A caftan, or sometimes spelled „kaftan“, is a full-length, loosely-fitted garment with long or short sleeves that have been worn by both men and women. The caftan has had a long history behind it and is still being used today through many variations. Designers have made many changes in order to make the comfortable garment more modern and more practical.
Caftans have been said to have originated from the Mesopotamia and Asia Minor regions in 600 B.C. Variations had also spread through many African countries and by the 13th century it had spread throughout Eastern Europe and Russia. From Russia, the caftan spread out and made its way to Turkey, who brought it to Hungary and Poland when they conquered those lands.
During the Ottoman Empire of the 16th century, caftans of varying lengths were made from rich satins, velvet, silk and metallic threads. The different materials of a caftan were used to indicate a person’s social status. The luxuriously made caftans were often used as gifts or „robes of honor“ to visiting dignitaries, bureaucrats, ambassadors, and important government officials and state heads.
Variations were made throughout the years between men’s and women’s caftans. The men’s often had gores added, which caused the bottom of their caftans to flare out. The women’s garments were usually more fitted and more likely to have added sashes, belts or other accessories. Other elegant caftans had multi-layered sleeves and had slits on the other layers to show off the contrasting colors of the fabrics.
The caftan style had only just recently made its way to the West in the 1960’s. It was Diana Vreeland who had visited Morocco and wrote a series of articles labeling the caftan as fashionable for „The Beautiful People. Vreeland worked for the magazines Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue as a columnist and editor in the field of fashion.
Today’s caftans have gone through many changes to become more practical, though they still have some of the essence of the African and Moroccan caftans. Caftans have been customized to each person and used as many different ways: from a cover-up to a nightgown. They are being worn with jewelry, sashes and belts, buttons, all depending on the owner. The choice of fabric has varied throughout the years, but silks and cottons are still used most.