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What Is a Kaftan?

Long, robe-like garments with wide sleeves may be referred to as kaftans.
In Senegal, kaftans are the national clothing for men.
A kaftan, also spelled caftan, is a long garment with wide sleeves that dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, located in modern Iraq.
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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2014
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A kaftan, also spelled caftan, is a long garment with wide sleeves that dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, located between the countries of Iraq and Iran. These Persian, robe-like garments also became popular in countries such as Russia and Morocco. Their patterns and colors are usually vivid and detailed. They are a vacation fashion staple that began being considered fashionable in western countries since the 1960s and '70s.

Short, belted versions of the traditionally calf- or ankle-length kaftan can look elegant and interesting in printed silk worn over flowing evening pants. Longer ones make excellent swimsuit cover-ups and are often seen poolside at tropical resorts. Their casual, free-style look suits sandals and open-toe shoes, and they are also worn as lounge and patio wear with house slippers. Some are elaborately beaded and designed as fashionable evening dresses.

A kaftan may be open down the front and come with a self-tie belt, or it may feature a zipper closure. Some voluminous garments have a wide neck and are designed as pull-overs. In general, petite people look best in a style that is closer to knee-length and is body-skimming. If it is too wide or long, shorter people tend to appear even shorter. Taller, thinner figures may be flattered by longer, flowing ones.

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The neckline of this garment may be round, square, or v-shaped. People with oval face shapes are likely to be flattered by kaftans with any type of neckline, while those with a square jawline may look best in a round neck. Rounded or full face shapes tend to look best in a v-neckline.

Although fashion kaftans in most Western countries are typically designed for women's wear, this is not the case in many other parts of the world. In the African country of Senegal, it is the national clothing for men. Senegalian garments are ankle-length and usually made of cotton. Russian ones, in rich colors of red, blue, ivory, and tan, are also traditionally men's garments. They are ornately detailed and often trimmed with scalloped, lace-like detailing.

In many West African countries, such as Morocco, women wear kaftans. The style is extremely dressy and feminine for the most part. Lace and satin as well as bold floral prints often accent Moroccan women's garments. Common colors for these ankle length gowns are orange, red, and vivid pink.

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ZipLine
Post 6

I think kaftan and kameez are basically the same right?

Men in Southeast Asia wear salwar kameez, which is basically a tunic and loose pants underneath. I've seen the tunic, "kameez" many times and I've also seen pictures of men's kaftan. It looks the same to me, I think it's just different names given to the same thing by different people.

serenesurface
Post 5

When I was in Egypt, I saw a lot of women wearing kaftans. It looked really comfortable and I guess it's also great for Islamic culture because it's long and covers everything.

I actually brought back several from there. One I use as a nightie and the other I use when I go the beach.

bear78
Post 4

It feels weird to hear about kaftans being used as swimsuit cover-ups. The original kaftan from Central Asia and the Middle East was nothing like that.

For example, kaftans were really popular among the rich and powerful in the Ottoman Empire. It was worn like a coat, on top of garments to stay warm. Winter kaftans were made with thick material and the wealthy had beautiful, intricate designs sewn on them.

It was a sign of prestige, a show of authority and wealth. It was not just a piece of garment, it was a lot more than that. There are many museums in Turkey and the Middle East that showcase kaftans from the Ottoman time.

Saraq90
Post 3

@tomislav - I wore my kaftan top with skinny jeans. I felt the skinny jeans helped balance out the wide sleeves and general wideness of the kaftan top top I purchased. I did not add a belt or other accessory as my kaftan was patterned boldly and felt that adding to it might make the outfit just a bit busy!

Tomislav
Post 2

@saraq90 - I felt the same way! But I am also determined to wear the cotton kaftan I found at a consignment store. It was a name brand and had held up nicely as well as having a pattern that was beautiful!

Here is where I need help: what did you wear with your kaftan top?

Saraq90
Post 1

I have a kaftan top, and I cannot tell a lie, when I first pulled it out of the package (I had bought the top online) I was not sure I could pull it off.

However, I got up the guts to be bold and wear it and boy, did I ever feel silly for thinking it couldn't be pulled off - I received so many compliments for the silk kaftan from "it looks so comfortable" to "that looks great but I never would have thought to buy it if I had seen it on a hanger."

And the biggest plus - they are incredibly comfortable.

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