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How to style a Kaftan with Desi swag

A sneak-peak on what is Indian Kaftan and some expert tips on styling it the Indian way

(Image: Ajrakh Kaftan from The Loom Studio)

Kaftans have been an influence on Indian Fashion diaspora for a long time, and they continue to be a popular choice for both casual and formal wear. Originally worn by both men and women in the Middle East and Central Asia, the Kaftan was brought to India by the invading Persian and Mughal rulers. Over time, it has evolved to reflect the unique style and culture of India.

One of the key features of Indian Kaftans is their versatility. They can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion. A simple cotton Kaftan can be worn to the beach or for a casual outing, while a more elaborate silk or chiffon Kaftan is perfect for weddings, parties, or other formal events. They are a great option for women who prefer loose, comfortable clothing.

Kaftan forms across the Globe

Over time, Kaftan has evolved from traditional garment into various modern styles & designs and became a source of expression for many noted designers. Below are some authentic Kaftan forms from across the world:

  • Moroccan Kaftan: Typically made of premium fabrics, and detailed with embroidery, beads, and sequins work, usually worn for special occasions such as weddings and festivals. Sub-variants: Meknassi, Rbati, Fassi and Chamali

  • Algerian Kaftan: Also known as the "Djellaba", usually has a hood, long sleeves, and a front opening provided with buttons or a zipper. Often worn with a belt or sash to clinch in the waist and add a bit of shape to the otherwise flowing silhouette. Sub-variants: Kaftan El Kadi, Kaftan El Krenfla, Kaftan Mhirzat, Kaftan El Dey and Areftan

  • Turkish Kaftan: This is a variant of Moroccan Kaftan, but is more tailored and fitted, made in premium fabrics with ornamental gold embroideries. This Kaftan variant is now limited as ethnic wear found around Turkish region and worn as a luxurious overdress on weddings.

  • Nigerian Kaftan: Also known as "Baban Riga" or “Boubou” is a loose-fitting garment that's worn by men. It's made of colorful fabrics such as cotton, silk, or brocade, and it's usually paired with a matching cap.

(Images only for illustration: Sourced)

Gallery (From Top Left to Bottom Right): Forms of Kaftans

Moroccan Kaftan

Areftan, Heritage Protected by UNESCO

Anissa B. in Algerian 'Kaftan El-Kadi'

Turkish Kaftan

Janhvi Kapoor in Bohemian Kaftan

Kaftan Mzirhat

  • Indian Kaftan: Also known as "Kaftan kurta," is a long tunic-style garment that's made of cotton, linen, chiffon, or silk. It's often embellished with intricate Indian embroidery or block prints. Many Indian designers have contributed to the Indianization of Kaftans by including elements & inspirations from various regional specialty and crafts of India.

  • Bohemian Kaftan: This Kaftan style draws inspiration from Czech Republican (Bohemian) culture and stands for free-spirited aesthetic that mixes different culture and artistic expressions into an eclectic style that emphasizes on organic elements & nature. The Bohemian Kaftan is a more casual and relaxed version of the traditional garment. It is often made of lightweight fabrics such as cotton or linen and may feature colorful prints or tassels.

  • European Kaftan: A contemporary and casual-everyday-wear version of Kaftans that is inspired by modern interpretations and changing lifestyle needs

So, what is so Desi about Kaftan?

"Indianizing" a Kaftan refers to incorporating Indian design elements or aesthetics into a Kaftan. This could include using special Indian fabrics or crafts, such as Ikat Kaftan, Shibori Tie and dye Kaftan, Ajrakh or Jamdani Kaftan, along with adding traditional Indian embellishments, such as embroidery, hand block printing, beadwork, or sequins.

Indianizing a Kaftan also involves incorporating traditional Indian patterns, motifs, or colors into the design. Kaftan allows Indian designers to create unique and distinctive garments that reflect India's rich cultural heritage and fashion traditions. It also provides an opportunity to showcase the expertise of Indian textiles and craftsmanship, and to create garments that are well-suited to the country's climate and cultural context at the same time appealing to the fashion aspirations of Indian youth.

Batik Kaftan with asymmetrical hemline

Tie and Dye Kaftan with Jamdani border

Ikat Kaftan with reverse pattern

In recent years, Indian designers have taken a modern twist on the classic Kaftan, incorporating contemporary silhouettes and designs like draped or layered Kaftan design, asymmetrical hemlines, off-the-shoulder styles, and Shirt dress Kaftan which is immensely popular in India and abroad.

Are Kaftans really popular in India?

Kaftans have become increasingly popular in India in recent years, particularly among women who are looking for comfortable and versatile clothing options that are conducive for the country's hot and humid Summers. Many Indian designers and fashion brands now offer a wide range of Kaftans in different styles, fabrics, prints, embroideries and other decorative details, catering to a growing demand Indian Fashion diaspora.

Indian Celebrities in Kaftan dress
Indian Celebrities in Kaftan dress

Women Kaftan dress in India are increasingly endorsed by the celebs & popular among the Indian youth who choose to adorn this outfit on special events as well as casual outings. In fact, this is one of the most popular and iconic outfit which features on every red-carpet event held in India & abroad.

Indian version of Kaftans has also gained popularity among tourists, as they offer a comfortable and stylish option along with some fabulous Indian artwork. In summary, Kaftans have become an increasingly popular garment in India due to their comfort, versatility, and style.

“Over decades Kaftans have evolved and become a strong medium of expression of the prevalent social norms & changing mindset of the period.”

Indian Kaftan styling tips

Here are some ways to style a Kaftan with Indian twist:

  1. Traditional Jewelry: Kaftans can be paired with traditional Indian jewelry to create a chic and stylish look. For example, a statement necklace, bracelet, or a matching earring can complement a Kaftan perfectly.