With Fathers’ Day here today, let’s address something relevant which is in my craw. Menswear seems so ‘bleh’ nowadays, in my opinion. They do not get fantastic creations from off of the red carpet (when they do, it sure never makes headlines). Their fashions relatively stay the same (most guys probably like it that way, though), which is not bad in itself, but the scales are disproportionately tipped between the sexes. As style is so casual for pretty much all occasions (at least where we live) there is no real variety of clothing to give men an opportunity to express themselves…beyond printed tees. Ah, men deserve better. I believe it’s time to bring back a garment that always used to embody masculinity, giving men a sense of personal ownership of their own leisure time, and my hubby is happy with the creative result of my sentiment because he now has a wonderful, custom-made 1940s ‘Smoking Jacket’.
A smoking jacket doesn’t necessarily have to do with practicing the habit of smoking cigarettes or a pipe (it does as far as history is concerned, but more on that in a minute). My husband doesn’t even smoke, hence my post’s title. Neither does it imply a compliment to a man degree of hotness. What we women know as a housecoat or lounging robe, men have had for the last several centuries termed as a loose informal jacket, donned after dinner to enjoy leisure activities, to cover up one’s nice clothes in between stages of undressing, or to receive guests in the privacy of one’s abode. This type of garment is luxurious in materials and decoration, and is not as private as women’s lingerie, but have been immortalized by popular, public pictures of many famous men in history being seen wearing their smoking jackets. The poet and playwright Oscar Wilde is THE man to have brought the smoking jacket to both popular and public consciousness, but even in our modern times, the great Martin Luther King wore a satin smoking jacket for press pictures during his recovery in the hospital in 1958, after being stabbed by a letter opener during a book signing in Harlem. My hubby’s smoking jacket always comes with him on our travels, and the Art Deco halls of a 1920s hotel became the perfect setting for some blog photos.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit this smoking jacket is glaringly made from the wrong (traditionally speaking) materials. Smoking jackets are supposed to be make of posh, deluxe fabrics like satin, velvet, and brocade for some examples. However, as this was going to be all his own – and a very useful, around-the-house item at that – I let him pick out all the fabrics, materials, and color scheme himself to perfectly accommodate his taste. He is quite good at the preliminary creative process to garment crafting, although he doesn’t want to admit it! I believe presents should be personalized to the recipient’s wants, after all, and what better way to do that than having them involved. Besides, I figure this very basic version of a smoking jacket can be my uber-useful test run for learning how I want to approach the next one…a truly proper and over-the-top fancy smoking jacket. I have some quilted burgundy velvet, and some black satin cording, so his next smoking jacket will be more in the style of the Victorian times, the height of the garment’s popularity as a status symbol.
FABRIC: a brushed all-cotton flannel lined in a crepe finish polyester lining with faux suede collar and pocket detail
PATTERN: Simplicity #2172, year 1947
NOTIONS: I needed lots and lots of thread, plenty of interfacing, one button, and lots of macramé cord (I’ll explain why below)
THE INSIDES: What insides? This is fully lined
TOTAL COST: Well, my Mr. Cheapskate picked out everything for his smoking jacket from the clearance section at our local JoAnn store, so the total must have been reasonable although neither of us was really counting too much as this was his present!
It is very telling that this pattern is from 1947. The Second World War was over and men could again reclaim their right to rest and relaxation, and take time to building up their household and adding to their bank account with a job less life-or-death related. The post war period of the 40’s was reclaiming the feelings that created the smoking jacket in the first place. Sure, the trend for the popularity of Turkish tobacco and the Egyptian cigarette, adopted by the British, French, and Russian soldiers of the Crimea War (1853 to 56), had to do with the creation of men’s lounging rooms for them to enjoy their new found habits in a social setting that celebrated leisure time and stereotypical masculine pastimes, such as newspaper reading. By 1903, Turkish cigarettes accounted for 25% of the American market, and smoking was considered an expected masculine activity all the way into the mid-century.
However, beyond the tobacco portion of the smoking jacket’s history, the idea of a robe for personal leisure time began all the way back with (again) Turkish and also Oriental influence of international trade and political climates in Europe of the late 17th century. Foreign textiles, and the fashions which inspired them, were being highly sought after as imports, and a form of the Japanese kimono called a “banyan” began being worn by men of the elite classes for informal home time, such as non-physical games, fireside discussions, or letter writing. “Caftans” – a full length, long sleeved loose jacket-like garment traditional to parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Europe – were also popular because of their textiles which were often used for the popular fancy, floral, frilly waistcoats which men, especially those deemed as “dandies”, were wearing, particularly in France, during the 18th century.
In the mid—19th century, the Industrial Revolution was adapting traditional Kashmiri shawls’ traditional motifs into a commercialized paisley print and this influenced a change in the ethnic influence of the smoking jackets. They became more Turkish (again) and even India-inspired as the tobacco influence of the Crimean War settled into many various cultures as the soldiers settled into their respective homes. Satin smoking jackets are a slight carry-over from the more Oriental influence, but after World War I, the smoking jacket of the 1920s and later seemed to lose any obvious cultural significance and become a sexy and intimate part of a man’s home life, if looking at advertisements and silver-screen movies is telling the truth of the times. At least post-WWI eras equalized the smoking jacket for all men of all classes. Only then in the 1970s, Yves Saint Laurent confused the traditions of the smoking jacket with the release of his tuxedo-inspired collection for women in 1966, calling it “Le Smoking”.
Whew! As exhausting and complicated as the history of the smoking jacket is – and believe me when I say I just gave you a general overview here – making a proper one is equally arduous and time consuming! Every detail counts on a smoking jacket. This one has full body lining. There are several belt carriers around the waist to hold the belt tie. The sleeves are the two panel construction similar to a suit jacket. The solo closing button is vintage and came from the notions stash of hubby’s grandmother, so it is very appropriately on something for him. I wanted to add some fringe or a tassel to the ends of the ties, but he hasn’t been keen on the idea quite yet.
Whenever I let my man choose how he wants his garment to be made, he tends to choose materials which make construction a challenge. Luckily, I convinced him that a shawl collar, and not pointed lapels, were the only, true smoking jacket version of the pattern to go with, or else my work would have been much more challenging than it already was. At least he now has an item that he loves to wear the heck out of, something he never knew how he did without before. Those kinds of makes are the best kind!
For this, he wanted piping to match the creamy tan lines in the printed flannel, and I agreed that doing so was necessary to ‘the look’. It’s only that fact that the perfect pre-made piping was not to be found! I had to make myself all the 5 yards which were necessary, using macramé cord and extra of the same material I used for the full body lining. Granted, my custom made piping was so much better than the pre-made stuff, but it was an exhausting effort that ultimately paid off since I think makes the smoking jacket overall fantastic. I personally think this has been my best installed piping to date (it was so hard to make a complete circle around the cuffs, finishing the ends smoothly) so of course I am biased. It is always nice to see going the extra mile was worth it, though!
What really made me question my offer to make this for my hubby was ultimately working with the fake suede he chose. It was more than a micro-suede, it was every bit as think and stiff as a real leather with all the problems of being a polyester…horrible stuff to work with that appears remarkably nice to touch and see. Wherever the faux leather met up with the piping was hard on my machine, my hands, and my nerves but I eventually wrestled it into proper submission to be exactly what it was supposed to be. The faux suede was not interfaced, it was troublesome enough, and it is on the contrast pocket top edge as well as the whole length of the collar-facing piece which goes from hem end to hem end wrapping around the back of the neck in the process. Most of the corners were hand-stitched to give my machine a break, but even still, the darn faux suede was too thick for my regular leather thimble and poked my fingers too many times. Not too many of my own projects do I bleed over just to make, so either my hubby is a lucky man or I was crazy to keep going! I really don’t want an answer to that…
Just because you are comfortable doesn’t mean one has to quit being stylish, and oppositely, sophistication doesn’t mean an end to ease. I like Oscar Wilde’s Aesthetic ideals behind adopting the smoking jacket as a visual and material manifestation to his creativity. He wanted “to exist beautifully”. There is something very uplifting about lounging around your own domicile in something nice, by which I mean something other than your lowest grade clothing. I do believe that clothing for your relaxation should be something we look forward to putting on in a way that makes us appreciate the beauty of the little things around us.
Luckily there have been some luxury brands bringing back versions of a smoking jacket in the forms of velvet of brocade lounge suit – looking at you, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton in 2005, in particular, but Tom Ford deserves some credit, too, as well as Alexander McQueen’s 2013 Fall collection…ah, the classiness of the old-style lounging man. See this page for some serious eye candy. The jackets all are something like a cross between a sumptuous robe and a casual tuxedo. Let’s re-claim those personal hours (or minutes, if that’s all you have) of recharging and personal enjoyment as a continuation of our individual beauty. No one needs help in this area more than men, since they rarely care for any extra fuss and nonsense on their own.