What is the history of caftans? Learn about the origins of the caftan to better understand the inspiration behind today’s modern designs.
If you want an outfit that mixes ancient glamor and modern style, you can’t go wrong with a caftan. These garments have remained generally unchanged for thousands of years.
The caftan originated in Mesopotamia and was quickly adopted by many Middle Eastern, African and Southwest Asian groups. Its pronunciation (kaf’-tan) has changed remarkably little over time, despite its far-flung journey through history. As the centuries passed, Jewish and Russian cultures also embraced caftans and quickly adapted them into their own designs.
Historically, some cultures saved caftans exclusively for royalty. In Ottoman society, for example, only sultans were high enough to wear them. Moroccan caftans were originally just for male judges, but women, sensing comfort and style, started claiming the dresses for themselves over time.
These days, if your girlfriend says the word “caftan,” she’s probably talking about a dress worn by women. Similar outfits worn by men have their own names, including dashiki and boubou.
In addition to its spread to Jewish and Russian cultures, the caftan is somewhat structurally similar to the Japanese kimono. In terms of modern marketing, some fashion companies barely differentiate between the two. So, why not have two versions of the same outfit, one inspired by African cultures, the other inspired by Japan? Pull these out when people least expect it to really wow the crowds.
In terms of fashion and style, the caftan didn’t become popular in the U.S. until the late 1800s and early 1900s. French fashion designer Paul Poiret was particularly known for his devotion to them; he rejected the rigid structure of women’s corsets, preferring to create clothing with a looser fit. Deeply inspired by African and Asian cultures, Poiret added caftan after caftan in his collections.
Today, caftans are still in fashion—they always have been—and not surprisingly, since they flatter every woman regardless of age, body type or dress size. Modern caftans are a favored outfit by a number of celebrities: actresses, singers and even athletes. Also, many African American families wear caftans or the structurally similar dashiki when celebrating Kwanzaa or black history. These outfits will usually have traditional African prints—think beautiful kente cloth rather than trendy leopard spots.
Finding the Right Caftan for You
While a lot of high-end designers have added these dresses to their collections, there are affordable ways to buy caftans online and take your “Caftanista” to the next level! Available in a wide variety of prints, cuts and colors, these outfits are a great way to celebrate your heritage and embody black history. Though caftans have existed for thousands of years, today’s styles are uniquely modern and perfect for any woman’s wardrobe.