Caftan

What people know about caftans: they are large, fabulous sheets of fabric that loosely cover the body in the summer. They are also So Hot right now.

What people don’t know about caftans: Caftan? Kaftan? Muumuu? Dashiki? Why are they a Thing? What’s a “good” caftan?

How do I know the piece of fabric I’m buying online is… good?

Caftans have a rich and diverse history. This article on Collector’s Weekly is an excellent primer on that history. Yes, cultural appropriation is involved. Ottoman Sultans, Balenciaga, Russian czarinas, Yves Saint Laurent, Diana Vreeland: they’ve all hopped aboard the caf-train at some point.

Vreeland rockin’ the caftan
“Fashionable for the beautiful people.”
— Diana Vreeland on caftans

To begin a caftan quest is to understand a few differences between some key terms and types:

Caftan

The catch all term to mean a voluminous piece of clothing.

Kaftan

Another way to spell “caftan”. The word kaftan has Mesopotamian origins.

Muumuu

A Polynesian-style caftan that became popular in the 50’s. Perfect for sipping a virgin daiquiri in a tiki bar.

Dashiki

West African garment originally worn by men, and popularized in America in the late ’60s as a symbol of the counterculture.

Huipil

Traditional garment worn by indigenous women from central Mexico to Central America. Usually a thicker fabric with woven, colorful flowers.

Kuchi

Afghan Persian word for ‘those who go on migrations’, kuchi is used to define the nomads of the desert in Afghanistan. Also, people who wear some siiiick embroidered, embellished, flowy caftans.

Japanese Kimono, Korean Hanfu, Indian Sherwani, Persian Khalat

Voluminous garments worn by their respective cultures. These are all open in the front. Not dresses.


So… what are the “good” caftans?

Many designers have created their luxury spinoff of the caftan. YSL, Valentino, and Pucci come to mind.

In my opinion, the way to go for caftans is vintage. Thea Porter was Elizabeth Taylor’s go-to brand, and you can find some gorgeous pieces online.

For vintage Huipils and Dashikis, there are options aplenty. Search “60’s” or “70’s dashiki” on Etsy will turn up some affordable, quality options. Make sure they’re 100% cotton. “Kuchi dress” will turn up similar results for kuchis.

There are also plenty of contemporary labels that deal in locality and sustainability. Miranda Bennett, Black Crane, Lauren Winter, CW/CA — they all do some good ‘uns.