WHAT IS A KAFTAN & HOW TO WEAR THEM?
Beach bag? Check. Cute sandals? Check. A sun hat? Check. What's missing for your next vacation? A stylish caftan (or two). From silk-print maxi options, to long-sleeve versions that'll keep you warm on a breezy day, these hit all the right fashion trends. Toss one on before dinner or over your bathing suit, and before you know it, they'll be replacing your favorite spring dress.
Kaftans are among the earliest fashion garments, meaning they have to be doing something right to still be around and in full-force. The gracious silhouette allows the wearer complete range of motion for the ultimate in comfort while still maintaining a chic facade. Though we've long loved them as a cover-up at the beach or poolside, they are just as perfect for a sophisticated work from home style, or daydreaming from your couch about your future travel plans. No matter where your days take you, here are some of the most stylish caftans to don for every occasion.
They are loosely-fit, yet always flattering, and freely-flowing. Despite what some people think, women included, kaftans are not only suitable for the beach. Although it is a great beachwear piece, a kaftan can be much more than that. In fact, you can easily impress and turn heads wearing a kaftan regardless of the occasion. You just need to style it right. Let us see where and how you can wear one and look gorgeous all day long.
A Small Initiation Into The Kaftan World
What is a Kaftan?
A traditional kaftan or caftan is an ankle-length garment with long, flowing sleeves. This loose type of dress was originally a long, buttoned up robe mainly worn by men in the Middle East. Kaftans used to be made of either silk or cotton and often came with a sash or belt around the waist and elbow-length or longer sleeves. The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul has an amazing collection of such kaftans sewn in rich, luxurious fabrics. Back then, wearing a kaftan was considered a privilege of the Ottoman Sultans of Turkey and those that had a high place in society. It was regarded as such a valuable and prized piece of clothing that was given to important officials of the Ottoman Empire during big religious festivals or generals that had triumphed in the battlefield.
Things changed over the years though, and the kaftan went from being a luxurious garment to something only worn by the poorer people, as well as shopkeepers by the 19th century!
That being said, kaftans have found their way back to the fashion scene in recent years (although we cannot say they were ever out of fashion) and are becoming increasingly more popular, pleasing the taste of both women that wish for classy and chic formal outfits and those that are drawn into more casual appearances; yet, do not want to look like a tomboy.
How to Wear a Kaftan
1. On The Beach
It is one of the most popular (if not THE most popular) ways of wearing a kaftan these days. Use it as a coverup on the beach and instantly take your beachwear to an upper level. Made from a light, breezy fabric, a kaftan is a superb option if you want to accessorize your swimsuit or bikini. Not to mention that it also provides you with protection against the sun’s UV rays (if long enough to cover most of your body).
Considering that it is not a fitted garment, it goes without saying that you can wear it and rest assured you will remain cool while dipping your feet in the sand. As for those ladies that are a bit self-conscious about their body in swimwear (we strongly believe there is divine beauty in every body, regardless of its size, though), a kaftan will help them look gorgeous while staying cool, and showing just as much skin as they feel comfortable with.
Pair it up with a stylish pair of sandals and your designer shades and you are beach ready. If you want to add more style to your beachwear (say, you want to go for lunch at a seaside restaurant), add a belt and you are done!
Tip: Choose a kaftan in a natural fabric (i.e. organic cotton) to help your body remain cool (natural fabrics “breathe”).
2. For Formal or Casual Occasions
Kaftans look great on almost all women, no matter their shape or size, and help hide any parts of the body you would not like to be accentuated. For example, women with a bigger bust can get an incredibly flattering appearance with a kaftan with long sleeves and a low V-neck.
If you are into boho chic, pop on a pair of flat sandals (Ancient Greek style is excellent but any leather piece will do), add a soft shoulder handbag, and a pair of large, designer sunglasses, and you’ve got yourself the boho chic outfit you wanted! Wear it when you go to the beach or at casual summer parties on weekends.
To jazz your kaftan up and make it more appropriate for formal occasions, opt for a more fitted design and choose a piece made of silk or another luxurious fabric. For added allure, consider a kaftan made from layers of sheer fabric. Pair it with jewelry (i.e. a silver or gold belt) to dress it up for even more formal instances. Jewelled sandals with heels will help make a chic statement and add to the luxury feel of your outfit.
Wear your brightly-coloured kaftan with the beautiful safari/West Africa patterns with a matching head wrap and scarf (or even a straw hat!).
You can make your waist look tiny by cinching your kaftan in with a wide leather belt.
A silk or cotton kaftan top looks wonderful over shorts. Top it up with beads and achieve the perfect casual summer look.
Kaftans are very comfortable and loose-fitting, which is why they are the perfect sleepwear and loungewear too. Just pick a pattern you like and make sure your item is made of a natural fabric so that your body is kept cool even on hot days.
What to Look For When You Want to Find the Perfect Kaftan
1. The Right Fabric
It all depends on when you plan to wear your kaftan. The flowy fabric it is usually made of can make your dress look inappropriate for the occasion you want it unless you upgrade its look with carefully selected accessories. Having said that, a kaftan made of silk, cotton or another natural fabric is definitely a great pick for a casual outing (i.e. beach picnic). Choose rayon, georgette, satin or silk for a more formal event, such as an evening party.
2. The Right Length
You can find both short and long versions of the dress. A medium-length, printed kaftan is much more preferred for a day in the office, especially when teamed up with a pair of leggings while a short kaftan is an excellent choice for a casual outing. To complete the look, you can match it with a pair of shorts or slim-fit jeans. Finally, a long kaftan (at least, mid-calf length – floor-length dresses add more style and class, though) can be worn at a formal function, such as a beach wedding or a cocktail party.
3. The Right Bag
Due to its loose fit, a kaftan looks a bit oversized. Since the trick is to have harmony and balance, small purses and bags (for a casual look), as well as clutches (for an evening party or formal occasions) go well with it. If you need to wear a bag, pick one that matches the colour of your dress.
4. The Right Shoes
A pair of nude heels looks fantastic when teamed with a printed kaftan. The great thing about kaftans is that you can wear them with whatever shoe you wish, from wedge sandals to a pair of high heels, depending on the look you want to achieve. Of course, it is probably wise not to wear a silk kaftan with wedges or luxurious silver high heels with a cotton kaftan.
Outfit Idea: You will be amazed by how a monochrome kaftan, paired with a basic tee, worn out denim, and a pair of white sneakers can so easily create the ultimate casual summer look!
5. The Right Accessories
Some elegant pieces of jewellery can make you look more sophisticated in your kaftan. Needless to say, if the kaftan already has shiny embellishments, better avoid overdoing it with jewellery that make a loud statement, such as heavy, long neck pieces or earrings. Instead, a chic watch, ring, belt or small pearl earrings that look great regardless of the occasion you wear them for, are safe and stylish choices. On the other hand, if your kaftan is rather plain with no fancy prints, you can upgrade your look with a sleek necklace and/or a subtle bracelet.
Kaftans are sold in a wide variety of designs, fabrics, and colours and can become anything you want them to be, from sleek and sophisticated garments worn to weddings to dresses suited to a beach party. You may even find top-end designer kaftans, as well as brightly-coloured and patterned kaftans which look more like robes (see women in West Africa – they call such kaftans boubou) that you simply slip over your head and enjoy a relaxing time at home, by the pool or at the beach.
This exceptionally versatile and comfortable piece of clothing is a perfect companion that has rightfully earned its place in every woman’s travel bag and summer wardrobe.