Consider the smoking jacket
How to wear one without looking like Hef
CANWEST NEWS SERVICE
“Smoking jacket.” Look it up online. What will you find? Hugh Hefner costumes. Party suppliers selling cheap satin jackets. Put one on, pop a plastic pipe in your lips and presto! — you’re the master of the Playboy Mansion.
The smoking jacket — a silk jacket and pyjamas — is Hefner’s sartorial signature. He wears them while he’s working on Playboy magazine, while he’s promoting Playboy magazine, while he’s partying on Playboy TV. Why wear a business suit when your business is selling sex?
Hefner has excellent taste in attire. Traditionally tailored from velvet and silk, smoking jackets are among the most luxurious garments a gentleman might own. They are cosy. They are classic. In the past, many of Hollywood’s most stylish stars wore them. Then along came Hefner. He has single-handedly made the smoking jacket a symbol of loucheness and libertinism.
The question is: Is it possible to wear one nowadays without looking like you’re dressed like Hef for Halloween?
The Gentleman’s Magazine of London defined the smoking jacket in this way in the 1850s when the garment was a novelty: “A kind of short robe de chambre, of velvet, cashmere, plush, merino or printed flannel, lined with bright colours, ornamented with brandenbourgs, olives or large buttons.”
According to menswear historian G. Bruce Boyer, the Crimean War (18531856) made Turkish tobacco abundant in England. The popularity of smoking spiked. After dining, gentlemen would retire to a den or smoking room and don a smoking jacket. The jacket absorbed the odours of pipes or cigars and protected a man’s suits and shirts from ash.
There are several famous wearers who come to mind: Cary Grant was a chain-smoker and an aficionado of smoking jackets. Fred Astaire starred in ads for Chesterfield cigarettes and was buried in a smoking jacket. Cause of death: pneumonia. Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack lounged around Las Vegas in smoking jackets in the 1950s. On occasion, Dean Martin wore a silver smoking jacket. He died of lung cancer.
In the 1960s, Hefner created a cultural phenomenon in Playboy, all while wearing silk pyjamas and bespoke smoking jackets. The jackets gave him the air of gentlemanliness, even though he published pornography. Once the symbol of the sophisticated smoker, the smoking jacket became the symbol of the swinging bachelor.
Hefner favours a smoking jacket with shawl collars and a sash. Brooks Brothers sells a similar style in navy or burgundy; it will set you back a thousand dollars. In London, Turnbull & Asser offer a double-breasted smoking jacket with frogging — a type of ornamental piping — and toggles. It comes in basic black as well as red and plum. It costs a couple thousand.
Men who don’t want to seem like they’re masquerading as Hef might consider wearing garments that allude to the traditional smoking jacket. Thom Browne’s Black Fleece line for Brooks Brothers includes a belted cashmere cardigan with shawl collar and grosgrain embellishment. Brioni carries a cashmere robe with mink collars.
Tom Ford offers another solution. Formerly the designer for Gucci, Ford is now the proprietor of a posh menswear shop on Madison Avenue in New York. In the shop’s fragrance chamber, a man can buy a bottle of Tobacco Vanille, an eau de parfum that smells sweetly of tobacco and wood.
“A modern take on an old world men’s club,” is how Mr. Ford describes it. It’s a great idea: Instead of wearing a smoking jacket, wear the scent of a smoking jacket that’s spent time in men’s clubs and humidors. It’s easier on your wallet. And on your lungs.
Hugh Hefner is responsible for the modern image of the smoking jacket.