gown became reserved for private wear and was worn primarily after the master had changed from his evening clothes into his pajamas. Without proper heating and insulation in most residences, the dressing gown provided much-needed warmth on cold nights. It was a practical item, although still remarkable in its beauty and sophistication. However, for most, it was only visible to the gentleman’s wife and perhaps children. Few members of great houses might wear it in front of certain staff such as a valet, first footman or butler. That or perhaps the lady’s maid in rare scenarios. It was rarely, however, seen by junior staff who weren’t given access to the master bedroom when occupied.
As this trend grew in popularity, the smoking jacket continued to evolve, changing from a silk robe de chambre into a shorter, mid-thigh length jacket designed to absorb smoke and to protect the gentleman’s clothing from falling ash.
By 1850, Turkish tobacco became exceptionally popular among distinguished gentlemen thanks, in part, to the Crimean War. It became the tradition that following dinner, the gentleman would retreat in solace to his parlor room to partake in a smoke of his favorite cigar or pipe tobacco while sipping his favorite digestif.
As the Victorian and Edwardian eras passed and dinner jackets became popular instead of the more formal tailcoat, the smoking jacket continued to find its place and newer versions of it were created with different closures to allow gentlemen to wear them at home during the meal, preventing them from having to change afterward.
The smoking jacket was now synonymous with comfort and elegance and was one of the first items ever to be viewed as both. As the years passed and the 1950s paved the way to more casual attire in what was previously a formal atmosphere, the smoking jacket became a staple out of the house as well as within. Gentlemen of style such as Dean Martin, Cary Grant, and Fred Astaire all wore smoking jackets publicly as well as in private. Hugh Hefner instantly became known for his collection of smoking jackets when the first issue of Playboy hit shelves in December of 1953. Marilyn Monroe on the cover became such a frenzy that Mr. Hefner became an instant celebrity. Soon libidinous men flocked to his mansion for parties where he entertained in his collection of silk pajamas and smoking jackets. Playboy Bunnies flanked him and men across America wanted to become him.
As men like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra partied and performed in Las Vegas, they would begin wearing their smoking jackets both on and off the stage. Paired elegantly with a black bow tie, formal trousers, and either patent oxfords or Prince Albert slippers, they wore a selection of classic velvet smoking jackets in burgundy, navy and black. To mix things up a bit, now and then, they had bespoke jackets made from the more classic silks but in bold paisleys and other patterns. Martin even became known for his shiny silver smoking jackets.
For men who remember the old Chesterfield Cigarette television commercials, we have fond memories of watching Fred Astaire wearing his beloved smoking jackets. In fact, he was such a fan of them that when he passed away on June 22, 1987, he was buried wearing his favorite.
Smoking Jackets Today
Today, smoking jackets have ceased significantly in their popularity. Perhaps it’s due to a new culture of tobacco being bad for your health. Maybe it’s a matter of our less conservative lifestyles paving the way for jeans and t-shirts, or it could be due to how significant Mr. Hefner’s image in smoking jackets has been portrayed in the media. His public indulgence in sensual pleasures has made him an icon in America and around much of the world and because of him, the vast majority of smoking jackets sold today are Hugh Hefner Halloween costumes made of inferior materials and often emblazoned with the Playboy Bunny logo on the chest or back of the jacket.
The trend of the smoking jacket may seem dead, but many experts believe it’s just comatose. Despite their history of elegance, they have become synonymous with debauchery and smoking; two things society often views negatively. Therefore, the elegance of the jacket has taken a back seat and most men who continue to wear them, do so as a gimmick on Halloween or wear newer versions of the jacket that are simply dinner jackets made of velvet rather than wool.
It’s worth mentioning that in Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Italy, France and Austria a Smoking is, in fact, a tuxedo and not a smoking jacket. Obviously, something was mixed up, but it’s important to know the difference.
Jacket Styles and Features
There are many styles of jackets that are today often called smoking jackets. However, the classic smoking jacket is simply a mid-thigh length jacket that’s made of velvet with a quilted satin shawl collar, turn up cuffs and a tie belt made from velvet that’s often ornamented with tassels at the ends. Most smoking jackets have three pockets on the outside and usually a pocket reserved for
- a mid-thigh length jacket
- that’s made of velvet
- with a quilted satin shawl collar
- turn up cuffs
- tie belt made from velvet that’s often ornamented with tassels at the ends.
- Most smoking jackets have three pockets on the outside and usually a pocket reserved for cigars and perhaps another pocket on the inside chestIt is almost always ventless in the back and the sides and features very little rigidity compared to a dinner jacket or
- It is almost always ventless in the back and it’s cut roomier than a dinner jacket or blazer, similar to a dressing gown
There are also some slight variations of the traditional smoking jacket that still render it a classic.
- A shawl collar made that isn’t quilted and is made from satin, silk, velvet or another material.
- The jacket may include braided piping on the cuffs and/or the collar.
- The jacket may not be velvet, but may be made from silk or another material. However, it’s important to note that if worn for smoking, velvet is the best material for protecting your clothing from the smell of smoke.
Over the course of the last century, new styles have begun to emerge paving the way for the smoking jacket to leave the house and journey out and about town instead of a dinner jacket.
These less traditional and often considered more conservative smoking jackets will usually follow the same fundamentals using velvet as the fabric and a shawl collar, but will instead use a different fastening system such as toggle or button closures. Unlike the home version, the sash will be replaced with a more formal fastener that may or may not be decorated with Brandenburg’s, olives or oversized buttons. Often the exterior pockets will be removed, and the jacket will be cut similar to that of a suit jacket or blazer. It will be more rigid, and the soft shawl collar may be replaced with a notch, shawl or peak lapel that’s more similar to that of a suit.
For jackets that do come with buttons, they are usually offered in one, two or three-button options. Since these jackets are mostly worn instead of a tuxedo or dinner jacket, we recommend sticking with a one button closure and a shawl or a peak lapel. If you do happen to select a two or three button jacket, consider one with frog braiding. These jackets are closer related to that of a dinner jacket as opposed to a smoking jacket or dressing gown.
These newer dinner jacket styles are far more popular today than the classic smoking jacket and are far easier to find in stores.
Colors and Patterns
There are some very traditional and common colors for classic smoking jackets. These include:
- Navy Blue
- Burgundy or Wine
- Olive or Dark Green
In recent years and with the change of trends, new colors have begun to emerge and can be found in smoking jackets still sold today.
- Mustard Yellow
- Royal Blue
Traditionally, smoking jackets would feature a shawl collar that was the same color as the jacket. Over time, the design began to change, and contrasting collars became fairly standard. Most of the time it was a color from the same family (navy blue jacket with a light blue collar, but often it would be a white collar or a cream collar instead.
With silk smoking jackets, the option of having a pattern was far more accessible. The options were seemingly endless, and attractive patterns consisted of paisleys, checks, diamonds and even micro patterns like herringbone or other geometric patterns. In contrast, the collars for these jackets would often be solid or have a different pattern that paired well with the jacket.
The two most common materials used for the construction of smoking jackets include velvet and silk. However, there is a relatively wide range of fabrics used for jackets today and with a recent comeback of the jacket, many purveyors have begun to sell less costly smoking jackets made from polyester and other synthetic materials.
The most common materials found today are:
- Velvet (cotton, silk is hard to find
- Satin (made from silk, nylon or more commonly, polyester)
Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that the practical use of a smoking jacket is to protect your clothing from smoke, and most of these fabrics won’t offer significant protection. Hence, a true smoking jacket will be made of heavy silk or cotton velvet to keep your clothes relatively free of smoke. The cuffs and collar may be constructed using the same material or a contrasting material such as a quilted satin. The lining of the jacket is usually silk satin, bemberg or a combination of synthetic materials.
How To Wear A Smoking Jacket
Deciding how to wear a smoking jacket is open for debate. There are basically three arguments:
- That the smoking jacket is for loungewear, only in the comfort of your home for use after dinner or while smoking.
- That the smoking jacket can be worn in lieu of a dinner jacket when entertaining guests in your own home.
- That the smoking jacket can be worn out of the house in place of a tuxedo to formal dinner parties, a night at the opera or simply a night out with friends at the bar.
How you choose to wear it is completely up to you. However, we have a few tips on proper etiquette if you’re unsure or need some assistance.
Smoking Jacket Etiquette
The smoking jacket is very much an all-purpose, yet very elegant piece of apparel. To easily identify appropriate use of the smoking jacket, let’s break the jacket up into its two distinct styles:
- The robe de chambre style with a sash or tie belt.
- The dinner jacket style with sturdier construction and button – frog fasteners.
The Sash or Tie Belt Smoking Jacket
Traditional, elegant and timeless. This smoking jacket has the distinct characteristics of a dressing gown with it’s only exception being that it’s cut far shorter and is usually only mid-thigh or hip length. It features a sash or belt that is tied similar to that of a robe and has little construction making it flow against your body rather than sitting the way a blazer would.
For this style, we recommend wearing it in the comfort of your home and not out and about on the town.
Conservatively, you could wear it for the following:
- As loungewear in the evening between dinner and bedtime when you’re alone or with your family.
- For smoking in your home to protect your clothing as it’s intended.
If you’re more contemporary, you could wear it in an aforementioned manner or the following ways:
- Instead of a tuxedo that is too formal or a sweater that is too casual for entertaining guests at your home.
- While traveling instead of a dressing gown to peruse the hotel or as loungewear when staying as a guest at someone else’s home.
- While smoking with friends be it indoors or outside in the back yard.
- At the office if you find your blazer or suit jacket too uncomfortable. Keeping a smoking jacket in your private office is an excellent way to remain professional yet stay comfortable throughout the day.
The Dinner Jacket Style
Since it has the similar construction to a blazer or dinner jacket, this newer version of the smoking jacket is purely intended for wear outside the home. Of course, since it’s often made of velvet, it can still be worn at home while smoking, although it’s often less comfortable to wear as lounge apparel when comfort is your primary goal. This jacket is easily identifiable because it resembles a dinner jacket more than a dressing gown. Instead of a sash or a tie belt, it will fasten with buttons that may be ornamented.
Conservatively, you could wear it for the following:
- At home to entertain guests when you’re looking for the perfect blend of formality between a tuxedo and a suit.
- For black tie optional events that are slightly less formal than the traditional black tie. This could be a work holiday party, a red carpet event or another event where the majority of men won’t be wearing a traditional black tuxedo.
If you’re a more contemporary gent, you could also wear them in the following scenarios:
- Out on the town to the theater, opera or ballet.
- While celebrating with friends at a nightclub, lounge or restaurant.
- On a date instead of a blazer, suit or sports jacket.
- To formal events such as country club dinners, Masonic lodge or celebrations such as weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and retirement parties.
- To dinner parties or any other traditional event that isn’t traditional black tie or white tie.
Owning a velvet dinner jacket is a staple. It will differentiate you from almost every crowd, and it works in such a wide range of scenarios. It’s truly one of the only jackets that can be worn instead of a simple sweater, a blazer, a business suit or a tuxedo. You can stick with standard colors like navy and black or add a touch of panache with bold paisley patterns, tartan flannels or bright colors.
Final Tips On How To Wear Them
The biggest rules of thumb are relatively simple and straightforward.
- Make sure you’re wearing the appropriate style of smoking jacket for the right setting. In other words, leave the tie belt unstructured robe-style at home and wear the more structured dinner jacket style out.
- A smoking jacket is acceptable in most cases instead of a tuxedo. However, it is not considered an appropriate alternative for white tie. Some seasoned men that are more traditional may not view your smoking jacket with the same esteem as you do should you wear it out of the house. As a matter of politeness, it’s always a good idea to try and appease your host. If you worry they might not think it appropriate, perhaps choose a different jacket from your closet.
- Wearing a smoking jacket out of the house will get you noticed. Smoking jackets and velvet dinner jackets are rarely seen these days. If you’re an introvert, wearing a smoking jacket will make you stand out from the crowd, especially if it’s in a bold pattern or color. If you do enjoy wearing smoking jackets but want to limit the level of intrigue by others, consider a jacket without ornamental fasteners or oversized buttons; choose collars that aren’t quilted, piped, oversized or contrasting to the jacket; and opt for something in a solid color made from silk, flannel, wool; skip the velvet.
Gentlemanly Manners And Politeness While Wearing A Smoking Jacket
Perry Como once said that manners are our way of making others feel comfortable. Many people often consider those who “overdress” for the occasion to do so as a method of showing off. For most dandies, that’s simply not the case and what we choose to wear in public is done so with manners in mind. By dressing conservatively, we show our fellow man that they are of great importance to us. We prepared our attire for them. To let them know they mean enough to us to dress up and not just arrive in sweat pants and a hoodie. Sure, we may be slightly overdressed, but it’s our way of letting our host know we care about them and we respect the effort they put into hosting the meeting or affair. It’s those little details that count, and it’s one of the reasons men used to dress up for dinner. It wasn’t about showing off because every man wore the same style of tail coat. It was about letting people know they mattered enough for you to take extra care to look presentable and respectful.
Smoking Jackets are no different. Of course, there are some exceptions. It’s something difficult to argue that a man wearing a gold paisley smoking jacket and spectator shoes isn’t trying to get noticed or draw attention. And in fact, due to the rarity of smoking jackets, one could probably argue simply wearing one out of the house is an effort to attract attention. There are, however, some ways to ensure we are polite in the way we present ourselves while wearing such a conspicuous piece of apparel.
- Try to stick to classic colors and patterns when wearing a smoking jacket out of the house if you don’t wish to be the center of attention.
- Be sure to wear it in the proper environments. If you have to question whether it’s appropriate, it probably isn’t.
- With second and third-hand smoke and so many people being allergic to smoke, it’s a wise idea for the pipe or cigar enthusiast to invest in a single smoking jacket to wear while partaking in tobacco. If you are wearing a smoking jacket in public, try to ensure it’s not one that has been worn while smoking or that it’s been properly laundered before the event.
- Although it probably doesn’t need to be said, it’s important to wear authentic smoking jackets. Wearing a Halloween costume you bought on eBay for $20 as a smoking jacket isn’t generally a wise idea. Unfortunately, these costume jackets or fashion jackets as they’re sometimes called are the easiest ones to find. Therefore, it’s a really good idea to make sure you’re buying a quality smoking jacket. Often the ones sold online can appear to be authentic when they’re really inferior. Rather than waste your money on something you won’t want to wear, make sure you investigate its quality.
- It’s become trendy for many men to have made-to-measure or bespoke smoking jackets monogrammed or emblazoned with a decal. It is also easier to find a monogrammed or branded smoking jacket off the rack than it is to find one that isn’t.
- Avoid ostentatious labeling on your smoking jackets. It’s difficult to be taken seriously when wearing a smoking jacket with a Playboy Bunny logo on the chest. Monograms are certainly more conservative, but avoid having your smoking jacket monogrammed on the breast if you plan to wear it while entertaining or out of the house. Instead, if you do choose to monogram it, have a small monogram stitched into the lining on the inside pocket or the upper abdomen. This will certify it as yours and make it easily identifiable when having it laundered or tailored.
How To Buy a Smoking Jacket
With smoking jackets, it all comes down to quality. It’s important to use the same techniques you would employ when purchasing a suit or any other formal garment.
- Make sure the materials are of high quality. Try and avoid synthetic materials such as polyester, rayon and nylon. If it’s labeled as ‘satin’, confirm whether it’s derived from silk or if it’s the more prevalent poly-blend material.
- Make sure the craftsmanship is satisfactory. Many of the newer haberdashers that sell smoking jackets online are offering less expensive versions with shoddy workmanship. There’s nothing worse than having stitching come loose when you’re out.
- Make sure it fits well. If you do buy off the rack, take it to your alterations tailor immediately after purchase. For made-to-measure or bespoke, ensure you hire a reputable tailor or company to craft it.
The unfortunate difference between a smoking jacket and a suit is that suits aren’t often created and sold for the purpose of wearing as a costume. However, a quick search for smoking jackets on websites like Google, Amazon or eBay will primarily net you results for Halloween costumes, theatrical costumes and poorly made jackets marketed towards those wanting to replicate the style of Hugh Hefner.
Unfortunately, today most young men associate smoking jackets with Mr. Hefner and rarely even think to associate it with gentlemen of style such as Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Frank Sinatra. It’s Hefner’s popularity and constant media attention that has earmarked the smoking jacket as a symbol of a debaucherous or philandering lifestyle. It’s taken something away from the elegance and sophistication of the smoking jacket but has also reduced the quality of jackets sold today to attract a younger generation focused less on quality and more on fast fashion. One thing I often suggest to people looking to buy a smoking jacket is to ask themselves whether their grandfather would have worn it or whether their son in college would wear it. If it belongs at a frat party, chances are it doesn’t belong in your closet.
When you are ready to purchase a smoking jacket, there is a broad range of them available, albeit a very small selection compared to other apparel. The prices for a quality jacket typically range from just a few hundred dollars upwards of thousands. Like buying a suit, it depends on whether you purchase it off-the-rack, made-to-measure or bespoke.
Vintage Smoking Jackets
Another way to find a quality smoking jacket at a reasonable price is to look for vintage jackets on sites like eBay or at brick and mortar vintage stores. It’s still quite difficult to find them in good condition, but occasionally you’ll come across a great deal. Like buying new, you’ll want to ensure the jacket isn’t designed for costume use and the same as you would buying a tailcoat or morning coat on eBay, it’s best to avoid jackets designed for rental.
The condition of the actual jacket is probably the most important thing to consider. Of course, whenever you buy something vintage it’s worth it to ensure the product is in good condition, however, since smoking jackets are designed for smoking, you’ll want to ensure there are no burn marks, holes, buried smells that won’t come out or discoloration to the garment. Since many men wear smoking jackets as lounge wear, you also have to question what they wear under it. This is less important when buying a dinner jacket style, but a solid rule to follow when purchasing a sash or tie-belt style for lounging in. It’s worth a message to the seller to ask them upfront what it was commonly worn for, and it’s vital to have it laundered as soon as it arrives.
Today, the most common style sold new is the dinner jacket style. There are but a small handful of purveyors that sell quality smoking jackets with the traditional sash. They can be very difficult to find, but fortunately, there are a couple of places that have a regular selection available for sale. Like many other items of clothing, certain designers will feature smoking jackets during specific seasons. You may very well see a smoking jacket from Tom Ford or Brooks Brothers one year, but be unable to find it the very next. Therefore, if you do come across one you like and can afford, it can be a wise investment to snatch it up while you still can.
Contemporary Smoking Jacket Brands
There are a few brands in particular that are worthy of your attention. Not all of the brands listed below regularly sell or manufacture smoking jackets, and some make a range of smoking jackets at various price points and levels of quality.
Daniel Hanson over the years made a small selection of off-the-rack jackets, but primarily manufacturers bespoke smoking jackets and dressing gowns. Unfortunately, their website is terrible, and it is difficult to buy from them. If you are ever in Nottingham, you can arrange for a fitting, or you may or may not find one at Harrods. Considering they are Made in England $1,000 to $1,500 seems fair.
Tom Ford is, in part, responsible for the rebirth of the smoking jacket. He reintroduced the design a few years ago for celebrity clients that wore his jackets on the red carpet. Quickly, the comatose smoking jacket became trendy again, and soon Tom Ford jackets could be seen on A-list stars around the world. However, unlike the most traditional jackets, many of his designs are far more flamboyant and contemporary. Made by Zegna, they are also quite costly usually selling upwards of a couple of thousand dollars.
Over the years, Brooks Brothers has maintained a small selection of smoking jackets that will appear in store or online for a short time and then take a hiatus from the shelves. Generally, in the past, they have been more traditional, and although they often sell velvet dinner jackets, it’s a rare treat to find the lounge-style smoking jacket on their site. Usually priced at around $1,000 they are usually quite subdued and unexciting.
Although the brand is based in Britain, their smoking jackets are made in Eastern Europe, bringing the price down to $300 – $500. Currently, they offer a tartan smoking jacket for loungewear. Click here to buy it or click here to read more about Derek Rose in our pajama guide.
Duke & Digham
Duke & Digham represents the budget option among smoking jackets. Starting at $100 you get a blend of polyester and other synthetics, but they also offer a vast number of jackets in the $300 – $700 range made from higher quality materials. The range made by Duke & Digham is primarily lounge-style with a sash or tie belt. If you are looking to start a collection, this a great way to begin. You can purchase their jackets online via their website or often find a far better deal on websites like eBay and Amazon.
However, often the ones sold on eBay and Amazon don’t lay claim to be genuine and are called New York Style instead or are advertised unbranded. Why this is, we’re not certain. Therefore, it’s almost imperative that you compare the listing on eBay or Amazon to the selection on their website.
A few months ago, I test-ordered a smoking jacket from eBay advertised as “New York Style Smoking Jacket”. It was identical in appearance to the Leopold jacket on Duke & Digham’s website, and the description was the same. Once it arrived, it was evident it was the same jacket. It arrived in a Duke & Digham box, wrapped in the travel bag and contained all of the necessary labels. The jacket is stunning in navy, made from plush velvet cotton with hand-stiched quilted cuffs and a matching shawl collar. It adheres to the classic rules of the traditional smoking jacket, complete with a pocket for cigars. It’s warm in the cold winter months and is actually one of my favorite jackets in my collection. Duke & Digham has earned at least one new customer: me.
Click here to buy one today.
Various Bespoke Tailors
If you are intent on purchasing a bespoke smoking jacket, almost any reputable tailor should be able to craft one for you. A trip to Savile Row in London, House of Bijan in Beverly Hills or a range of tailors in Italy will prove fruitful, and you’ll end up with a beautiful smoking jacket to call your own.
Various Fashion Designers
There is also a range of fashion designers that periodically sell traditional smoking jackets and regularly sell the dinner jacket style. A quick trip to any fashion destination will net you a range of jackets to choose from. However, typical of brands like Dolce & Gabbana, Etro and other brands that sell in stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, you’ll be looking at prices that average a few thousand dollars for quality that is – in most cases – of significantly less value.
The beauty of the smoking jacket is that it is a very personal statement. It can be worn in such a wide range of scenarios instead of casual wear or formal wear. They come in so many different styles and materials that you can always find something that suits you and your needs.
The best part is its rarity. One could assume that if you wear a smoking jacket to an affair of 200 people, you’ll probably still be the only person wearing one. It’s a great way of showing off your creativity and style while maintaining a sophisticated grace. You will be noticed, but almost always in a good way.
Finally, we love that you can find smoking jackets for nearly all budgets. Sure, the costume ones get thrown in the mix and make it difficult to discern quality from nonsense in the lower price category, but you can still get a reasonably well-made jacket for under $500 if you look around.
Do you own a smoking jacket? Would you wear it out of the house? What brands do you like? Let us know.
This guide was written by J.A. Shapira and Sven Raphael Schneider