A kaftan or caftan (//; Arabic: قفطان qafṭān) is a variant of the robe or tunic, and has been worn in a number of cultures around the world for thousands of years. Used by many Middle Eastern ethnic groups, the kaftan is ancient Mesopotamian in origin. It may be made of wool, cashmere, silk, or cotton, and may be worn with a sash.
Styles, uses, and names for the kaftan vary from culture to culture. The kaftan is often worn as a coat or as an overdress, usually having long sleeves and reaching to the ankles. In regions with a warm climate, it is worn as a light-weight, loose-fitting garment. In some cultures, the kaftan has served as a symbol of royalty.
Kaftans were worn by the sultans of the Ottoman Empire. Decoration on the garment, including colours, patterns, ribbons, and buttons, indicated the rank of the person who wore it. From the 14th century through the 17th century, textiles with large patterns were used. By the late 16th and early 17th centuries, decorative patterns on the fabrics had become smaller and brighter. By the second half of the 17th century, the most precious kaftans were those with 'yollu': vertical stripes with varying embroidery and small patterns – the so-called "Selimiye" fabrics.
Most fabrics manufactured in Turkey were made in Istanbul and Bursa, but some textiles came from as far away as Venice, Genoa, Persia (Iran), India, and even China. Kaftans were made from velvet, aba, bürümcük (a type of crepe with a silk warp and cotton weft), canfes, çatma (a heavy silk brocade), gezi, diba (Persian: دیبا), hatayi, kutnu, kemha, seraser (Persian سراسر) (brocade fabric with silk warp and gold or silver metallic thread weft), serenk, zerbaft (Persian زربافت), and tafta (Persian تافته). Favoured colours were indigo blue, kermes red, violet, pişmis ayva or "cooked quince", and weld yellow.
North African kaftan
The Ottoman Empire never extended its reach as far as Morocco, where a form of kaftan was in use for many years prior to that time. The kaftan was adapted and refashioned by Moroccan garment makers ("Maalem") during the Marinid dynasty, when it was worn by the region's royalty. It was later adopted by the wider public as a form of dress during the Saadi dynasty.
From the beginning of the 13th century (around 600 in the Islamic calendar), the city of Fez was known for its textile factories, of which it had some 3,046 at that time. The sultans of Morocco's Marinid dynasty sent a kaftan of brocade as a gift to each new Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, to be the first kaftan owned by the Ottoman Sultan.
In modern-day Morocco, kaftans are principally worn by women, and the word kaftan in Morocco is commonly used to mean "one-piece dress". Alternative two-piece versions of Moroccan kaftans are called Takchita and are worn with a large belt. The Takchita is also known as Mansouria, deriving from the name of Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur who invented the new fashion of wearing a two-piece kaftan.
Kaftans may be worn both on casual and on formal occasions, depending on the materials used.
West African kaftan
A Senegalese kaftan is a pullover men's robe with long bell-like sleeves. In the Wolof language, this robe is called a mbubb and in French, it is called a boubou. The Senegalese kaftan is an ankle-length garment, and is worn with matching drawstring pants called tubay. Usually made of cotton brocade, lace, or synthetic fabrics, these robes are common throughout West Africa. A kaftan and matching pants are called a kaftan suit. The kaftan suit is worn with a kufi cap. Senegalese kaftans are formal wear in all West African countries.
Other regional variations
Hasidic Jewish culture adapted a silky robe (bekishe) or frock coat (kapoteh) from the garb of Slavic nobility, which was itself a type of kaftan. The term kapoteh may originate from the Spanish capote or possibly from "kaftan" via Ladino. Sephardic Jews from Muslim countries wore a kaftan similar to those of their neighbours.
In Russia, the word "kaftan" is used for another type of clothing: a style of men's long suit with tight sleeves. The word "kaftan" was adopted from the Tatar language, which in turn borrowed the word from Turkish. By the 19th century, Russian kaftans were the most widespread type of outer clothing among peasants and merchants. Currently, they are used as ritual religious clothing by the most conservative sect of Old Believers.
In Southeast Asia, the kaftan was originally worn by Arab traders, as seen in early lithographs and photographs from the region. Religious communities that formed as Islam became established later adopted this style of dress as a distinguishing feature, under a variety of names deriving from Arabic and Persian such as "jubah", a robe, and "cadar", a veil or chador.
In Western countries
More recently, the kaftan was introduced to the west in the 1890s when Alix of Hesse wore the traditional Russian kaftan during her coronation. This garment resembled the kaftans worn by the Ottoman sultans, and was in contrast to the tight-fitting, corseted dresses common in England at that time.
The kaftan slowly gained popularity, for its exoticism and as a form of loose-fitting clothing. French fashion designer Paul Poiret further popularised this style in the early 20th century.
American hippie fashions of the late 1960s and the 1970s often drew inspiration from ethnic styles, including kaftans. These styles were brought to the United States by people who journeyed the so-called "hippie trail". African-styled, kaftan-like dashikis were popular, especially among African-Americans. Street styles were appropriated by fashion designers, who marketed lavish, Moroccan-style kaftans as hostess gowns for casual at-home entertaining.
Diana Vreeland, Babe Paley, and Barbara Hutton all helped popularise the caftan in mainstream western fashion. Into the 1970s, Elizabeth Taylor often wore kaftans designed by Thea Porter. In 1975, for her second wedding to Richard Burton she wore a kaftan designed by Gina Fratini.
More recently, in 2011 Jessica Simpson was photographed wearing kaftans during her pregnancy. American fashion editor André Leon Talley has also worn kaftans designed by Ralph Rucci as one of his signature looks. Beyoncé, Uma Thurman, Susan Sarandon, Kate Moss, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and Nicole Richie have all been seen wearing the style. Some fashion lines have dedicated collections to the kaftan, one example being the Willian by Keia Bounds 2015 Summer Collection.
Moroccan "Qaftan" made of khrib brocade fabric from Fez.
Portrait of the artist’s wife, Marie Fargues, in a kaftan, by Jean-Etienne Liotard.
21st century woman wearing kaftan, Spain.
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