What Is a Kaftan?

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What Is a Kaftan?

A kaftan is a long and loose dress that women in Pakistan, Persia, and select other middle eastern countries wear as traditional daily wear. Sometimes called a "caftan", the dress is long enough to cover the ankles for length, and each arm goes to the wrist. Made of various materials, a kaftan is an adaptation of the robe that covers the woman modestly and sometimes fashionably. Traditional kaftans cover Islamic women as per their tradition. However, modern kaftans have a more haute and sought after appeal for the masses and are crafted for sitting poolside, going on dates, or simply making a statement. Regardless of how the kaftan is made or worn, the woman wearing it is most likely comfortable since none of the fabric is skin tight or restrictive. Buying or making one's own kaftan can be a positive experience if one knows the history and purpose of the garment, as well as how to wear it appropriately.

History of the Kaftan

The earliest documented use of a kaftan dates back to the 14th century when men wore the garment daily. Although it became popular for women to wear several years later, the kaftan became more popular over time with several regions because of its versatility, age appropriateness, and its ability to fit all shapes and sizes. Often embroidered on the front and sleeves, traditional kaftans had strict rules in terms of the colours and patterns permitted. Certain colours, styles, and even buttons and ribbons indicated rank of the person wearing it. Although women have not been wearing a kaftan as long as their male counterparts, they have adapted to the garment for their purposes and styles.

Where to Wear a Kaftan

While the Ottoman Empire is long gone, the kaftan is still a staple for warmer climates in the Middle East and Baltic states, and around the world. The loose materials of a kaftan permit air flow and moderate temperature while still covering the individual from the sun and onlookers. So long as the temperature permits, a kaftan is best worn in hotter temperatures. Cooler temperatures may make the woman too cold in her kaftan.

Modern Kaftans

Although traditional kaftans flow to the floor and cover the length of the arm, modern kaftan adaptations are the length of a T-shirt and they may even have short sleeves. Wearing a kaftan in warmer climates is appropriate around the world and is not exclusive to the areas east of Greenwich Mean Time. Wearing a short-sleeved kaftan and a pair of shorts or a bathing suit under it is not uncommon in tropical temperatures or even cruise ships for holidays. Although some areas of the world still wear traditional long kaftans, the new or modern twist might be the inclusion of pockets, new fabrics, and new patterns along the sleeves and neckline when applicable.

Regal Kaftans

Some fancier kaftans have elaborate embroidery, ribbons, buttons, and materials. Kaftans of this stature are not suitable for poolside cocktails, and instead should be reserved for formal events. Although umpire and mermaid dresses might be trends for a season, the kaftan is timeless because of its relevance. Again only ideal for warmer climates, the kaftan should not be worn to winter galas in London, but rather a formal summer event or a holiday.

Accessorizing a Kaftan

Whether attending a formal event or a simple cocktail hour, accessories can elevate the ensemble. A dangling pair of earrings with either an updo or downward hairstyle brings attention to the face, but also the embroidery in the neckline of the garment. Cinching the waist with a belt detracts from the authenticity of the garment, so that is not the best way to appreciate the style. Alternatively, if small studs are worn in the ears, a detailed necklace also brings out the details of the neckline. Rather than a simple drop or stud on a necklace, something more intricate also pays tribute to the heritage and tradition of the garment. There is no rule to matching exactly or wearing a complimentary colour, as the accessory and colour are dependent on the confidence and colouring of the woman wearing it.

Shoes to Wear with a Kaftan

Traditional shoes from the 14th century might be simple leather slip-ons or sandals. The kaftan is typically long enough to cover the feet, but not too long that the woman trips over it. For regal or elaborate and formal kaftans the shopper can wear sandals with a heel on them to alter her height, gait, and presence. If the kaftan is worn on a holiday or casually around the house the shopper can wear sandals or even wear nothing so as to remain comfortable. Heels in general add an air of glamour, as opposed to a flat sandal, and they also accessorize the dress from the bottom, as opposed to the top as a necklace or earrings would.

How to Make a Kaftan

Making a kaftan is not a terribly difficult task if one omits the detailed embroidery and keeps the design simple.

Select comfortable feeling fabric that is 120 to 160 centimetres in width, or less if the woman is petite. After folding the material in half it should be placed on a hard surface to smooth out any wrinkles. A neck measurement should be taken loosely to ensure the neck fits through the opening of the garment. This measurement equates to the cut made for the neckline in the centre of the folded fabric. Once the neckline is cut, the fabric should be smoothed out once again and starting at the opposite edge of the folded side, the material should be pinned together every 2 centimetres or so, until about 10 centimetres from the top for the sleeves. Once the sides are pinned, they can be sewn by hand or by sewing machine. Adding sequins or other embellishments can elevate the allure of the garment.

Kaftan Fabric and Composition

Kaftan composition and material differ by region, purpose, and even generations and era. If the buyer is looking to purchase a kaftan from the Ottoman era, one would consider garments made of kemha, seraser, and zerbaft. Kemha had a silk warp and weft and had designs of silver or gold thread. The seraser also had a silk warp and weft of silver and gold thread. Lastly, the zerbaft was perhaps the most precious of Ottoman silk fabrics, because its silk brocade had designs of gold thread. If garments inspired by the Ottoman Empire are far out of reach, then traditional kaftan fabrics are suitable for most demographics and geographies. Polyester, cotton, composite silk, and blends are most common in modern day kaftans. Embroidery is saved for once the kaftan is created, although some designs have simple threading that moves through the garment because it is part of the initial fabric design and not necessarily the manufactured design.

How to Buy a Kaftan on eBay

Searching for a kaftan or kaftan materials can be a difficult experience if you do not know what to look for or how to purchase intelligently. Browsing on eBay is a good place to start because there is no pressure of a shop owner or peddler to buy anything. Further, you can browse hundreds of vendors in the comfort of your own home. The variety and assortment of fabrics, lengths, designs, embellishments, and even necklines are intended to pique the interest of the onlooker while providing options.

How to Search for Kaftans on eBay

Typing in the style or even fabric of your desired kaftan in the search bar on any eBay web page is the first step to your search. Once you click "enter" the site will bring you to a page of options. If your search is general then more options will arise, but if it is specific, only a few listings will be presented for you. You can search by price, geography, and colour.

Seller Feedback

When browsing items you might notice a ribbon next to the listings. The ribbon denotes the sellers' reputation and it lets onlookers know at a glance that sellers are reputable and that they have a positive feedback rating on eBay. After each transaction the buyer is encouraged to provide feedback, regardless if it is positive or negative. The feedback ensures the sellers know what they are doing well and what they can improve on.


Regal or simple, silk or cotton, kaftans are comfortable through and through. They are timeless but adaptable and are worn by women across the globe. Each region of the Middle East has their own interpretation of the garment and how to dress it up or wear it, but it is individual preference and confidence that truly makes the kaftan an individual experience. The flowing material assists in preventing the woman from becoming too warm yet does not force her to remove the garment because it is too hot. Although initially designed for men, women now wear an adaptation of this popularized garment that helps them express individuality while being comfortable. Making your own kaftan is simple and to the point, or you can purchase a more elaborate and formal kaftan from an online retailer like eBay. There is no rule as to how the kaftan is styled or accessorised, so the options and outfits are endless.

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