What exactly is a kaftan? The simplest definition of a ‘kaftan,’ according to Vogue, is a narrow cut, long robe with full sleeves, either with a deep open neck, or fully open to the floor, and sometimes buttoned. It is a symbol of a bohemian lifestyle. The word kaftan itself is a Persian word, and the style is believed to have originated in Ancient Mesopotamia, now the Middle East and North Africa. Kaftan shares similarities with the abaya or djellaba, or even the panjabi, which is the most common outfit worn in these areas, and of course, Bangladesh.
Kaftan is a genuine style symbol. It all started with the Ottomans, who wore lavishly decorated ones. It can be as simple as you want it to be, but also as stylish and statement-worthy as you want it to be. It can be made from almost any fabric, silk, wool, or cotton, and can be paired with, or without a sash.
Even though, as history suggests, kaftans were worn by men, but as we moved forward in time to a more equal world, both men and women are into it. It travelled across Iran, through North Africa, and into West Africa, and now, making its way into Asia. It even infiltrated Europe and North America, as well as Russia, where they use fur instead of cotton!
Kaftans, as mentioned has been around for a while, but during the 1950s and early 1960s, this particular style of dress began appearing in high fashion. And guess who made it happen? The French, of course. In the 60’s, Yves Saint Laurent’s obsession with Marrekesh, combined with Diana Vreeland’s love of travel and exotic dresses, which featured prominently in the pages of Vogue, the Kaftan had officially arrived.
YSL had started a revolution. Fashion and music became inextricably linked when the free loving, rock ‘n roll movement adopted the must-have Kaftan, starting from The Beatles, to Bianca Jagger to Anjelica Huston, embracing the effortlessly chic look for day and night.
Later, other French master couturiers, i.e. Cristian Dior and Balenciaga introduced the Kaftan as a new form of loose-fitting evening gown, or a robe over matching trousers. YSL though, were the ones who made kaftans the must-have high end fashion trend.
The kaftan made itself well into the fashion trends of the next decade, and the next, and the next, right into 2019. Kaftans were always some form of statement, be it for the upper class, or the symbol of flower power for the hippies during the 70s to the 80s.
In the late 90s, Tom Ford shortened the kaftan to micro-mini length. Designers were then dabbling into the ‘orient,’ and lo and behold, they rediscovered the versatility of the kaftan. From Temperley and Matthew Williamson, to Naeem Khan and Elie Saab, the kaftan has been continually reanimated and brought back to the red carpet.
The bold and graphic silhouette of the kaftan enables designers to each put their unique spin on it, while maintaining the comfort and modesty that make it so appealing to women and men worldwide.
I don’t believe that kaftan was ever out of fashion, or will ever be. It comes back in one way or the other, and in Bangladesh, it’s been around for ages. Trendy or not, once people start adapting anything in terms of clothing, it will become trendy. And in all honesty, why not kaftans?
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Styling: Sonia Yeasmin Isha
Model: Chadni, Maruf
Wardrobe: LS Desk
Makeup: Farzana Shakil’s Makeover Salon