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Cigar Smoking Jackets: History & Purpose

Holt's Staff Cigar's picture

Holt's Staff

The chance of seeing someone outfitted in a smoking jacket while firing up a cigar these days is slim to none. And although they aren’t making a chic comeback, that doesn’t mean that the smoking jacket doesn’t have an illustrious history worth noting.

What is a Smoking Jacket?

A smoking jacket is a garment, similar to a robe or a long blazer, that you wear over your clothing while you smoke. Smoking jackets have been around for centuries. Today, they are most commonly associated with the playboy image of Hugh Hefner who is perhaps the most famous man to wear a smoking jacket. Smoking jackets are often fashioned from silky or velvety fabric with colorful and ornate patterns.

What’s the Purpose of a Smoking Jacket?

A smoking jacket is worn while its wearer smokes (i.e. cigars, a pipe, or cigarettes). The smoking jacket was originally designed to absorb the smoke – and to protect the undergarments from absorbing smoke and stray ashes. Hundreds of years ago, men didn’t enjoy the extensive wardrobes they do today. Therefore, many would avoid exposing prized garments such as overcoats, hats, and tunics to smoke. Let’s take a look at the history behind the smoking jacket.

Get to know the history behind the smoking jacket and take in the added whiff of sartorial splendor they’ve provided for cigar lovers over the years. Where did it come from and how did it evolve throughout the years? Let’s find out!

History of the Smoking Jacket

As the silk trade emerged between the Far East and Europe, wealthy individuals preferred to wear opulent and often shimmering robes when having their portraits painted. Such impressive garments laid the blueprints for what would later evolve into the smoking jacket. In 1850, smoking jackets were first popularized in The Gentleman’s Magazine of London. Smoking jackets have fallen in and out of favor over the past few centuries. Let’s follow their journey in more detail.

The Arrival of Silk (1600s)

The earliest inspiration for the classic smoking jacket began around the 1600s after silks began shipping to Europe from India, China, and the Americas. This decadent new material became increasingly popular with the upper crust who could afford to import the rich fabric and have it fashioned into garments of their own. Before long, it was the norm for those who wanted to show off their prestige via depictions in paintings by wearing these new silk “robe de chambres” – longer, leisurely garments that resembled dressing gowns or pajama robes.

Fast forward a couple centuries and, through the fine aroma of a smoking room, the classic smoking jacket we all recognize became more discernible. In fact, The Gentleman’s Magazine of London printed the earliest description of the jacket’s silken evolution as a shorter robe de chambre, consisting of plush fabrics such as velvet, cashmere, satin, or printed flannel. These new, shorter robes were lined with vibrant colors and patterns, had a shawl collar, brocade toggles (called frogging) or a cord tied as a belt to keep the front closed.

An Upswing in the Popularity of Cigar Smoking (1850s)

While smoking had been around for centuries before, it was during the Crimean War in the 1850s that Turkish tobacco experienced a boom in popularity in England. After dinner, gentlemen would retreat into a cloud of smoke in a den or retire to a smoking room to talk business and politics. With a brandy in one hand and a cigar or pipe in the other, the smoking jacket became a means to absorb the smoke’s aroma while protecting their clothing from falling ash.

Although it never gained the same popularity, smoking caps also became a preventative measure to stylishly shield traces of smoke from a gentleman’s hair before he returned to his lady. Aww, how thoughtful!

From Comfortable to Formal (1860s)

By 1865, smoking jackets embraced a whole new level of acceptable fashion thanks to Edward VII, Prince of Wales. He loved the leisurely yet stylish look so much that he had a custom blue silk smoking jacket created. No longer just for smoking rooms, Edward would wear the jacket to meals and parties, which ushered in a new line of formal loungewear fashion.

To Hollywood and Beyond (1940s & ‘60s)

By the 20th century, the popularity of the smoking jacket had reached new heights – Hollywood heights. Thanks to the cool factor of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, and the rest of the Rat Pack, smoking jackets made their way into the homes (and closets) of Americans everywhere.

And let’s not forget about the man who epitomized the leisurely look for 50 plus years, Mr. Playboy himself, Hugh Hefner. By the 1950s, when he first started his magazine, Hefner adopted the fashion as part of what would later become his trademark look.

Hef’s go-to smoking jacket was made of burgundy silk with black velvet lapels – a more relaxed robe for the bedroom or lounging poolside. But when he took things from his boudoir to the boardroom, Hefner favored a black velvet smoking jacket, claiming “I always wear black during the day – black is serious, for taking care of business.”

By the time of his death in 2017, Hef had more than 200 custom-made smoking jackets/pajama gowns.

High-End Fashion (1990s & 2000s)

Although smoking jackets haven’t made a full resurgence in today’s landscape, they have become an avenue of high fashion for renowned designer brands like Louis Vuitton and Hilleso Designs. The extravagant impression smoking jackets create encourages designers to incorporate fabrics with vibrant, attention-grabbing patterns that will light up the runway.

With an illustrious evolution of looks over the eras, the cigar smoking jacket was, is, and will always be the perfect blend of gentlemen’s style and service. So, the next time you light up, think about all those that suited up before you -- and maybe consider igniting a movement to bring back the iconic flair of the smoking jacket and making it mainstream, no?

How to Buy a Smoking Jacket

Smoking jackets aren’t exactly commonplace nowadays. Because buying one online is your best bet, make sure you know your size. Your suit jacket size will be a solid approximation for the best fit for a smoking jacket. Remember, though, you’ll likely be wearing other clothing under your smoking jacket, so you’ll want to factor that into your fit. Also, make sure you’re aware of the store’s return policy. You don’t want to be stuck with something that doesn’t fit right and you’ll want to try it on before you keep it. Smoking jackets range greatly in quality and price. Authentic jackets are traditionally made from high-end materials like cashmere and silk. Luxury designers like Dolce & Gabbana and Tom Ford have introduced smoking jackets that cost a small fortune and look like it too. On the other end, you’ll find all kinds of smoking jackets for under $100 that would make for nice Hugh Hefner costume.

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