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The history of the Kaftan

Anita Pallenberg Bianca Jagger caftan caftans history kaftan Talitha Getty

History of the Kaftan

June 16, 2019

Since we are in love with the kaftan also would like to know more about its history and its origin. First, this review does not cover the whole picture; the history of the kaftan goes far back, so below you will find a few parts that we have selected.
Kaftan is a Persian word. A kaftan is usually a narrow cut long robe with full sleeves, either with a deep open neck or fully open to the front, and sometimes buttoned. In Europe and North America, “kaftan” has become the catchall term in fashion for any kind of loose-fitting robe or tunic, often used to describe a number of different garments of Middle Eastern and North African origin.
The kaftan is believed to have originated in ancient Mesopotamia and its popularity quickly spread across the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman sultans wore caftans and the richly decorated garments indicated the wearer´s status. When Moroccan judges started wearing kaftans it became a symbol of power. In fact, more or less every culture throughout history has had its version of a loose-fitting kaftan-like garment. 

The portrait above shows Alexandra, Queen Victoria´s granddaughter, in the coronation dress she was wearing when she was installed as Czarina 1894. Alexandra was a royal style icon when she appeared in long straight and heavily embellished dresses and she definitely sparked an interest when wearing garments influenced by other cultures. Above all, she sparked an interest in a looser silhouette, radically different from the waist-clinching corset and curve-hugging dresses that were fashionable in England at the time. Her kaftan coronation gown influenced fashion in the western world, but only a few people at the time was wearing authentic kaftans, bought during travels or expedition.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, kaftan styles began appearing in designs by Christian Dior and Balenciaga – as a form of loose-fitting evening gown that could be beaded, in silk fabric or heavily patterned synthetic fabric.

Balenciaga´s loose silhouette Trapeze-dress


Marella Agnelli, Truman Capote´s Black and White Ball 1966


Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech

Mid 1960s American Vogue, with its editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland, described the kaftan as an essential garment for everyone how wants to look like or are a member of the jet set. She embraced travelling and garments from other cultures. During her years at Vogue, she sent models and photographers off to different places, among one was Marrakech, to shoot them in kaftans.

Yves Saint Laurent, who visited Marrakech in 1968 became enamoured with the colours, textiles and sensuality of Moroccan culture, and started to wear kaftans himself. Above all Yves Saint Laurent designed kaftans to his friends, amongst them Talitha Getty, one of the most well-known jet set-personalities at the time. Other designers followed with their own versions of the caftan. Jackie Kennedy, Bianca Jagger, Anjelica Huston and Brigitte Bardot were photographed in caftans at the time. The rise of the caftan had a lot to do with pushing the boundaries for what women could wear and when as the kaftan allowed women to wear comfortable clothing in public.

Talitha Getty with her husband the playboy John Paul Getty Jr. wearing kaftans on the terrace of their holiday house in Marrakech. An iconic image from 1969.

By the end of the 1960s, fashion and music became one unit. The “free love and rock n' roll” generation loved the kaftan and wore it day and night. As opposed to the 1950s designs where the kaftans design by Dior and Balenciaga was made of heavy silk fabric, kaftans at the end of the '60s are made from diaphanous, flowing material.


Talitha Getty


Bianca Jagger


Anita Pallenberg, actress and muse of The Rolling Stones

We find design history so interesting! How a garment can change meaning and design over time due to changing trends and ideals.

We are curious, what do you prefer, a kaftan that can be open at the front or not? Shall it have short or long sleeves? Please tell us!


Love from,

Agneta & Beata

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  • CArol aNn on

    Love the long ones I wear them everyday when I get home ❤️

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