Although smoking jackets are not as popular as they once were, they are still sought out at vintage stores, both as costume pieces and just because they are still kind of cool. Newer jacket are difficult to find, but some shops that offer vintage reproduction clothes make them, as do classic clothing companies. It's well worth your time to search these sources and see what's available.
History of Smoking Jackets
Predominantly associated with classic fictional characters such as Sherlock Holmes, smoking jackets were first seen in the 17th century. As tobacco and silk came into popular use, wealthy men sat for portraits in silk dressing gowns, the item one might wear to enjoy an evening smoke. By the 19th century, a gentleman would put on a short smoking jacket after dinner and go to his den to have his cigar or pipe. While the jackets were expensive, their point was only to absorb the smoke and protect the dinner clothes from ash.
Smoking jackets for men (they were not considered appropriate for women) remained popular until the 1950s. Men like Hugh Hefner continue to wear them, but they are otherwise not the part of life they once were. There is talk, however, of a comeback - even without the smoking.
Basic Men's Smoking Jackets
From the 19th century on, smoking jackets have had a fairly standard look. They are short, made of velvet or silk, and feature a shawl collar and turned up cuffs. They fasten with toggle buttons. The jackets are often quilted and, in a nod to their dressing-gown origins, can be fastened with rope ties instead (this is often called the "Hugh Hefner" style). Overall, however, the jacket should look more like a jacket and less like a silk bathrobe.
Some designers have been interested in reviving the look of smoking jackets. The idea is more towards velvet dinner jackets, good for an elegant evening entertaining at home. Italian house Brioni has developed such a jacket - single breasted with a one-button closure, or double breasted with up to three buttons or frogs. The jacket is without vents and features piping on the lapels, cuffs and pockets. Made in velvet, they are more comfortable than dinner jackets and sport their own sort of elegance. They may be worn with élan at a formal dinner, although it is best to check with the host first and determine how strict the dress code is.
A classic vintage smoking jacket for men will summon images of Cary Grant, Fred Astaire and, on the fiction side, James Bond. Because of their loose fit, you don't need to worry about buying a smoking jacket from a vintage web site without trying on first - so long as the shoulder and arm measurements are right, the jacket should fit just fine. They are not, however, the easiest items to find. If they were used as intended, to absorb smoke and ash, they will have been more likely to disintegrate than other vintage items. If you have your heart set on a particular style of jacket, you should contact a few of your favorite vintage shops and ask them to put you on an alert list, should they receive any. You should also mark the jackets as an eBay favorite search.
Make Your Own Smoking Jacket
Because the jackets are so iconic, many sewing patterns for them exist - both old and new. It is nearly impossible to make costumes for a film or play set in the 1930s and not include a smoking jacket, so good patterns are continually in demand. Vintage patterns can be hard to work with, but there are many modern reproductions. A few of these include:
- Past Patterns, with a smoking jacket pattern that dates to 1901-1909
- Folkwear, which has patterns for both men and women
- The Vintage Pattern Lending Library, which has a huge archive and prints replications for common use.
A Stylish Garment for Smokers and Non Smokers
Smoking is not recommended, but a smoking jacket can look incredibly sophisticated. A man can wear one to be stylish and add a little character to his wardrobe regardless of whether he chooses to light up.