The History of the Cigarette Holder

City Information Centre

Have you seen the poster for the new exhibition Noël Coward: Art & Style at Guildhall Art Gallery? The way Gertrude Lawrence enjoys her cigarette? Nowadays, smoking seems to be out of fashion. And those who do – is anybody still using a cigarette holder? Cigarette holders were considered an essential part of ladies' fashion from the early 1910s through to the mid-1970s. They were mostly made of silver, jade or Bakelite, which was later replaced by modern plastics. Rarer examples can be found in enamel, horn, tortoiseshell or more exotic materials such as amber and ivory.

Cigarette holders did not only look “chique” but also served a practical purpose. The primary use was to keep falling ash off a woman's clothes. This is the reason for the length and why the holders were longer for more formal occasions. Wearing hats with wider brims than men, the cigarette holders also kept the side stream smoke away from the smokers’ eyes. Fingers, gloves and teeth wouldn’t be stained by the nicotine and the cigarette paper wouldn’t stick on the lips.Also, a filter for taste and/or health reasons could be encased. When in the 1960s filtered cigarettes appeared on the market this became less of an issue.

As with evening gloves, ladies' cigarette holders are measured by four traditional formal standard lengths: opera, theatre, dinner and cocktail length. Traditionally, men's cigarette holders were no more than 4 inches long and there were similar holders for cigars, a popular accessory for men from the beginning of the 20th century until the 1920s. Well-known women who used cigarette holders include Jayne Mansfield, Rita Hayworth, Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Margaret. Scarlett Johansson is a contemporary example. And who could ever forget Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s from 1961? The image of Audrey Hepburn wearing the famous Givenchy little black dress, with the foot-long cigarette holder in her hand, is considered one of the most iconic images of American cinema.

Audrey Hepburn with her cigarette holder in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) ©Enigma Mag


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