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Once upon a time, likely in ancient Mesopotamia, caftans appeared, stitched into existence by clever fingers whose nameless owners would never know what a gift they were giving the world. These loose, long, robe-like garments kept people in hot climates looking elegant and feeling cool. Later, starting in the 1950s, high-couture houses like Dior and Halston brought their own wildly patterned, colorful caftans to life, quickly elevating a lazing-around-the-house look to one of effortless glamour.

Caftans then reigned supreme in Western fashion, treating the public’s eyes to sights like Elizabeth Taylor, swishing through life, her silhouette swathed in gorgeously draped, embellished caftans, and dripping in jewels. From models to moms, everyone wore caftans. And then they were forgotten, for the most part. Fashion moved on and caftans were pushed to the backs of closets until all the moms donated them in the 1980s.

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And that’s how I got them. Ever since I was old enough to drive myself to thrift stores, I’ve always bought every caftan I could find, one by one, whether it was a ruffled rainbow cotton number or a gauzy, see-through, rhinestone-encrusted design. Caftans are glamorous. Caftans remain staunchly gender-neutral. Caftans can be belted, dressed up or down, and worn at any time and for any occasion. You can wear one to the pool, or the beach, or a fancy event. You can wear one to Pride, or a Zoom meeting, or to host a party. I even got pandemic-married in a caftan!

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Algerian woman wearing a caftan, 19th century

Everywhere you go, every time you wear a caftan, people will scream-compliment you. You will be as comfortable as if you were in your own pajamas, and yet you will look like a draped Roman goddess who put thought and care into an ensemble. You’ll make airy, sweeping gestures, your voluminous sleeves accentuating your every move, and people’s eyes will follow, mesmerized by the drama of your caftan.

 Caftans are whirling back around on the merry-go-round of fashion trends. André Leon Talley has always known. Meryl Streep wears one in The Post. Tilda Swinton wears one in The French Dispatch. Rihanna’s been spotted wearing one; so have Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, and Priyanka Chopra. And now it’s time for you to feel the joy of wearing literally nothing (or shorts! Or a swimsuit!) underneath a whole-ass outfit you can wear–and look fabulous in—anywhere. –Krista Burton

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The author on her wedding day    

Embrace the Caftan Life

1. Liz Blu Caftan, $138, jennafergracecollection.com.

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2. Embroidered Caftan Dress, $420, mananaua.etsy.com.

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3. Madam Emerald Kaftan, $595, juliaclancey.com.

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4. kaftan maxi dress, $75, thundertextile.com.

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5. Yellow Kimono Dress Kaftan, $54, museodesign.etsy.com.

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6. Kaa Tassel Hot Pink Maxi Caftan, $292, wolfandbadger.com.

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 photos: (top) Liz taylor ScreenProd / Photononstop / Alamy Stock Photo; photo:  (1) courtesy of jennafer grace collection; (2) Manana UA;  (3) julia@juliaclancey.com;   (4) courtesy of Thunder textile (5) museo design; 6) KITTEN from Wolf & Badger

 

This article originally appeared in BUST's Summer 2022 print edition. Subscribe today!

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