The fact that we’re being encouraged to go out as little as possible is no reason to allow sartorial standards to slip – and if you plan to carry on celebrating the departure of 2020 by incinerating a few good cigars (which, of course, is refreshingly legal inside your own home) you’ll certainly want to dress the part and don a proper smoking jacket.
Smoking jackets took hold here during the 19th century when the arrival of good quality Turkish tobacco led to a rise in, er, smoking – which began causing problems long before anyone had considered the health risks. That’s right, people discovered that tobacco smoke makes clothes stink.
For that reason, it became popular to don a ‘robe de chambre’ or three-quarter length dressing gown over the top of one’s regular clothes in the hope that it would absorb the smell before it reached the next garment layer.
Initially made from silk, materials such as flannel, wool and velvet began to take over due to their better stench-absorbing qualities, with the latter eventually being considered to be the most absorbent of all – as well as offering the greatest comfort and the most luxurious look.
Twenty-a-day man (cigars, that is) Edward VII even gave the smoking jacket a royal seal of approval by commissioning a blue silk one in 1865 – but by the dawn of the 20th century the smoking jacket as we know it had emerged.
It was cut more like a conventional dinner jacket but with a slightly more relaxed fit. Made from velvet, it had ornate ‘frogging’ to areas such as the cuffs and front, and a range of fastenings that included conventional buttons, braided toggles or even a tie-up belt.
It goes without saying that, in the British Empire at least, the smoking jacket came with its very own etiquette.
Since it had evolved from a garment intended to be worn exclusively while relaxing at home, it was deemed a bit off to step-out in one – unless, that is, the wearer was going to a party or dinner at a house where he would be staying overnight. If one wasn’t staying but was expecting to smoke, however, the answer was to go equipped with a separate, robe de chambre type gown that could be worn in the smoking room and removed when finished.
No such rules seemed to apply in the Americas, however, where Hollywood style mavens such as Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and Clark Gable wore them whenever and wherever they damn well liked. Later, Hugh Hefner famously became one of the last bastions of the old-style, robe de chambre smoking jacket after being regularly photographed in and around the Playboy mansion in examples from his extensive collection – which were, in fact, more like ordinary dressing gowns.
Now that every male-orientated magazine and website has assured us that ignoring historic rules, dress codes and traditions is no bar to being considered a ‘gentleman’, the lines between ‘smoking jacket’ and ‘dinner jacket’ have become decidedly blurred (not helped by the French habit of referring to a dinner suit as a ‘smoking’) and the wearing of a velvet jacket to a black tie dinner ‘out’ is considered normal.
Sticklers for old school standards generally wince at the thought, although even most of those die-hards have reluctantly accepted that it’s ok to be seen in velvet at a table away from home. So long as it’s dark blue. And only dark blue.
But since you’ll probably be spending most of your evenings at home for the forseeable future, you can do as you please – and that includes adopting the demeanour of an Edwardian Sybarite while strolling around the house in your smoking jacket, enveloped in a fragrant (until the morning) cloud of Cuban cigar smoke.
You could, in theory, even wear a smoking jacket while puffing on a cigarette – but be careful. Others in the household might think you pretentious…
Four jackets for a smoking evening at home
Oliver Brown ‘Carlyle’, £495
The Chelsea-based outfitter offers the most extensive range of smoking jacket styles you’re likely to find, with shawl collared, double breasted, frogged, and plain versions all being available. The Carlyle is one of the more sober numbers, featuring silk peak lapels and silk, grosgrain-covered buttons to the cuffs and single-fastening front. It’s available in burgundy, black or navy. oliverbrown.org.uk
Alexander Kraft Monte Carlo ‘CSJ’, £705
Monaco-based style guru Alexander Kraft has attracted almost a quarter of a million Instagram followers with his impeccable sartorial elegance – prompting him to create his very own fashion label. The Kraft ‘Cigar Smoking Jacket’ or ‘CSJ’ is as correct as it gets : inky blue velvet, shawl collar, cloth-covered buttons, turn-back cuffs – and an extra-deep, divided inside pocket specifically made to accommodate two Churchill cigars. The crimson lining adds a finishing touch. alexanderkraft.com
Favourbrook Double Breasted Burgundy Smoking Jacket, £950
The Jermyn Street formalwear specialist – made famous a year after its founding when its garb appeared in Four Weddings and a Funeral – offers a nice line in velvet dinner and smoking jackets, with this double breasted example of the latter being of undoubted appeal to practiced wearers. With its shawl, braided-edge collar in contrasting black velvet, frogged fastenings and braided cuffs, it’s got the lot. There’s a surprise inside, too: a midnight paisley pattern lining. Favourbrook.com
Turnbull and Asser Black Velvet Smoking Jacket £1,295
Patronised by cigar fanatic Sir Winston Churchill and granted a Royal Warrant by the Prince of Wales, Turnbull & Asser makes smoking jackets that will ensure you stand out in even the most smoke-hazed surroundings. This moody black number is rich in detail, with a high, single-button, frogged fastening, a braided, shawl collar and a plethora of pockets – seven, in all, including interior ones for tickets and, of course, a couple of cigars. turnbullandasser.co.uk