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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 in a number of cultures around the world for thousands of years. In Russian usage, kaftan instead refers to a style of men's long suit with tight sleeves. Used by many Middle Eastern ethnic groups, the kaftan is ancient Mesopotamian in origin. It may be made of wool, cashmere, silk, or cotton, and may be worn with a sash.

Styles, uses, and names for the kaftan vary from culture to culture. The kaftan is often worn as a coat or as an overdress, usually having long sleeves and reaching to the ankles. In regions with a warm climate, it 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 sultans of the Ottoman Empire. Decoration on the garment, including colours, patterns, ribbons, and buttons, indicated the rank of the person who wore it. From the 14th century through the 17th century, textiles with large patterns were used. By the late 16th and early 17th centuries, decorative patterns on the fabrics had become smaller and brighter. By the second half of the 17th century, the most precious kaftans were those with 'yollu': vertical stripes with varying embroidery and small patterns – the 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]

North African kaftanEdit


The Ottoman Empire never extended its reach as far as Morocco, where a form of kaftan was in use for many years prior to that time. The kaftan was adapted and refashioned by Moroccan garment makers ("Maalem") during the Marinid dynasty, when it was worn by the region's royalty. It was later adopted by the wider public as a form of dress during the Saadi dynasty.[3]

From the beginning of the 13th century (around 600 in the Islamic calendar), the city of Fez was known for its textile factories, of which it had some 3,046 at that time.[4] The sultans of Morocco's Marinid dynasty sent a kaftan of brocade as a gift to each new Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, to be the first kaftan owned by the Ottoman Sultan.[5]

In modern-day Morocco, kaftans are principally 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 are worn with a large belt. The Takchita is also known as Mansouria, deriving from the name of Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur[6] who invented the new fashion of wearing a two-piece kaftan.

Historically, there are many styles of Moroccan kaftan, such as those worn in Tétouan, Fez, Rabat, Salé, and Marrakesh. They may be made of brocade, velvet, silk and many other fabrics.

Kaftans may be worn both on casual and on formal occasions, depending on the materials used.[7]

West African kaftanEdit

In West Africa, a kaftan is a pullover robe, worn by both men and women. The women's robe is called a kaftan, and the men's garment 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, and is worn with matching drawstring pants called tubay. Usually made of cotton brocade, lace, or synthetic fabrics, these robes are common throughout West Africa. A kaftan and matching pants are called a kaftan suit. The kaftan suit is worn with a kufi cap.[8] 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.[9]


Hasidic Jewish culture adapted a silky robe (bekishe) or frock coat (kapoteh) from the garb of Slavic nobility, which was itself 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.[citation needed]


In Russia, the word "kaftan" is used for another type of clothing: a style of men's long suit with tight sleeves. The word "kaftan" was adopted from the Tatar language, which in turn borrowed the word from Turkish.[10] By the 19th century, Russian kaftans were the most widespread type of outer clothing among peasants and merchants. Currently, they are used as ritual religious clothing by the most conservative sect of Old Believers.

Southeast AsianEdit

In Southeast Asia, the kaftan was originally worn by Arab traders, as seen in early lithographs and photographs from the region. Religious communities that formed as Islam became established later adopted this style of dress as a distinguishing feature, under a variety of names deriving from Arabic and Persian such as "jubah", a robe, and "cadar", a veil or chador.[11]

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] This garment resembled the kaftans worn by the Ottoman sultans, and was in contrast to the tight-fitting, corseted dresses common in England at that time.

The kaftan slowly gained popularity, for its exoticism and as a form of loose-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 inspiration from ethnic styles, including kaftans. These styles were brought to the United States by 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 popularise the caftan in mainstream western fashion.[14] Into the 1970s, Elizabeth Taylor often wore kaftans designed by Thea Porter. In 1975, for her second wedding to Richard Burton she wore a kaftan 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 seen wearing the style.[17] Some fashion lines have dedicated collections to the kaftan, one example being the Willian by Keia Bounds 2015 Summer Collection.[18]

For forward thinking fashion brands, Kaftans have been included as part of summer season lines for noted labels such as Roberto Cavalli, House Of Inoa Fashion and TheSwankStore which in turn has seen the kaftan dress gain popularity as a womenswear staple for those visiting tropical holiday destinations. Often made from silk & finished with crystals & beading embellishments on the neckline & back of the garments, the many and varied kaftan styles are often referred to as modern, luxury resortwear, with the term 'kaftans' making up a generic name, encompassing the style genre. Normally made with bright, colourful & unique print designs referencing traditional middle eastern & Indian cultures fused with on trend colour palettes & styles, these modern colourful outfits have begun to transcend use as resort only fashion items but as occasion wear items or as day to day wear,


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. ^ Algerians in Tetouan|الجزائريون في تطوان,p 127
  4. ^ حر, مغربي. "مدونة ثقافة المغرب: القفطان المغربي في الأندلس و خرافة القفطان العثماني".
  5. ^ The Historical Diplomacy Of Morocco|التاريخ الديبلوماسي للمغرب| Volume 7 page 226
  6. ^ Morocco in the era of the Saadi Dynasty|المغرب في عهد السعديين,p 305
  7. ^ "Traditional Clothing - Kaftan and Djellaba - Morocco Guide".
  8. ^ Cicero, Providence (2009-02-27). "Afrikando Afrikando Dishes up Great Food with a Side of Quirkiness". The Seattle Times.
  9. ^ "CLOTHING xxvii. lexicon of Persian clothing – Encyclopaedia Iranica". Retrieved 2013-09-29.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Maxwell, Robyn (2003). Textiles of Southeast Asia: Trade, Tradition and Transformation. Periplus Editions. p. 310. ISBN 978-0794601041.
  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. ^ "Caftan Liberation: How an Ancient Fashion Set Modern Women Free". Collectors Weekly.
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-07. Retrieved 2015-09-11.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)