Coming back from one of her trips to Marrakech in the 50s, Diana Vreeland, Vogue America’s former iconic editor discovered this key piece and turned it into a fashion statement. Since then, the kaftan has become part of the West’s history of fashion design and every woman has wanted one.
Yves Saint Laurent also fell in love with this amazing item making special creations for his American clients. Amongst them all: Talitha Getty, ex-wife of the hippie-chic John Getty Jr, who was photographed wearing it on the top of a Marrakech terrace in the 1960s. During the 70s Mia Farrow, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell would wear a Kaftan as a symbol of the Summer of Love along with long hair, ethnic necklaces, and psychedelic mood prints. Then, the kaftan became part of the jet-set style: even Marella Agnelli, Jackie Kennedy e Lee Radziwill (who was also photographed in the ottoman-styled room of her London flat with this versatile item on) had one.
An Evergreen Icon
The kaftan, a very long tunic with flared sleeves, was born in Persia around 1600. Enhanced with embroidery and jewels, and eventually paired up with trousers, it soon became the favourite dress in the king’s courts during the 1800s.
If there is a piece of clothing, other than jeans, that has never been out of fashion it is the kaftan itself. Versatile, made in lace or chiffon, striped, polka-dotted, paisley printed, with floral drawings or in animalier style, with slits and embroidery, half-length or well-tailored, this must-have piece of clothing it is an ingenious garment, indeed. So clever, that every brand along the years has interpreted it in their own way. For instance, in 2011, Michael Kors made a kaftan in a leopard printed voile turning it into a best seller.
My Precious Memories
For me, being born in 1968, the kaftan is a picture of my mum on the beach wearing it with a turban, like the way it used to be, including high wedge shoes. It takes me back to those times of al fresco glam parties in which my mum used to enhance her style with plenty of sparkling bracelets, shiny lipstick and flat sandals.
Once, I found her collection of kaftans in her wardrobe: what a precious symbol of those good times from the past. When I first saw them, they seemed to be costumes from a different era, but then when I started to write about fashion I looked at them in a different light: a vintage item to treasure. I also found an incredible turquoise Emilio Pucci kaftan with wide bat-style sleeves hidden in her closet.
Style Me Pretty
The kaftan is such an incredible evergreen item you can wear it in town or on the beach and you can pair it in so many ways: with belts, bracelets, wedges, sandals, either in a casual or luxury style. You can wear it by day or by night if well accessorised. Thrown over a pair of wide legs pants for the office, or over jeans for a day of shopping, or even with your swimsuit, the kaftan is perfect anytime. Easy to pack in your case and a great last-minute style solver when needed it.
The kaftan gives you a sense of freedom for being light and airy. But at the same time, it covers every inch of your body. Now, that I am 50, I appreciate it even more. It allows me to play with style while gently disguising my body when I can’t count on my svelte figure. I wear it, for example, when I sometimes need to hide a slightly swollen tummy or even at home, when I invite some friends over and I want to add a touch of boho-chic look to my style. And also when I need to rely on a friendly and yet trustworthy garment like only the kaftan can be.
It’s my passe-partout item when – like many of us- I don’t know what to wear. I think Jennifer Lopez, 49, is the star who has worn it the best. She always knows how to make it sexy and yet very interesting. Not forgetting the infamous Versace transparent kaftan with the tropical pattern she wore for the Grammy Awards: with a deep neckline and tightened around her waist.
Ok, it was for a red carpet occasion but I understood one thing: a jewelled or a silver micro belt are the best way to highlighting a kaftan. Try wearing it and see for yourself.
Michaela K. Bellisario is a best-selling author and lifestyle journalist for Io Donna, the weekly women’s magazine of Corriere della Sera the most influential Italian National Newspaper. She has recently focused her work on ageing and midlife issues and has written eight books. The latest one, coming out this October, is “Felici a 50 anni” (Morellini Editore), a guide on how to experience and enjoy midlife at its best, written with Claudia Rabellino Becce.