Victorian Smoking Jackets and 1880s Chamber Garments



"Indoor Outfit of a Howling Swell" from: The Haberdasher, 1889] -- When young Jeunesse Dorée, Capt. Dudley Smooth, and Mr. Mulberry Hawk walk down the avenue together or make a group in the club window, we all know that they are very well-dressed men. The simple young man with millions who is living on his deceased papa's wits, and the worldly wise and dangerous men with nothing a year who live on their wits and young Dorée's lack of them, are exceedingly extravagant in the matter of dress, and all of them spend fabulous sums of money in various forms of sartorial luxury. Nothing is too good for them so long as Dorée's bank account holds out, and while it is undergoing the operation of being turned into ducks and drakes, Messrs. Smooth and Hawk live high.

Along about noon they get out on the street, and we all know from the extrinsic evidence that their street garments are costly, but there are numerous special garments—chamber garments, so to speak—in which these gentlemen are exceeding curious and lavish; and young Dorée, whose life is a monotony of commonplace dissipation, also seeks some slight access of sensation by indulging in chamber luxury. Dress, in fact, is the main outlet for his sluggish and blasé energies, and he devotes a good deal of not very valuable time in dawdling over his toilet, which is almost as varied as that of his equally useless sister.


The two hours between the time when he yawns, stretches, and drinks the brandy and soda which his footed and velvety valet has ready for him, and when he is ready for the street, are hours of considerable activity in his day, and numerous special garments are called into his service. So, too, are some of the late evening hours, when he is in company with Messrs. Smooth and Hawk, who are then on decorously masked professional duty of easing Dorée of his inherited riches. Let us see how these gentlemen dress in the house when they are secluded from the public eye.

To begin with, Dorée is high-priced even in sleep, for he sleeps in nothing less luxurious than silk. Night shirts? Certainly not. He is a fashionable man, and therefore wears only pajamas and silk pajamas at that. When he has gradually got himself awake, stretched, out of bed, and into his slippers, and is following his preliminary cocktail with a morning coffee, we can get a good look at him.

As he stands he represents an investment of about $75, which is the price of his loose and comfortable pajama suit. Of course he can buy pajamas, even of silk, for very much less, but nothing but the best is good enough for him, and he wears only the finest quality of Japanese silk, elaborately embroidered on cuffs, collar, pocket, and flap. The embroidery is most exquisite, of the best type of Oriental art, representing weeks of patient work by some skilful Japanese artisan. Dorée does nothing in a small way, and it takes four suits of these fine garments to meet his needs, all of silk, all hand embroidered, and differing from this only in detail and in being of delicate colors.

After Dorée has got fairly awake, through the assistance of various beverages known as eye openers, he thinks it time to get shaved. Now, if he were a mere cheap imitation swell, it would never occur to him that anything could be better than a pajama to shave in. But Dorée is not a cheap swell, and he therefore exchanges his pajama for a shaving coat which he bought not long ago from his friend, Mr. Sam Budd. He doesn't really need but one of these, but, as he explains, "the things were so deucedly pretty, don't you know, that I really couldn't resist;" and so he bought three, of navy blue, light pink, and black, the latter for use when in affliction for the death of a near relative. These shaving coats are also of silk, without collar, and beautifully embroidered on the sleeves and borders. They are also ornamented with silk frogs and buttons, and Dorée contemplates them with a great deal of satisfaction and considers them indispensable. They cost him $35 each, and the three represent an investment of $100.   


After shaving Dorée is ready to bathe and for a few moments he bends his mental energies to the selection of bath robes from his ample supply. He doesn't find half a dozen any too many, and these, unlike his other habiliments, are not all extremely costly; on the contrary, some of them are of severe simplicity, for the plain reason that nothing equals plain crash for bath robes so far as utility is concerned. The swellest, but not by any means the most expensive, robe in Dorée’s list just at present is a very unique garment, which he takes particular pleasure in wearing, because of its comfort. It is properly a wrap, for in place of buttoning straight down the front, as in the ordinary pattern, the sides fold past each other, thus giving double thickness in front, the garment being held in position by a cord. Another feature of novelty is the hood, which takes the place of the ordinary collar. A couple of these at $15 each suffice for Dorée’s everyday needs, but he wouldn't feel that he was living up to his standards unless he had in addition a fine flannel robe lined with crash and ornamented with embroidery, costing $25; two of lambs fleece in blue and pink at $50 each, and one of velvet, also crash lined and with elaborate trimmings and frogs, worth $100.

Sometimes after he has bathed Dorée doesn't feel like going out at once. He is somewhat lazy after his last night's game with Smooth and Hawk, and so he dawdles around in his easy chair for a while. This is the time for dressing gown and slippers. Of these he has two varieties— dressing gown proper and lounging robe. The difference between the two is minute, but Dorée is a man of minute distinctions. Therefore he wears his dressing gown with slippers and his lounging robe with shoes. The proper stage for the dressing gown is when his toilet is in any stage of incompleteness from the bath to the street. For the lounging robe, it is when the toilet is complete with the exception of the coat.


Dorée dressing gown is an elegant garment, costing about $75. It is lined throughout with quilted satin of finest quality, soft to the touch as down; this lining continues over the facings, lapels, collars, and cuffs, where it is bordered by a finely stitched edge and a silk cord. Outwardly the garment is of fine seal brown cashmere with a handsome flowing pattern; and it is completed by a cord and tassel of silk and elaborate silk frogs, used to secure its edges. That's one of the gowns. The other is of claret-colored velvet, lined with satin of the same color, and in other respects similar to the first. Its cost is $150.

The lounging robe is less showy and more serviceable, and, taken altogether; it is one of Dorée's best-beloved garments. He usually gets into it whenever he happens into his room at odd times. It is of fine plaid flannel, with no lining and no ornamentation but cord and tassel and the fancy silk frogs. It is not high priced; costing $25, but Dorée says he doesn't see how he ever managed to get along without it. He drops into it occasionally in the evening, too, but as a rule when he spends an evening in his room he has négligée garments especially suited for various hours and purposes.

When dinner is over and he retires to the smoking room, Dorée puts on a pretty smoking jacket, of which he has at least half a dozen, for he particularly affects these garments. A special favorite of his is one of his latest purchases, and a very pretty one it is, too. It is dove-colored matelasse of silk and worsted, the pattern giving it great richness. It is cut so that it fits like a glove, and the silk-faced collar, lapels, and cuffs conform to the traditions of garments of this kind. It is a round-cut sack, closed at the top with a single loop button of silk, and it is altogether a most distinguished coat. The others do not differ from it much in cut or trimmings, but vary in fabric, including black velvet, wine-colored velvet, brown cashmere, and blue cloth, ranging from $40 to $75 each.
There is still one more occasion for négligée dress. There seems no good reason why Dorée couldn't play poker with Smooth and Hawk in an ordinary smoking jacket, but it is a fact that the strict etiquette of négligée dress requires him to have a garment especially for the purpose, and several poker jackets are a necessary part of his equipment. The poker jacket differs from the smoking jacket in that it is straight cut and closed with three loops instead of one. Moreover, it is generally of some light fabric, that its wearer may keep the requisite degree of coolness. It may be of Madras cloth, Oxford cloth, blanket flannel, vicuna, spun silk, or foulard, in stripes, checks, dots, or solid colors. Dorée has plenty of use for poker jackets, and has quite an assortment representing pretty nearly the whole range, and taking them of all grades, they probably cost him about $10 each.

Let us now sum up and see how much of Dorée father's money has been squandered by his promising son in chamber luxuries. The inventory runs:

4 silk pajama suits @ $75 ………………………….. $300
3 silk shaving coats ………………………....……… $100
2 crash bath robes @ $15 .......................$30
1 flannel bath robe ................................ $25
2 fleece bath robes@ $50 ....................... $100
I velvet bath robe ................................ $100
I cashmere dressing gown ...................... $75
I velvet dressing gown .......................... $150
I lounging robe .................................... $25
6 smoking jackets @ $60 ....................... $360
10 poker jackets @ $10 ........................ $100
Total $1,365

This list is only one item in Dorée's expenses; Capt. Dudley Smooth and Mr. Mulberry Hawk also have similar outfits, and young Dorée pays for them!