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A smoking jacket is exactly what it sounds like: a jacket that is made for the purpose of being worn while smoking pipes, cigars, or cigarettes. These jackets were originally designed for men, and were used as a means of catching falling ashes and absorbing the smell of the smoke to protect the clothing underneath. The popularity of these garments has largely fallen by the wayside, but they are still worn occasionally for novelty or to make a unique fashion statement.
A famous modern wearer of the smoking jacket is Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy Magazine. The history of the jacket itself, however, originates in the 17th century, when men could often be seen in portraits wearing long dressing gowns. This style evolved into shorter garments, at about the time when smoking was gaining popularity. Shorter, silk, smoking jackets quickly became synonymous with the smoking of imported Turkish tobacco products. The jackets could be worn by men after dinner, or while socializing with guests.
Very few of these historic jackets exist still today, and authentic models could fetch a very high price in the antiques market. This classic style would typically be made from silk or velvet. They had long sleeves with turned-up cuffs, a shawl collar, and buttons for fastening on the front. They came in a wide variety of colors, with an even larger variety of ornamentations.
The reasons to wear a smoking jacket were not only for the purpose of fashion, clothing protection, and relaxation, but also to protect women from the smells that smoking could leave on clothing. Smoking caps and slippers could also be used to further keep hair and feet from becoming tainted with acrid smells that were deemed much too harsh for women's senses at the time. Therefore, not only would the jacket offer supreme comfort and style, but could also be seen as the sign of a true gentleman.
In the 1950s, these garments were at the height of their popularity, and many famous movie stars and celebrities of the time could be seen wearing a smoking jacket. One of them, Fred Astaire, was even buried in his. The popularity declined after this period, however, and smoking jackets began to be seen as too garish. In addition, smoking is increasingly frowned upon in modern culture because of its adverse effects on health.