Smoking area chic

With the debate over smoking around Oxford heating up, Chloe Dootson-Graube pays tribute to one fashion institution caught in the crossfire

In the past couple of weeks, Cherwell has been the site of a great debate: to smoke or not to smoke? As Exeter College plans to ban smoking in its quads, student journalists have taken to soapboxes, answering in the positive and the negative. And naturally, the first question that comes into anyone’s minds, is what relevance at all does this have to fashion? Allow me to weigh in on this business about ciggies. The fashion of smoking areas has a long and storied history. The cigarette, since its inception, has always been an integral accessory. Where would the flapper, the Parisian flaneur, Kate Moss, and the other chain-smokers of haute couture be without a fag in hand? The obvious answer is, evidently, exponentially more healthy, but let’s put aside the deadly impact and look at the real point. Smoking is a key accessory and the smoking area is the arena into which fashion is thrown to battle it out. For example, I will wear moon boots to Cellar this evening to assert my dominance. This is how it works. This is the thought process of the fashionably minded upon entering the club.

The smoking area, I argue, is a central place in the development of fashion. It is the runway of the club, if you will. Taking a somewhat more upmarket example, look at how much attention the pictures from the previous Met Ball of the rich and famous, tall and beautiful models smoking in the bathroom received. The clothes were just as much talked about as the smoking. Is smoking therefore something of a social currency in fashion? Well, it is a widely known social fact that unless thou art well-adjusted and confirmed in thyself to the point of happiness, smoking makes you look cool, especially when paired with say, a cool hat and some funky shoes.

Smoking is certainly a problematic activity, both in terms of its catastrophic health effects and its elitist role as a status symbol. Furthermore, it can certainly be argued that if we were to look at the world in microcosm (the smoking area), smoking itself isn’t actually relevant or necessary to fashion at all. The smoking area is a utopia: one does not have to smoke to enjoy the cool night air (or, indeed, the pleasantly heated sprinklers that perch on the ceiling of the top floor of my hometown club). If one does smoke, then it is a veritable promised land with an edenic supply of smoking paraphernalia, but far more importantly, compliments on your outfit and top tips from the style icons around. Whatever you do, my final advice is this: always bring a lighter. There’s nothing more timeless than being a hero.

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