HOW TO ROCK: Sweet Summer Caftan Style

The caftan is a magical, elegant, flowing garment made of luscious printed cotton or silk which instantly transforms the wearer into a truly ethereal creature.

Jun 18, 2012 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

I hosted a dinner party at my house recently, and I knew exactly what I wanted to wear to it even before I put the invitations in the mail.  (Yes, by "host a dinner party," I mean "called a caterer.")  

It’s highly unusual that I am instantly sure of what I feel like wearing anywhere, as I am constantly changing my mind and never know who I will want to be on any given day.

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The lighting in my bathroom is quite nice.

It's hard to tell from this photo, but I wore a floor length, bat wing sleeve caftan.  

Caftans are magical, elegant, flowing garments made of luscious printed cotton or silk that instantly transform the wearer into a truly ethereal creature.  The caftan originated in Mesopotamia in about 600 B.C. but didn’t take America by storm until a full 2,566 years later, in the 1960’s, and then only thanks to the suggestion of legendary Vogue magazine editor Diana Vreeland, the original “Devil Who Wore Prada.”  (She actually wore Elsa Schiaparelli, but you see what I’m getting at.)  

I have absolutely no idea what I want to be when I grow up, but I am definitely leaning towards Talitha Getty, doomed wife of John Paul Getty Jr., and major caftan wearer. 

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Talitha in Marrakesh, 1969. Photo by Patrick Lichfield.

Not the part where she died of a heroin overdose in 1971 -- the part where she swanned around Moroccan rooftops and other glamorous European locales wearing dreamy caftans.

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Sharon Tate. (EDIT: you are not Talitha! You are Sharon Tate! Thanks drsunkentits.)

Talitha’s style all starts with the caftan. It provides the straight-up drama that no garment can match. 

Elizabeth Taylor was also a big caftan wearer.  When her clothes went up for auction at Christie's late last year, the prices her caftans fetched blew everyone away.

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Elizabeth Taylor's wedding caftan, by Gina Fratini.

This Gina Fratini caftan that Taylor wore to her 2nd wedding to Richard Burton sold for $62,500.  What does it say about me that one of my big dreams in life is to amass a clothing collection worthy of being auctioned off after my death? Please don’t tell me, I’m afraid I already know.

People scoff when I suggest they try to rock a caftan, but it is absolutely possible to wear one without looking like Mrs. Roper. (Don’t get me wrong -- Mrs. R is a style icon in her own right.  But she favored the Hawaiian muumuu, a hot look I promise I am going to cover very soon.)  The caftan is a far more chic version of a muumuu.  

The only problem with wearing a caftan is that they are usually blazingly expensive, as the amazing ones are made by people like Roberto Cavalli and Emilio Pucci.

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Left, Emilio Pucci caftan, $1093.00.  Right, Roberto Cavalli caftan, $1625.00.

This is because they are almost always made out of silk, in custom patterns designed specifically by the fashion house that made them. 

A whole lot of Internet scouring by yours truly turned up some adorable, affordable (mostly silky polyester) caftan options.

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Rachel Roy caftan, $149.00, Macy's.com.

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INC printed caftan, $75.00, Macy's.com.

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Left, Paisley caftan, $79.99, Accessorize.com.  Right, Tiger print caftan, $34.95, Amazon.com.

This main thing that separates a caftan from a muumuu is some sort of cinching at the waist.  If you happen upon a caftan option that doesn’t have a cinched waist, just slap a belt on the damn thing and call it a day. A silky rope belt is best. It adds that “I casually bought this at an open air market in Marrakesh” feeling that caftans embody.

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You can literally buy this in the drapery department of any fabric store!

Some of xoJane's petite readers are going to squawk here and say that they are too short to wear a caftan.  I say, look up Mary Kate Olsen + Nicole Ritchie IMMEDIATELY for proof otherwise.  

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Nicole and Mary Kate. Two of my most fave fashionable babes.

The short caftan is also a good option for le petite babes -- it just has to have long, sweeping, dramatic sleeves that could be dragged through the soup course, and you are good to go.

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Clockwise from top left: Turquoise caftan, $275.00, UrbanOutfitters.com. Color block caftan, $14.95, Ashro.com. Zebra caftan, $284.00, SwankAtlanta.com. Rainbow caftan, $34.95, Amazon.com.

A lot of caftans are sold as swimsuit cover-ups, and are therefore sheer. This is no problem -- all you need to do to wear one as a dress is to add a slip underneath.  Does anyone even remember slips?  They still sell them at glam places like JC Penney.  

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Left, Adjustable slip, $18.00.  Right, Black shaper slip, $30.00. JCPenney.com

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Left, Half slip, $25.00.  Right, Slip shorts, $12.00. JCPenney.com.

Every girl should own the wardrobe of slips shown above.  They would eradicate almost 70 percent of all "wardrobe malfunctions."  I own and wear the slip shorts shown above all the time. Man, the undergarments every girl should own is a post in its own right.   

I understand some of you are loathe to be seen in public wearing flat shoes, but I think that in order to really pull off the casual-fab vibe a caftan is throwing out there, you simply must wear colorful or jeweled flats.

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Top: Steve Madden jeweled sandal, $89.00.  Bottom: Nine West beaded sandal, $79.00.

In order to achieve maximum Elizabeth Taylor-ness, you should also accessorize with some pretty serious jewels.  If you don’t have a Richard Burton in your life, don’t fret --glittery costume jewelry is everywhere right now, and I would know, because I’m a professional magpie.

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Clockwise from top left: Kenneth Jay Lane bracelet, $300.00. Black/gold necklace, $10.80. Turquoise/rhinestone earrings, $132.00. Cross necklace, $5.80.

You may be sitting at your computer thinking “This dumb broad has totally misspelled ‘caftan’, it’s KAFTAN!” Au contraire, my loves. I researched it before writing this, and both spellings are in fact correct.

The dolman or bat wing sleeves of a caftan don’t really allow you to carry a purse with a strap on the shoulder.  Carry a swanky clutch instead:

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Clockwise from top left: Patterned clutch, $30.00.  Green clutch, $95.00. Blue satin clutch, $78.00. Black clutch with skulls, $32.99.  

A caftan looks so purrrrrfect at a dinner party you are hosting, a garden party, a baby shower, or even a wedding.  You can slink around with a martini in your hand and not worry about holding your stomach in. Plus, you probably don’t technically need to wear underwear.  (For the record, I own LOTS of underwear.  I just feel the need to point out the times when you can do without.)

There you have it, chickadees -- you can be transformed into a slinky, glamorous, caftan-wearing creature without sacrificing an ounce of comfort. Go forth and be fab. 

XO,

Alison

Twitter: @IveyAlison