As Autumn settles in we are once again in the Party Season, from Halloween onwards – it’s time to dust off the dinner jackets or smoking jackets and attend those events in style.
Throughout November and December we are proud to display fine examples of bespoke tailoring in our Savile Row window – dinner jackets and smoking jackets.
A smoking jacket in blue velvet
The smoking jacket
In the past a smoking jacket was entirely distinct from a dinner jacket. The smoking jacket was once a traditional gentleman’s coat worn as evening wear at home whilst enjoying a pipe or a cigar. The lines have been blurred over the years – it is now primarily used as an alternative to a dinner jacket for black tie events – and bears more resemblance now to a dinner jacket than a dressing gown.
Directly descended from the dressing gown, the smoking jacket became a garment designed to be worn over clothes and to absorb smoke. Eventually, and probably as a result of the demise of smoking as an aspirational pastime, smoking jackets became less popular – although in Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Italy, France and Austria a dinner jacket is referred to as ‘smoking’, something somewhere got lost in translation.
The classic smoking jacket is a mid-thigh length jacket made of velvet with a quilted or plain satin shawl collar, turn up cuffs with ornamental fastenings such as toggle buttons (these took over from a simple belt fastening). The jacket will often feature braided piping and no vents. It is usually roomier than a dinner jacket.
Tartan dinner jackets with shawl collar
The Dinner Jacket
The dinner jacket emerged as an alternative to the more formal tailcoat to be worn in the evening – hardly surprisingly – for dinner. In the 1850’s tailors had started to make a short lounge jacket to provide more freedom of movement than the tailcoat. This lounge jacket migrated indoors as a smoking jacket
It became known as a tuxedo after Savile Row tailors Henry Poole made one for the Prince of Wales and for other customers, from the USA, who were members of Tuxedo Park a private residential country club. The story – taken from Tuxedo Park’s archives –
Eventually, after wearing the new jacket for dinner in Tuxedo, some of the early members were bold enough to wear it one evening at a bachelor dinner at Delmonico’s, the only place in New York where gentlemen dined in public at that time. Needless to say, the other diners at Dell’s were astonished, and when they asked what it was the men in short coats had on, they were told, “Oh that is what they wear for dinner up in Tuxedo”. Hearing Tuxedo mentioned, the curious diners quite naturally starting calling the new jacket by that name.
As the dinner jacket has evolved over roughly 160 years it has gone through many shifts in style. What was once the beginning of ‘black tie’ has sported shawl collars, peaked lapels covered with silk, satin or velvet and has been made in many different colours and fabrics, including velvet closing the circle to it’s smoking jacket origins. Perhaps the best modern pictorial history of the modern classic dinner suit is to be found in the James Bond films, every leading actor in the films has worn one going back to Sean Connery’s shawl collar in Dr No in 1962.