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Style Counsel: The Return of the Caftan

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Style Counsel: The Return of the Caftan

April 17, 2015

As the weather warms and we collectively pack away our woolens and turtlenecks, it’s time to rethink the summer ensemble. We figure, the less fabric that touches the skin, the better. Enter the caftan, a style of traditional dress worn across North African regions and adapted by Europeans and Americans for its fluid–and merciful–cut. In the late sixties, the caftan emerged as a modern, effortless uniform: Yves Saint Laurent lounged in the Majorelle Garden in a Moroccan version, and Diana Vreeland wore flowing red silk on her chaise at home and as evening wear.

The good news: The caftan in making a comeback. The latest versions, while still cut in forgiving proportions, take a more subtle and polished approach that can look as casual or formal as desired. Here are our nine selects for the heat waves ahead.

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Above: Fashion designer Monica Patel-Cohn has led the revival via Two, her line of caftans made in New York of hand-woven Indian textiles and sari fabric. The cotton Black and Peach Temple-Design Caftan is $360. For more from Patel-Cohn, read our post Caftan Chic, by Way of Brooklyn.

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Above: On a luxe note, the Elder Statesman’s White Caftan is cut from an ultrasoft pashmina cashmere; $2,150 at Tiina the Store online and in East Hampton. See more of shop owner Tiina Laakonen’s curation in our post Rhapsody in Blue: A Finnish Stylist at Home in the Hamptons.

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Above: A modernist caftan, Acne Studio’s Cedar Kaftan in almost-black navy poplin cotton is $340 at La Garí§onne.

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Above: The Dosa Aleppo Tunic has a silhouette borrowed from the traditional caftan. The dress is in a soft, sheer, rice khadi cotton and is $300 from Farfetch.

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Above: At the height of last summer, I noticed a girl in Williamsburg looking cooly composed in one of Jesse Kamm’s pullover dresses; it’s been on my wish list ever since. The crinkled cotton Imperial Tunic can be worn as a caftan-like dress or over leggings; $470 at Creatures of Comfort (online, and in LA and NYC).

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Above: From Horses Atelier, the Long Smoking Dress in a black crinkled cotton is $298 at Kick Pleat.

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Above: The Lemlem Amash Maxi Poncho is handwoven in Ethiopia by an association devoted to providing economic independence for local weavers; $325 at J. Crew.

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Above: Another caftan from Two: the White Sheer Cotton Caftan is $320.

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Above: From the consistently bohemian Isabel Marant í‰toile, the white cotton Viola Dress with tonal detailing is $365 at La Garí§onne.

For more style inspiration, see:

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Frequently asked questions

What is a caftan?

A caftan is a loose, flowing garment that is typically worn as a robe or overdress.

Where did caftans originate?

Caftans have been worn in various cultures for centuries, but they are most commonly associated with Middle Eastern and North African fashion.

What occasions are appropriate to wear a caftan?

Caftans are versatile garments that can be worn for a variety of occasions, ranging from beach vacations to formal events. They are often worn as loungewear or resortwear, but they can also be dressed up with accessories for a more formal look.

What types of fabric are commonly used for caftans?

Caftans can be made from a variety of fabrics, but some of the most common include silk, cotton, linen, and lightweight synthetic materials.

What body types look best in caftans?

Caftans are a great option for all body types, as they are typically designed to be loose and flowy. However, those with a larger bust may want to seek out caftans with a more structured neckline.

How should caftans be styled?

Caftans can be styled in a variety of ways, depending on the occasion and personal preference. They can be layered over bathing suits, paired with sandals for a casual look, or dressed up with jewelry and heels for a more formal event.

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