“The caftan seduces the body. A most unlikely garment of sex appeal, it turns yards of fabric into near nudity with the right warm breeze, and its unfitted form has been irresistible to cultures all over the world for thousands of years.” — Anna Yanofsky, editor of Exhibiting Fashion.
It happened as soon as I turned 34, a surprising and unexpected love affair with caftans. I had always thought of caftans as a cop out, as a Mrs. Roper look that declared itself frumpy, dowdy, and desperate. Out of nowhere, the looks, lines, and prints of caftans spoke to me. What once seemed styleless now seemed elegant and recherché. In one year, I went from what I refer to as my “gateway” caftan to a total of 10 and counting! I could wear one every day of the week (I have!), and each are completely unique. I began gifting them, swapping them and realized quickly, it was an obsession.
So, why did it take me more than three decades to get here? Because — strictly speaking, the caftan is just a simple sack. I appreciate why they can be so misunderstood. Here’s the basic pre-conceived backlash: they’re slumpy, sloppy, grandma-ish, and can have an “ I give up” air about them. But, how had I been so misled?!
When I realized my caftan adoration was a formal union, I began seeking out like-minded enthusiasts. Lo and behold, there were, in fact, a grand number of ladies who were just as passionate about these frocks. I had to ask why they, too, were drawn to these shapeless shifts. How this simple drape of a dress could somehow make you feel like Catherine Deneuve, Talitha Getty, or Diane von Furstenberg. Powerful, sophisticated, and cunning.
A big part of the appeal of the caftan is that they’re easy, but elegant. As Bon Appétit executive editor Christine Muhlke says, “You’re enough of a broad (or dame) that you can swan around in something completely unflattering and still knock ‘em dead. Muriel Brandolini, please start making them again!” The ability to put on something so simple and feminine that makes any gal feel glam seems like a no-brainer. Jeans and a white button down, anyone?
This curtain-esque dress works in any scenario from desk to dinner to dancing. Stylist Doria Santlofer says, “Caftans are comfortable and loose, but they don’t sacrifice style. In a caftan you could be lounging by Saint Laurent's pool in 1970s Marrakesh or hanging with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton on a movie set! Plus, there's always something sexier about imagination...no one knows what's under all that colorful fabric!” Frankly, I couldn’t agree more. Keep them guessing.
Shoes? You choose. Flat leather sandals, colorful clogs, or the highest of heels brings this look from the beach to the ballroom. Throw your hair up in a loose chignon, add bangles you found while traveling oversees, a stack of rings, and maybe a necklace, too (the bigger and bolder the better). And, suddenly, no matter what the affair, the caftan is appropriate there. Click through for some of our favorite picks at every price point, for ladies everywhere.