This page is part of a series on tuxedos and the elements thereof; it deals specifically with smoking jackets.
There’s a lot to know about smoking jackets, and while we cordially invite you to read this page from top to bottom, feel free to use any of the following links to jump to whatever section you’d like to read immediately:
- What Is A Smoking Jacket?
- Smoking Jacket History
- Smoking Jackets Vs. Tuxedos Vs. Dinner Jackets
- When To Wear A Smoking Jacket
- How To Buy A Smoking Jacket
- How Smoking Jackets Should Fit
What Is A Smoking Jacket?
A smoking jacket is a black tie-appropriate variant of a standard dinner jacket. Typically made in velvet or silk, these started off as relatively informal jackets worn only in the home, but became proper coats to wear to any black tie occasion as early as the 1950’s.
The original purpose of the smoking jacket was to protect a gentleman’s clothing from cigar smoke and ash as he retired to his study in the evening to have a smoke, enjoy a drink, and read.
This was, of course, a time when dry cleaning wasn’t available and ventilation systems didn’t exist.
History Of Smoking Jackets
The original smoking jacket was, in fact, a robe de chambre, or dressing gown. As international trade grew in the early 1600’s and tobacco became a part of men’s lives, smoking jackets became part of a gentlemanly wardrobe in an effort to protect his clothes. This was a tie when men’s wardrobes weren’t nearly the size that they tend to be today, so protecting one’s sartorial investments carried an even greater importance than it does now.
At first, it was only appropriate for a man to be seen in a smoking jacket in front of his family, or perhaps in front of his personal butler (as you might imagine, only men of means would wear these).
By the 1800’s, the jacket began to morph from a robe style covering (complete with sash belt, like a modern bathrobe) to a shorter style resembling a dinner jacket. It was around this time that the tradition of retiring into one’s study for a smoke and a port became common. The rising popularity of Turkish tobacco at the time is directly linked with this phenomenon.
As dinner jackets continued to replace the tailcoat for dinner, the smoking jacket too gained popularity. Gentlemen began wearing versions that had different closures (not a sash) so that they could be worn to an actual dinner, not just afterwards. As the 1950’s approached, male celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Cary grant, and Fred Astaire all wore smoking jackets regularly with their black tie attire, and did so outside of the home.
Nowadays, the smoking jacket is a perfectly correct garment to wear with formal trousers, a black bow tie, and proper tuxedo shoes for an alternative black tie look. With that said, they are relatively unpopular compared to full tuxedos. The reasons for this aren’t definitive, but there are a few that we can pin down:
- Smoking isn’t just unfashionable nowadays, but frowned upon.
- It’s a chicken or the egg argument, but smoking jackets call attention to the wearer precisely because they’re uncommon. A lot of men aren’t comfortable with calling attention to themselves, and thus they remain unpopular.
- As it relates to smoking jackets, there is a bit of an association with Hugh Hefner. That sword cuts both ways, but the Playboy association isn’t necessarily one that a lot of men want.
Difference Between Smoking Jackets & Tuxedos
Though they fall under the same black tie dress code umbrella, smoking jackets are not tuxedos.
A tuxedo consists of either a matching jacket and trousers faced with satin or grosgrain. White or off-white jackets may be substituted, but they are not necessarily smoking jackets. They are weather-related substitutions made in the same material as the trousers.
A smoking jacket is, nowadays, an acceptable substitute for a tuxedo jacket. It should be worn with traditional tuxedo trousers and is made of either velvet or silk. The colors are traditionally bottle green, burgundy, navy blue, tobacco brown, and black.
Smoking Jacket Vs Dinner Jackets
It’s easy to get these two items confused. Here’s a quick way to differentiate them:
- Dinner jacket refers to the British term for black tie attire. It also refers to a contrasting color jacket worn with tuxedo trousers for a different look. They’re typically off-white, burgundy, bottle green, or any other dark color. Typically, they’re made from barathea wool or velvet.
- Smoking jackets are made in two different cuts (see below), and are typically velvet or silk. Better for black tie optional or creative black tie, smoking jackets often utilize non-button closures like toggles and have sleeve cuffs.
The two styles of smoking jacket are outlined below:
Robe de chambre style:
The robe de chambre, or dressing gown, is the original smoking jacket. It’s essentially a fancy 3/4 length robe with a sash or belt closure. Neither single- nor double-breasted, this style’s front panels overlap in the same way a bathrobe does.
Dinner Jacket Style (pictured below with “frogging” stitch detail around the front buttons):
The more modern (and, in our opinion, more wearable in the real world) version of the smoking jacket takes the silhouette of the suit or dinner jacket as its cue. Though it’s easily distinguishable from a tuxedo jacket due to its color and other aesthetic details, a lot of men would look at it and think, “Wow, that’s a fancy sport coat.”
Smoking Jacket Details
- Frogging: This refers to the ornate stitching that surrounds the fastening mechanisms of some smoking jackets. A natty detail indeed, it’s not for the sartorially timid. It’s also one of the key indicators that you’re looking at a smoking jacket as opposed to something else.
- Sash: On more robe-like smoking jackets, you’ll find a belt or sash around the waist. This is a functional detail and it’s intended to be fastened.
- Sleeve cuffs: Though not exclusive to smoking jackets, they’re extremely common on these garments and add to their robe-like feel.
- Lapels: Typically a quilted shawl collar, though sometimes peaked lapels are seen. Shawl collars are best though, as they speak to the garment’s cozy origins.
- Vents: More often than not, smoking jackets are ventless. Alternatively, they may take side vents.
- Fit: Typically roomier than the average dinner jacket, but modern tastes have seen smoking jackets slimmed down just like suit jackets
Smoking Jacket Materials
Velvet is hands-down the most popular material for smoking jackets. It’s luxurious, has a beautiful hand, and will keep you warm when it’s chilly. Further, if you actually plan to partake in a cigar or pipe, velvet is the best material to actually absorb smoke and keep it off of your other garments.
Silk is the other acceptable material for smoking jackets. Silk smoking jackets tend to be made in the robe de chambre style and look great in paisley. Though they don’t do as good a job as velvet does at absorbing tobacco smoke, they’re best worn in the home as opposed to out at events.
Colors For A Smoking Jacket
One way that smoking jackets add value to our wardrobes is that they’re a way to add some bold color to a black tie ensemble while still abiding by the rules. Below are some of the more common colors seen on smoking jackets.
Red Smoking Jacket
Donning a burgundy smoking jacket with your semi-formal trousers is a classic style move. The color looks great on most skin tones and has the depth necessary to do a black tie ensemble justice. It also happens to pair very well with brown, so your cigar will coordinate beautifully.
When we think of smoking jackets in green, we’re not talking about just any shade of green: think forest green, bottle green, and other deep, rich greens that are more blue as opposed to yellow. Another color that looks great on just about everyone, it has a distinct holiday vibe but can be worn anytime.
What black smoking jackets lack in color, they make up for in elegance. A good move with a black smoking jacket is to give it some extra detail like frogging and / or toggle closures. A double-breasted model is another great way to add life to a black smoking jacket.
A smoking jacket in midnight blue is a simple, subtle way to have some fun with the black tie dress code. A newer classic in the same way that midnight blue tuxedos are relative to black ones, nothing says “natty” like a double-breasted blue smoking jacket.
As with the other colors, avoid light blue. You don’t want to look like Harry from Dumb And Dumber.
When To Wear A Smoking Jacket
Below is a list of the situations in which it’s best to wear a dinner jacket-style smoking jacket:
- Semi-formal dinners in the home (yours or someone else’s)
- Most black tie events
- Any black tie optional or creative black tie event
If you own a robe style smoking jacket, it’s best to keep this within the confines of your own home.
How Should A Smoking Jacket Fit?
If it’s cut in a dinner jacket style, it should fit the same as your average tuxedo or suit jacket. If you’re wearing a robe de chambre style smoking jacket, you’ll want to make sure the fit is a tad roomier so that it will have the casual feel needed to pull it off.
Why Wear A Smoking Jacket?
As much as we love them, tuxedos don’t offer a ton of wiggle room as it relates to sartorial expression. Part of the reason the ensemble values simplicity is chivalry; women’s black tie attire is gleaming, jewel-studded, and colorful, and it’s considered appropriate for a man to dress simply so as to not take attention away from his companion.
A smoking jacket affords a man the opportunity to subtly put his own twist on his evening’s ensemble while still allowing his date to shine. Alternatively, we’re sure that there are plenty of women who love a bit of sartorial competition and relish the idea of showing up with a guy on their arm who can hold his own with her.
Can You Wear A Smoking Jacket Out?
By all means, yes you can. Smoking jackets are well within the confines of the black tie dress code, so if you’re invited to such an event, it is appropriate to wear one. It’s our suggestion that you keep it to the dinner jacket style as opposed to the robe style if you wear a smoking jacket outside the home, as this is too casual.
How To Buy A Smoking Jacket
First, ask yourself, “How many black tie events do I attend in a given year?” If the answer is three or more, buying a smoking jacket makes sense, as you’ll likely want to start varying your look and give your tuxedo a rest.
Once you’ve decided to buy one, you’ll want to take the same care that you would when buying a suit, specifically:
- Opt for quality construction and materials
- Go for classic colors, nothing too light or garish
- Alterations, alterations, alterations
It is possible to spend quite a bit on an off-the-rack smoking jacket, but the price jump can be astronomical, starting at a few hundred dollars and going up to anywhere from $1500-$4000. At that point, it’s our feeling that it makes much more sense to buy custom, which will ensure you an excellent fit, quality construction, and control over aesthetic details.
A smoking jacket is a fine item to add to your black tie wardrobe, particularly if you’re the kind of guy who attends multiple semi-formal events a year. They’ll give you additional style and visual interest while keeping you within the confines of the dress code.
For more info on tuxedos in general, see the pages of our tuxedo series: