How to say it: kaf-tan or kaf-tan
- loose and voluminous through the body
- kimono sleeves
- printed and/or beaded
- traditionally long, but can also be short in length
- can be worn with a sash or drawstring
21st Century Caftans
The modern caftan is bright, airy and so, so chic. Available in short and long versions, printed, plain and embroidered, its a great, easy summer dress that will last season after season.
Diane von Furstenberg, Matthew Williamson
Theodora & Callum, Veronica M
…of the style: Regardless of how you spell it, the caftan (or kaftan) has a long, long history. Originating in ancient Mesopotamia (now Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey), the caftan was worn by men and women, both rich and the poor, and eventually the style began to find its way to other countries. Upper-class Russians wore the garment until the 1600s, and they are also worn by locals in Asia and North Africa – particularly Morrocco.
However it didn’t make an appearance in Western fashion until the early 1900s. At the end of the 19th century, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Alexandra married Czar Nicolas II and was photographed in the traditional caftan of the Russian Orthodox Church. This appearance sparked an interest in exotic fashion throughout Europe, which was spurred on by the Ballet Russes who performed Sheherezade in 1910 and truly launched Middle Eastern inspired clothing into the realms of high fashion.
After the Ballet Russe, designer Paul Poiret picked up the exotic fashion baton and ran with it, draping women in opulent, voluminous clothing and freeing their bodies from the restrictions of the corset.
The caftan’s excessive use of fabric saw it fall out of favour once the Great Depression hit and it has little impression on the fashion world until Balenciaga began to design voluminous, shapeless styles in the 1950s. The sack dress and the trapeze dress began a return to loose dressing, but it wasn’t until Diana Vreeland began to promote worldly fashions in the pages of Vogue (including the caftan in 1967) that the style really began to take off. Designers like Pucci, Valentino and Oscar de la Renta soon began to produce printed caftans in every colour.
The caftan remained popular through the 1970s as starlets like Angelica Huston and Bianca Jagger jumped on the caftan bandwagon. The style was chic and effortless and a little bit sexy and allowed fashionistas to channel the free-flowing vibe of the decade without fully committing to the Hippie culture.
In the 21st century the popularity of the caftan is still going strong. While it will be eternally loved by beach-going ladies as the chicest of cover-ups, the caftan has also made its way back into everyday fashion, with designers like Saint Laurent, Diane von Furstenberg and Missoni featuring them in their collections on a regular basis as daywear.
…of the name: The name comes from the Russian word for the garment kaftán, which in turn comes from Turkish and Persian roots, which are also the roots of the style.