We all have staples in our closet. They are the pieces we reach for when you don't know what to wear or when we want to impress someone. They’re the pieces that you know make you look and feel good. We think the traditional Moroccan kaftan dress is one of these pieces. It’s a silhouette that is universally flattering and easy to style for any occasion. While we’re used to seeing the kaftan dress in exquisite fabrics like silk, it has been a staple in Western fashion since the late 50s. We’re going to take a deep dive into the history of the Moroccan kaftan dress and show you why it deserves a permanent place in your closet.
The History of the Moroccan Kaftan Dress
Most people think of the Moroccan kaftan as the pinnacle of bohemian chic, but its heritage is far more interesting than that. Before the kaftan became synonymous with Morocco, it was worn by Ottoman sultans from the 14th century onward as a status symbol that was often garnished with lavish embellishments. The word ‘Kaftan’ has Persian origins, reflecting the Middle Eastern heritage of the garment. The original kaftan dresses were made using materials cotton, cashmere, silk, and wool, depending on the climate. These kaftans were completed with a sash and became a traditional style of garment for high society, including ambassadors and dignitaries.
The traditional Moroccan kaftan dress became popular in the 16th century and was made using silk and expensive fabrics. This style has once again entered the public consciousness thanks to Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Salma, who has worn the traditional Moroccan kaftan to several international royal events. The pink and gold kaftan that she wore to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011 won her a place on several best dress lists. The cream Moroccan kaftan she wore to King Willem-Alexander’s inauguration in 2013 saw her voted as the best dressed by the Hello! Magazine’s readers.
The New Runway Staple
The kaftan first broke into mainstream fashion in the 1950s as a looser-fitting dress to be worn during the summer months. The popularity of the kaftan rose during the 60s and 70s as Western-style became more casual, with comfort starting to play a role in defining trends.
The appearance of the kaftan on the runways of Paris and London are now unusual. Christian Dior and Balenciaga included the silhouette in the runway collections during the 60s. As the fashion industry looks to the past for inspiration, it’s no surprise to see the Moroccan kaftan making a reappearance. Everyone from stay-at-home mothers to globetrotters embracing the bohemian lifestyle adopted the kaftan as a closet staple in the 70s.
Kaftans were given a contemporary update in 1996 when Tom Ford shortened the length for his Spring 1996 collection for Gucci. This collection inspired other designers to reimagine the silhouette for the modern woman. In recent years, Elie Saab has used his ready-to-wear collections at Paris Fashion Week to unveil his ladylike interpretation of the traditional Moroccan kaftan.
You can now walk into almost any luxury fashion house and find a kaftan amongst their ready to wear collections. Gucci continues to use the style, with full-length cotton kaftans and shorter, more contemporary styles. You can also see the Morrocan kaftan in the collection of Dolce & Gabbana, who brings the idea of ‘la dolce vita’ to this traditional garment by using silk-chiffon and a floral print.
How To Style a Moroccan Kaftan Dress
When you think of this dress, the first thing that pops into your mind is probably the formal, wedding guest appropriate kaftans. In fact, most of the kaftans that you see now are casual pieces that you can wear every day. They’re the perfect alternative to a figure-hugging maxi dress when you want to have style without compromising on comfort. You can even find this type of kaftan in major retailers, a testament to how popular the silhouette has become in recent years.
While silk kaftans are usually kept for special occasions, like weddings and milestone celebrations, these cotton alternatives are ideal for everyday wear. You can choose how you want to style these more casual kaftans, as the right accessories can help elevate the outfit.
If you want to wear it for a meal out at a restaurant or for a trip to the theatre during the summer, you can show off a pair of heels under your kaftan. As the kaftan isn’t a floor-length garment, it’s the perfect piece to wear with heels. If you want to keep it more casual, try a pair of leather sandals. For a more contemporary look, you can finish off your casual kaftan with oversized sunglasses and a floppy hat to block out the sun.
With a traditional Moroccan kaftan dress, you have a world of possibilities for styling. Most formal kaftan dresses feature gold detailing, making it the perfect opportunity to show off your favourite dramatic jewellery pieces. You can balance out the intricate detailing in your Moroccan kaftan with oversized drop earrings and a statement necklace. For formal occasions, wear your kaftan with stilettoes of a comfortable height or with elevated sandals.
As the kaftan has long-sleeves, it’s a personal choice whether you want to wear a bracelet stack as well. Wearing your hair up can help draw the eye to the detailing around the neckline of your kaftan, letting every little detail have its moment to shine.
Whether you’re someone with a full social calendar of formal events, or if you like to keep your look casual, there is a Moroccan kaftan out there for you. It’s a wardrobe that has stood the test of time and gives you an instantly elegant look. With a traditional Moroccan kaftan dress in your wardrobe, you’ll be ready for anything that life throws at you.
How do you like to wear a kaftan? Are you a fan of the traditional Moroccan kaftan, or do you prefer the more casual, contemporary style?