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Why do the French call tuxedos ‘un smoking’?

This classic wardrobe item has been under the fashion spotlight during the awards season in February. We explain what is behind the strange English etymology of the word

‘Un smoking’ – an abbreviation of a ‘smoking jacket’, said to have been invented in the US in 1865 Pic: IVASHstudio / Shutterstock

February sees France’s acting and musical stars get their glad rags on for the awards season. The Victoires de la musique show sees the very best songs and artists awarded with prestigious prizes, while the cream of Paris heads to the dazzling César awards for the annual film awards.

Most of the fêted stars, from those established to the ‘nouveau espoir newcomers – will take their pick of lavish designer frocks and dinner jackets, the latter including female actors who choose to don a tuxedo for the big gala soirée

The French, surprisingly, do not have their own original word for such a garment – nor do they call it a tuxedo or a dinner jacket. Instead, they use ‘un smoking’ – an abbreviation of a ‘smoking jacket’, said to have been invented in the US in 1865. One of the oddities of certain English words adopted by the French and then tinkered with or shortened is that they really make no sense to the linguistically (or sartorially) unknowing English speaker when they hear it.

Should you be watching the glitzy red carpet walks – both ceremonies are shown live on TV (Victoires de la Musique on terrestrial television; Césars on subscription-only Canal+) – keep an eye out for the two distinct styles of smoking:

A Deauville is single-breasted with one button, with a shawl collar (col châle) or a notched lapel (cran aigu); while a Capri is double-breasted, with two or three pairs of buttons, plus notched lapels or sometimes a shawl collar.

Topping off the look is, of course, a bow tie, part of the ‘cravate’ (tie) family. 

In French, this is called ‘un noeud papillon’ (translated literally as ‘butterfly knot’), often abbreviated to ‘noeud pap’.

Related stories:

Nice carnival returns after two-year break caused by Covid

Downton Abbey launches Brittany's 32nd British film festival next week

Johnny Depp to appear at Deauville American Film Festival today

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