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Kurdish man wearing a kaftan

A kaftan or caftan (/ˈkæftæn/; Arabic: قفطانqafṭān) is a variant of the robe or tunic and has been worn by several cultures around the world for thousands of years. The kaftan is often worn as a coat or overdress, usually reaching to the ankles, and with long sleeves. It can be made of wool, cashmere, silk, or cotton, and may be worn with a sash. The kaftan is of ancient Mesopotamian origin and was worn by many middle-eastern ethnic groups. According to Gerhard Doerfer, the word originates from the old Turkish "kap ton", meaning "covering garment".[citation needed]

Different styles, uses and names for the kaftan vary from culture to culture. In regions with a warm climate, the kaftan is worn as a light-weight, loose-fitting garment. In some cultures, the kaftan has served as a symbol of royalty.


Ottoman kaftanEdit

Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in a Kaftan of complex woven fabric

Kaftans were worn by the Ottoman sultans during the Ottoman Empire. The decorations, including the colours, patterns, ribbons, and buttons, indicated the rank of the person who wore them. From the 14th century through the 17th century, textiles with large patterns were used. However, by the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the decorative patterns on the fabrics had became smaller and brighter. By the second half of the 17th century, the most precious kaftan's were those with 'yollu': vertical stripes with various embroideries and small patterns - so-called "Selimiye" fabrics.

Most fabrics manufactured in Turkey were made in Istanbul and Bursa, but some textiles came from as far away as Venice, Genoa, Persia (Iran), India, and even China. Kaftans were made from velvet, aba, bürümcük (a type of crepe with a silk warp and cotton weft), canfes, çatma (a heavy silk brocade), gezi, diba (Persian دیبا), hatayi, kutnu, kemha, seraser (Persian سراسر) (brocade fabric with silk warp and gold or silver metallic thread weft),[1] serenk, zerbaft (Persian زربافت), and tafta (Persian تافته). Favoured colours were indigo blue, kermes red, violet, pişmis ayva or "cooked quince", and weld yellow.

The Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul holds a large collection of Ottoman kaftans and textiles.[2]

The North African kaftanEdit

A kaftan offered by Ali Pacha of Algeria to the crown of Sweden on the occasion of a peace treaty, 1731


Women in a house in Algiers wearing a kaftan, 21 April 1912

Historically, kaftans were worn by the sultans of the Ottoman Empire. However, across North Africa in the last few centuries it has been worn more frequently by lay women - men preferring to wear Djellabas. It has become an increasingly popular from of dress in Algiers over the 20th Century and has become the standard formal dress for the bride at weddings.

There are several different kinds of kaftan in Algeria, the most famous being the karakou from Algiers.[3][4]. Other famous types of kaftan are the mansouria, from city of Blida, and the Chedda form the city of Telemcen.[5][better source needed]. The ketifa, the kadi, and the gandoura from Constantine and Annaba are also well known.[6][7]

The main cities in Algeria involved in the production of kaftans are Algiers, Blida, Annaba, Constantine, Oran, Mostaghanem, and Tlemcen.


Although the Ottoman Empire never extended as far west as Morocco, the kaftan was adapted and re-fashioned by the Moroccan clothes makers ("Maalem") during the Marinid Dynasty and was worn by the kings of the region. It was later adopted by the wider public as a form of dress during the Saadian Dynasty.

It is thought that the kaftan made its way to Morocco as a result of its adoption in Andalusia during the 9th Century, an area later conquered and ruled by the Moroccan berber Almohad dynasty. Then, when the Spanish recaptured the southern Spain from the Moors and they fled south to Morocco, they took the kaftan of the time and its design with them; including versions in silk and other fine fabrics.

In modern day Morocco, kaftans are mostly worn by women and the word kaftan in Morocco is commonly used to mean "one-piece dress". Alternative two-piece versions of Moroccan kaftans are called Takchita and worn with a large belt. Kaftans can be worn on both casual and formal occasions, depending on the materials used.[8]

The West African kaftanEdit

In West Africa, a kaftan is a pullover robe. Kaftans are worn by both men and women. In West Africa, the female robe is called a kaftan, and the male robe is referred to as a Senegalese kaftan.

A Senegalese kaftan is a pullover men's robe with long bell like sleeves. In the Wolof language, this robe is called a mbubb and in French it is called a boubou. The Senegalese kaftan is an ankle length garment. It is worn with matching drawstring pants called tubay. Normally made of cotton brocade, lace, or synthetic fabrics, these robes are common throughout West Africa. A kaftan and matching pants is called a kaftan suit. The kaftan suit is worn with a kufi cap.[9] Senegalese kaftans are formal wear in all West African countries.

Other regional variationsEdit

Jewish children with a school teacher in Samarkand, wearing kaftans (circa 1910)


Persian kaftan robes of honour were commonly known as khalat or kelat.[10]


The Chassidic Jews adapted a silky robe (bekishe) or a frock coat (kapoteh) from the garb of Slavic nobility which was a type of kaftan. The term kapoteh may originate from the Spanish capote or possibly from "kaftan" via Ladino. Sephardic Jews from Muslim countries wore a kaftan similar to those of their neighbours.


In Russia the word "kaftan" is used for another type of clothing: a kind of a man's long suit with tight sleeves. The word "kaftan" was adopted from the Tatar language, which in turn borrowed the word from Turkish.[11] By the 19th century, Russian kaftans were the most widely spread type of outer clothing among peasants and merchants. Currently, they are used as ritual religious clothing by the most conservative sect of Old Believers.

The kaftan in Western countriesEdit

Americans returning from journeys on the hippie trail helped popularise the kaftan.

More recently the kaftan was introduced to the west in the 1890s when Alix of Hesse wore the traditional Russian kaftan during her coronation.[12] It resembled the ones worn by Ottoman sultans and was in contrast to the tight-fitting dresses with corsets common in England at that time.

The kaftan slowly gained popularity for its exoticism and as a form of looser-fitting clothing. French fashion designer Paul Poiret further popularised this style in the early 20th century.

In the 1950s, fashion designers such as Christian Dior and Balenciaga adopted the kaftan as a loose evening gown or robe in their collections.[13] These variations were usually sashless.

American hippie fashions of the late 1960s and the 1970s often drew from ethnic styles, including kaftans. These styles were brought to the United States from people who journeyed the so-called "hippie trail".[13] African-styled, kaftan-like dashikis were popular, especially among African-Americans. Street styles were appropriated by fashion designers, who marketed lavish, Moroccan-style kaftans as hostess gowns for casual at-home entertaining.

Diana Vreeland, Babe Paley, and Barbara Hutton all helped popularize the caftan into mainstream western fashion.[14] Into the 1970s, Elizabeth Taylor often wore kaftans designed by Thea Porter. In 1975 during her second wedding to Richard Burton, she wore a caftan designed by Gina Fratini.[15]

More recently in 2011, Jessica Simpson was photographed wearing kaftans during her pregnancy.[12] American fashion editor André Leon Talley has also worn kaftans designed by Ralph Rucci as one of his signature looks.[16] Beyoncé, Uma Thurman, Susan Sarandon, Kate Moss, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and Nicole Richie have all been spotted in kaftans.[17] Some brands like Willian by Keia Bounds have dedicated their 2015 Summer collections to kaftans.[18]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Sadberk Hanim Museum". Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  2. ^ IstanbulNet "Topkapi Museum: collection of Turkish textiles and kaftans". Retrieved 2009-10-09. 
  3. ^
  4. ^>
  5. ^ fr:Chedda de Tlemcen
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Cicero, Providence (2009-02-27). "Afrikando Afrikando Dishes up Great Food with a Side of Quirkiness". The Seattle Times. 
  10. ^ "CLOTHING xxvii. lexicon of Persian clothing – Encyclopaedia Iranica". Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  11. ^ Richard Hellie (15 June 1999). The Economy and Material Culture of Russia, 1600–1725. University of Chicago Press. p. 354. ISBN 978-0-226-32649-8. 
  12. ^ a b Hix, Lisa (17 July 2014). "Caftan Liberation: How an Ancient Fashion Set Modern Women Free". Collectors Weekly. Retrieved 16 January 2015. 
  13. ^ a b Annette Lynch; Mitchell D. Strauss (30 October 2014). Ethnic Dress in the United States: A Cultural Encyclopedia. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-0-7591-2150-8. 
  14. ^ Erika Stalder (1 May 2008). Fashion 101: A Crash Course in Clothing. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 13. ISBN 0-547-94693-7. 
  15. ^ Salamone, Gina (2 December 2011). "Elizabeth Taylor's prized possessions—ranging from diamonds to designer gowns—on view at Christie's before going on auction". NY Daily News. Retrieved 16 January 2015. 
  16. ^ Smith, Ray A. (9 October 2013). "An Emperor of Fashion". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 16 January 2015. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-07. Retrieved 2015-09-11.