Why Your Grandmother's Kaftan Will Never Go Out of Style

And no, it's not a mumu!

Vogue 1936 Models on Diving Board
Vogue 1936 Models. Photo: Toni Frissell / Contributor

While they have ancient roots dating back to Mesopotamia, kaftans catapulted to fashion popularity in the 1960s thanks to fashion houses such as Dior and Balenciaga. These couture clothiers found inspiration in dreamy and elusive destinations such as Morocco and Turkey where loose-fitting yet meticulously draped and climate appropriate garments were a daily, centuries-old choice for women and men. Come 1966, Vogue had declared the kaftan an essential piece of clothing, and by the end of the decade and well into the 1970s, kaftans were in their heyday.

Slim Aarons' photography of mod Palm Beach residents wearing kaftans and sipping cocktails next to their grandiose pools or by their larger-than-life yachts are seared into history and minds. And today, they're making a comeback. Sure, a kaftan looks great over a bathing suit as a swim coverup, but add a pair of heels and some chunky jewelry, and they're the definition of simple sophistication. There's a reason these plain silhouettes have stood the test of time. Besides being comfy and roomy, they remain one of the smartest dress styles to date.

Kaftans are noticeable thanks to their long, loose shape. In fact, in many cases, only the label indicates the front or the back, and you can often get away just slipping it over your head regardless of direction. Their sleeves can be any length, but today's modern styles typically hit just above the elbow, elongating the body and drawing the eye throughout the entire look. They're effortless elegance, and not to mention, incredibly comfortable, too.

Sarah Lawler, the Atlanta-based kaftan designer behind Tela Luxury Mercantile says you don't have to be wearing several pieces of clothing to look great, "Kaftans are amazing because they're a one-stop shop. You just throw it on, and you look fabulous." That ease makes them ideal for travel, too. A kaftan folds into a neat, flat square. Who doesn't love a more compact suitcase?!

If you've stumbled upon a vintage kaftan, you're sitting on a piece of solid fashion gold. Lawler says to modernize the classic cut of 60s and 70s pieces with accessories. "For me, the shoe is very important. You can wear a sneaker, a platform sandal, or a clog," she says. Add a belt to cinch the waist or make your kaftan all-weather appropriate by throwing a denim jacket or vintage fur over your shoulders.

In the market for a contemporary kaftan of your own? Look for colors or even fabrics that separate a style from those of the past. "I've been experimenting with sheer fabrics and adding a slip that flows away from the body. I've started to make some shorter, so you can wear a boot or bootie, too."

One of the greatest perks of a kaftan is that it is truly flattering for any shape, and Lawler's line is specifically designed to be size inclusive. "The draping of the silhouette is so elegant that it really looks great on any size person," she says. A kaftan's effortlessness is one of the many reasons it remains a go-to choice for every woman's closet. "It's one piece of clothing, yet because of the way that it's draped, when you walk in a room, there's no way someone's not going to look at you." And that's a very good thing.

Vogue editor, Southern gentleman, and fashion icon André Leon Talley was known for wearing kaftans throughout his career. He famously said, "Kaftans are my wellness retreat in terms of my daily, individual style. Do they hide the worst human flaws? Yes! Are they elegant? Yes!" In fact, he even once joked that he be cremated in one of his kaftans. If that's not proof that these dresses are the peak of chic, what is?

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