Con­sider the smok­ing jacket

How to wear one with­out look­ing like Hef

Calgary Herald - - Real Life - DEREK MCCOR­MACK


“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.

Her­ald Ar­chive, AFP-Getty Images

Hugh Hefner is re­spon­si­ble for the mod­ern im­age of the smok­ing jacket.

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