The Afrocentric kaftan – which we usually spell “caftan” in the West – is a fashionable, fabulous garment loved by women around the world. Learn how to wear a caftan during celebrations, community events or even just an afternoon out.
It’s hard to think of any woman’s garment that fuses contemporary fashion with timeless African heritage as elegantly as the caftan. Caftans are carefree, flattering and fun to wear–and perfect for almost every social occasion, formal or casual. No wonder they’re loved by women around the world! The more you know about them, the more inspired you’ll be to make them a part of your everyday wardrobe.
What Is a Caftan?
Caftans are long, lightweight dresses that hang loose on the body. They’re like long-sleeved tunics but tend to have wider sleeves and are made from lighter fabrics, as they originated in hot African climates. Caftans also come in tons of patterns, prints and hues, so it’s easy to choose one that embodies your unique self!
Most caftans are brightly colored and embellished with patterns, embroidery, applique or other adornments reminiscent of the garment’s African and Middle Eastern origins.
The origin and history of caftans is a story between ancient glamor and modern style.
Types of Caftans
No matter what events you have in your day planner – weddings, formal dances, or casual vacations – there’s a caftan to match!
- Long: This is the standard style of caftan and the easiest to find. It usually has Afrocentric patterns or designs. Sleeve lengths will vary, but the dress itself will always reach down to your ankles.
- Short: Caftans were traditionally designed to cover the entire body, but some modern designers have altered them to show off women’s legs. Wear these with panty hose during more conservative events or go without when you’re with your girlfriends.
- Open: Most people think of caftans like a dress: completely closed in the front. However, some are fashioned like long, lightweight overcoats. These are great for layering over other outfits, especially during mid spring and fall when the weather is warm but the wind is still chilly. Many women also use a short, open caftan as a swimsuit cover-up in the heat of summer.
- V-neck: Some caftan dresses are designed for complete modesty, but not these! The V-neck design is used to complement—but not expose—a lady’s assets. These are great for warm, casual settings when you want to be comfortable and fabulous: think a day by the pool or a church summer barbecue.
- Fitted: Many caftans hang loose and away from the body, but some narrow in around the waist to flatter your figure. Sometimes, these caftan dresses are belted with a tie, which you can swap out for an even more versatile look. Try nipping your waist in with a statement belt for church or a silk scarf for a day at the park.
- Dual-layer: Some caftans have a solid first layer and a translucent outer layer, giving the outfit an ethereal effect and making you look sent from heaven. These types of caftans tend to stick to one solid color, but some designers will add flair with jewels, embroidered collars and lavish trim. People will think you’re a true angel if you step out wearing one of these!
5 Tips for Choosing Your First Caftan
If you’re new to the world of caftans, you might find these beginner’s buying tips helpful:
- If you’re thinking a long, airy caftan might overwhelm you, choose a short caftan with a drawstring waist. It will give you a more fitted look.
- For a glam evening outfit, choose a caftan with a plunging V-neck, side slits and angled sleeves in silky or sparkling fabric.
- Pay attention to the details. Many embellished caftans feature gorgeous beadwork or embroidery on the neckline and sleeves.
- Not ready to go too dramatic? Instead of a bright allover printed caftan, look for a mostly solid-colored caftan with heritage prints at the sleeves, neckline and hem.
- Many caftans are one-size-fits-all…and generally, they really do fit most. However, you can find women’s plus-size caftans, too.
How to Wear a Caftan
Despite their simple structure, caftans are incredibly versatile. Dress them up for evening or dress them down for running errands. And of course, they make great loungewear. Enjoy the summer breeze by wearing a long caftan with jeweled sandals or strappy heels. In the right setting, the wind will create a dramatic, billowing silhouette that commands attention to your divine self.
Wondering what to wear under a caftan? Generally speaking, if the caftan’s fabric is on the sheer side, layer a cami or long slip underneath in a matching color, or a color that matches your skin tone. If you’re going out in warm weather, short caftans pair nicely with slim jeans, or a pair of hose. You can also use them as beach cover-ups to wear over your bathing suit.
Take any caftan from warm weather to cold by adding leggings or thick stockings underneath. Throw on an extravagant faux-fur coat on top, and you’ll look like an African queen ready to take the town.
How to Accessorize a Caftan
Caftans are a fantastic statement garment, meaning you don’t need to wear a lot with them to look fabulous. That said, most women wouldn’t be caught dead without an accessory or two.
To give yourself a curvier shape, wear a caftan with a belt, scarf or sash, cinched at the smallest part of your waist. As far as what shoes to wear with a caftan, flats, jeweled or strappy sandals and open-toe heels all make fabulous choices.
For caftans without any embellishments around the neck, a large pendant necklace makes a great addition. Otherwise, go for statement necklaces that sit at or above the collarbone. Try contrasting the colors of your caftan jewelry, pairing gold and purple or orange and blue, for example, for a nice visual variety. That said, matching your jewels, dress, shoes and handbag is always an eye-catching look.
As formal wear or for special occasions, most women wear caftans with statement jewelry and an evening handbag or clutch. When it comes to you and your caftan, accessorize in whatever makes you feel finest.
Finding the Right Caftan for Your Unique Self
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.