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Appeal of the Caftan

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When did fashionable women start wearing caftans? What decade? Do you recall the first time you saw one in a fashion magazine, or on a celebrity?
I could imagine that the European heroines of Lesley Blanch’s book, “The Wilder Shores of Love,” wore caftans or some variation while living in the Middle East, especially Jane Digby el Mezrab. We’re talking about the mid-Victorian period. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Paris couturier Paul Poiret created loose-fitting tunics and robes that were probably inspired by Arabic dress, including caftans. I remember seeing very vivid caftans in American Vogue, but primarily in issues from the 1960s and 70s—the Vreeland era. Oscar de la Renta always made them for his clients.

Is there any place you can’t (or shouldn’t) wear a caftan?

Depending on the color, fabric and embellishment, and how you accessorize your caftan, I think you can wear them anywhere. Caftans can also be short and belted. So good for a more professional setting (though, again, depends on the type of work environment).

Caftans never seem to go out of style. What makes them timeless?

Caftans resist aging because, like Shaker furniture and the Chanel cardigan jacket, they have simple lines. They’re sort of unanswerably chic, perhaps because of all those visual associations with wild Victorians, bohemians, and jet-setters of the past. Also, they’re tasteful and practical, yet because they’re loose in cut, they imply the wearer is someone who doesn’t like to be controlled.

What’s the single most dramatic accessory a woman can pair with a caftan?

Because caftans are so simple, and a bit exotic, dramatic jewelry is the obvious accessory — something like the bronze and stone pieces that Lisa Eisner makes in Los Angeles.