What to Wear: The Caftan Edition

It’s getting autumnal in New York City, and I’m in my glory. 

I love fall for all that it embodies. Boots. Chunky knits. Tights. It’s a glorious time of year when we can take a bit of cover and get cozy. But if you, like me, love the easy breeze of summer dressing and are also ready to own your queendom, may I suggest a caftan?

I’m not sure if it’s just me, but my desire to wear uber-girly clothes left my body around 2010 when I turned 40, and a caftan is perfect for those looking for something feminine but not trite. There is a grown-up femininity to a flowy frock that makes me feel mighty real. A psychic once told me that I need to wear things that feel flowy and loose to stay grounded and, to me, anything tight or constricting gives me anxiety. So caftans are a way to feel elevated yet comfortable. And yes, they are forgiving and accommodate all shapes and sizes.

And as I watched And Just Like That, I admired this striped caftan from Marrakshi Life that SJP sported in an episode, and I have been obsessed with it ever since. There’s just something about the effortless chic of a caftan that aligns with my style values. And now, a bit of history.

According to FIT’s Fashion History Timeline, the kaftan (also caftan) is an ancient garment, which originated in ancient Persia but then spread across Central and Western Asia. It is a kind of robe or tunic worn by both men and women.”

Vogue Arabia notes that “Kaftan is a Persian word, while the garment style is believed to have originated in Ancient Mesopotamia. The Ottoman sultans from the 14th to the 18th centuries wore lavishly decorated kaftans; they were also given as rewards to important dignitaries and generals. It can be made from almost any fabric; most are made of silk, wool, or cotton and are often bound with a sash. Primarily worn in hot climates, the kaftan’s loose silhouette helps proper ventilation, therefore lowering the body temperature (though Russians have a similar garment also called a kaftan made of fur).”

According to the same article, the kaftan had a moment in the 19th century when an interest in foreign, exotic lands took Europe by storm. Still, it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that designers like Dior and Balenciaga interpreted the trend, which became eponymous for jet-set chic.

This brings me to my favorite era of fashion (and caftans), the ’70s (shortly followed by the ’90s). No other period suited sybaritic style like the glam days of the ’70s. Halston led the way and, if you were a well-heeled woman about town in the ’70s, you most likely owned a caf. I love that it could quickly go hippie dippy like Talitha Getty in Morocco or opulent glam like those worn by Liz Taylor, a caftan icon. That perfect rich boho look is the ultimate aspiration. Think Yves St. Laurent in Marrakech. Or Marisa Berenson at Studio 54. Or Bianca Jagger anywhere. Trust me, I think of these things far too often. It’s on an endless loop of cooler than cool in my style-obsessed brain. Also, let’s not forget about Rhoda. As in Morgenstern. Because, as much as I loved Mary Tyler Moore, I am far more a Rhoda than a Mary. 

Sure, there’s a Mrs. Roper quality, and you can get wacky if you want. But I think of the caftan as more Studio 54 than Three’s Company, too. But you do you. And a one-shouldered caftan? Don’t get me started. It is the chicest darn thing, especially for a formal occasion. Should you ever see me wearing this, call the authorities; I’ve robbed a bank to scratch my Tom Ford-caftan itch.

Oh, and quick note: the spelling of “caftan” vs “kaftan” is up to you because both are correct. According to Ocean + Main, who makes one hell of a k/caftan, “The ‘K’ version can be traced back thousands of years to Turkish Mesopotamia and the word ‘kap ton,’ which translates to ‘covering garment.’ ”

I also love how the caftan is terrific for more modest women, and I like showing less and feeling “more” as I get older. For many women in my age group, there is much talk about not caring anymore about how you look, but I don’t buy that. It’s not about not caring about my appearance but about not caring what anyone thinks. And that, my friends, is what I call CAFTAN CONFIDENCE, or BCE, aka BIG CAFTAN ENERGY. For instance, Rachel Zoe has big caftan energy. As does J. Lo, Kris Jenner, and Beyoncé. So, with a few fall gatherings top of mind, I needed to find a look or two and I wanted something one and done.

On a sunny Brooklyn Saturday, I set out for Williamsburg to chat with Katherine Fernandez, the Caftaness in Chief over at The Brooklyn Botanica. I first discovered her very cool caftans through my very cool hair stylist and have been hanging on her every piece of fabric ever since.

Katherine Fernandez of The Brooklyn Botanica in the blue caftan on the right.

Fernandez, 42, is Colombian American and a native New Yorker. She sources and manufactures all of her pieces in Colombia. Her fabric is mostly deadstock or leftover surplus, so I love how her pieces are more sustainable. A warm spirit, Fernandez is tiny and came in sporting a belted, Gucci-like printed caftan and boots, and it looked so chic. She is inspired by the style of the ’70s and her own grandmother’s colorful approach to dress back in Colombia.  

Since caftans are somewhat synonymous with resort- and warm weather-dressing, I wanted to give you a caftan clinic on how to style that loose and lovely look that goes beyond the bathing suit.

So here’s how to caftan all year round:

Belt it. I love how Fernandez’s caftans often have a belt to cinch in the waist and provide more shape. I dig a belted look with a blazer over it or a fuzzy faux fur vest. 

This vintage caftan would be fabulous with a belt and a vest.

Boot it. If you add a stiletto boot or a suede scrunch boot to a caftan, you have quite the looky lou and serve instant fall-fever vibes.

Layer it. I love putting a snug black turtleneck underneath a caf like this to ground the look. Add a pair of flared jeans and some boots, and it’s a bangin’ look.

Accessorize it. This is where the fun is. I love dressing up a caftan with big earrings, a layered necklace, or double-wristed cuffs like the iconic ones from Elsa Peretti for Tiffany, or go big with something Verdura-inspired. Hello, gorgeous. Careful not to upstage the bride.

Pack it. As someone who overpacks, I love things that fold up small. If you throw a couple of caftans into your Rimowa, you are packing smart and can take that look from dawn to dusk to debauchery. This in every color. On repeat.

As for a fall wedding, how INSANE is this from Fil de Vie or this similar look from Nili Lotan found on eBay? Or wouldn’t this vintage YSL number be incredible with gold platform heels and jewelry to match?

Regardless of your style, a caftan is for women of a certain age who care enough to look unique and effortless but also want to glide across the room comfortably. I love how it’s often thought of as a hostess look, but the whole world is our house, darlings, and we live here and wear what we want.

And because I love you all, if you purchase a caftan from Brooklyn Botanica, use the code “SHERI” and take 20 percent off. Her prices are so reasonable already, so this is a score. She’s even doing velvet for the holidays, so watch her site closely. With so many trends coming and going, caftancore is my new favorite (coined by yours truly) for those who are no longer babes in the woods but queens of our lives. XO

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *