The Humble Caftan

8th Century Caftan

So here is a garment that is as old as time.  With origins going back to Mesopotmia, this simple garment constructed entirely of squares was originally cotton.  When silk found it’s way to the middle east,  it quickly became a favorite textile for the Caftan.  So how did this humble, ancient garment, survive from antiquity to present?  By being eminently practical.

Originally, the Caftan was the outermost garment worn by men throughout the middle east; however, in Morocco it is traditionally a woman’s garment, and even today enjoys a special place in couture of Morocco.  While worn throughout North Africa and the Middle East from Mesopotamia to present, the Caftan did not make the leap to Western fashion until the 20th century.

Between  November 14 and 26, 1894, Czar Nicholas II married the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England, Alexandra Feodorovna.  The new Czarina was photographed wearing the traditional, Orthodox dress of Russian nobility…a heavily embroidered caftan.

Czarina Alexandra in Russian Orthodox Finery

This photograph sparked continued interest in the exotic east, and a love affair with the simple caftan was born unto the Occident.

Starting in stage productions in the 1910’s, this simple robe appeared in ballets, in movies, plays.  And even then, where theater went, fashion followed.  By the 1950’s to 1970’s, couture houses from Dior to Yves Saint Laurent to Halston were walking the simple cut garment down the isle as the next big fashion movement.  And it remain popular as a housecoat, as outer wear, as re-creationist costuming.  Caftan’s, while humble and straightforward, are popular BECAUSE of the simple cut, which allows adornment or even luxurious fabrics, to truly shine.  Simplicity is beautiful.  And the Caftan is simply elegant.

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