victorian smoking jacket

Smoking jacket / Dressing gown, 2022


With a Victorian House Party- weekend coming along I began to dream of period-appropriate but relaxed breakfast attire for me and my husband. I had even before been intrigued by Victorian smoking jackets in all their sometimes tacky amazingness of occasionally psychedelic oriental prints in loud colours. Now I began to plan a sort of combination of a smoking jacket and a dressing gown for him.

On a quick overlook of Pintrest images (which are notoriously untrustworthy in their source and dating information) it seemed that smoking jackets were generally the more glammy ones while dressing gowns could be more practical flannel garments with a high neck instead of wide shawl collar. I ended up with a plan of a sort of combination without too specific dating, a kind of stylished ďinspired byĒ-garment.



smoking jackets 1873

My favorite source image turned actually to be from 1873, well within the event timeline. The jacket on the right is long enough for a dressing gown, though I would prefer a smaller collar with cord- and toggle closure to keep it in shape. Looped cord decorations were generally in my list of must haves. However, I left out the pockets out of sheer laziness.




The Materials

The gorgeous period jackets with oriental patterns were obviously generally silk or mohair, which were totally out of my budget. I also wanted the jacket to be preferably washable and not too warm.

I set my sights on cotton sateen bedsheets, which sometimes have great paisley prints. Bed linen, especially if they happen to be on sale, are often a great fabric source for large garments. I was lucky enough to find a large duvet set with a large print in brick red and green, some of Jarnoís favorite colours.

For the lining I found another good cotton sateen in an almost matching shade of apple green. The downside was that it was quite pricey and wouldnít even show much on the finished garment. Still, I just wanted to have it.

Collar and cuffs, if they are contrasting, seem to often have been quilted, but I was reluctant to take the trouble. Instead I wanted to use some velvet I had in stash, because it had a nice, a bit darker green colour. Period accurate or not, intuitively I liked the combination.




I had great luck to find both a ready-made corded belt with big tassels and some braid thrifted. Both were originally white but I dyed them with a mixture of two shades of green. The belt was grayish white and the braid cream, and they were also in different materials so the result was quite different, so I dyed the braid again. They still donít match, and the braid looks more faded, but I was too afraid to mess with them anymore for fear that they might end up even worse.

The braid is different from the generally used cords, but it was nice to sew and sort of gives a similar enough look.

dressing gown pattern 1876

The Pattern

I found a dressing gown pattern from 1876, and while the cut is a bit different I thought it might be a great starting point. I was struck by how much the shoulder and armhole shape and even the flared hem looked like 18th century coat patterns, so I decided to try to use Jarnoís first 18th century suit pattern as a base. Itís more modern in shape than the more period accurate second one, so I thought it might work for this. How a garment like this exactly fit was bit of a question mark for me anyway. Obviously it was supposed to be somewhat relaxed and less tailored, but according to period standards, not like a modern loose bathrobe.

I set to work with the 18th century pattern. I drafted the center back and center front straight, the latter double breasted and added width particularly on the waist. I lengthened the hem, omitted the side pleats of course and flared the hem to an approximately right width. The sleeve in the example pattern was much more straight than the curved 18th century one.

The 18th century coat had had fitting issues due to my inexperience at the time, so itís maybe not surprising that I had problems with getting the shoulder line and sleeve fit of this relatively simple garment right. In the end I got it decent. I drafted the shawl collar in the modern shape as a continuation of front facing.


victorian smoking jacket

Sewing

The print fabric had seemed perfect at first but when I set out to cut the jacket reality soon hit in. In my stupidity I hadnít even thought that maybe the pattern might not be printed along the grainline, which turned out to be just the case. As I absolutely wanted to cut everything matching and symmetrical it was hell of a work to cut the pieces individually and then somehow try to get the other side (where the fabric pulled in different direction) to match. The result was that while the print was more or less symmetrical the shape of the pieces was necessarily not, and I had to straighten some edges after cutting. I also cut the lining pieces individually to match the top material pieces.



Perfectionism is a source of joy, not a problem!

Then I finally got started with the sewing. I began with the sleeves and joined the fake cuffs on the upper sleeves. Then I covered the seam with the braid and worked the decorative loops. I had basted a piece of cotton organdy on the wrong side under them to keep the fabric from twisting, and after finishing them I cut away the extra. After finishing the decoration I closed the sleeve seam and joined the lining on the sleeve end.





I added a modern iron-on interfacing on the lining fronts to keep them in shape and support the closure and decorations. I joined the velvet collar in the lining and bag lined the main part of the jacket, sewing the seam allowances together at the neck and belt loops. The two cotton layers, very similar in weight and weave, settled together very snugly. While this is a rather modern construction method it worked well here. I also sewed the seam allowances together to wait for the sleeves.

Before that I wanted to finish the front closure. I had basted guidelines straight after cutting, but now I added more secure markings with rows of long machine stitch, which also kept the layers together. Unfortunately the horizontal lines were a bit slanted because the print didnít follow straight grain.



I painted wooden toggle buttons to a roughly right shade and covered them with a very loose net stitch, which was in a combination of different shades of embroidery floss remains. They bear a distant resemblance to miniature hand grenades, or maybe itís just me.




I sewed the braids and decorative loops on the front, hiding the joins inside the buttons (tricky). Then I added a button on the wrong side and a corresponding buttonhole on the other front to keep the fronts securely straight. I sewed the rest of the braid on the collar edge, as unfortunately there was not enough left for the front edges.

For the last thing I sewed the sleeve top layers on the armhole, trimmed and clipped the seam allowances and then sewed the lining by hand to cover the seam. I could, of course, have bag lined this part too, but it was a nice little tailored touch and not that much extra work.


victorian smoking jacket

Final thoughts

After the nightmare cutting the sewing went really smoothly. Both cottons were really nice to sew and the velvet was not too annoying either. The looped braid details took most time. At first I tried to sew a straight part on the sleeve by machine but very soon gave up and sewed it all by hand. It was sort of fun, so I donít really mind.

Iím rather happy with the finished look. The collar shape is not quite what I intended, but then I drafted it quickly. What Iím really pleased with is how the motley collection of different materials in different shades work together - not exactly everything matching, but harmonious. Sadly the lining, which I liked so much, hardly peeks out at all. The colour palette in general is sort of a slightly toned down version of the bright orange-reds and arsenic greens of the period which is not way too loud for a modern eye.


victorian smoking jacket

The Smoking Jacket / Dressing Gown combo actually got used in both functions during the weekend, both at breakfasts and protecting the rental suit from cigar ash after the dinner. Naturally, the gentlemen were smoking in the terrace, not inside like in the olden days.

Photographs of the finished outfit taken at TŲyrylš Manor House.


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