Monday 16 February 2015

Up in smoke

It seems like such a good idea.
You take the family album down from the shelf and flip idly through the pages. A smile crosses your face as you delight in memories of the past. But then, you see it and your smile withers and fades to be replaced by a look of horror.
It’s awful.
It’s tragic.
It’s you, circa 1972, wearing a pair of yellow plaid, polyester bell-bottom pants.

Every generation has its bell-bottom blunder, and for gentlemen of the mid to late 1800s, that blunder has to be the smoking cap. These ornate head toppers were covered in embroidery, gilt tassels and every embellishment the lady of the house was capable of creating. The caps were worn in the home after dinner while the gentlemen of the house enjoyed a leisurely smoke and the obligatory glass of brandy. Sometimes the cap was accompanied by a matching jacket – both were worn to keep the smell of smoke from settling on the clothes and hair.

Our particular smoking cap was once worn by Robert Jones and, as smoking caps go, it is a bit subdued. Robert’s cap, perhaps lovingly made for him by his wife, is of sober black velvet with two black tassels that hang from the crown. But don’t worry about Robert’s trendsetting status – the somber qualities of his cap are more than compensated for by the addition of a gold silk lining and heavy gold-beaded loops - plus the word “SMOKE” spelled out in gilt beads along the band. 
One has to wonder if the jacket was similarly labelled? 
The style of Robert’s unique head gear was definitely from the “more is more” school of design.

Though we may chuckle now, the smoking cap was considered the best of fashion in its day, something no well-dressed man would be without. It was part status, part homemade treasure, and all the rage.

In 100 years, will people say the same thing about your bell-bottoms?

Recognizing that some fashionistas out there might disagree with our pronouncement against smoking caps, we offer this link to Lock & Co. Hatters of James’s St. London. This firm (with appointments to both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh) offers two smoking cap options for purchase: a plain velvet smoking cap for £145; and an embroidered option for £260. If you still have a BeDazzler packed away in the attic with your bell-bottoms, you could update the plain velvet cap for your own ‘custom’ look for a lot less.

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