Moroccan Kaftans: History and Buying Guide

Last Updated on April 1, 2024 by praveen
moroccan Kaftan

Moroccan Kaftans: History and Buying Guide

My first relationship with a Moroccan kaftan – also spelled caftan – was through embroidery at my aunt’s kaftan atelier. She was a kaftan fairy and I spent countless hours in her atelier learning beading and embroidery. I was fascinated by the intricate artwork involved in making a kaftan dress, and my fascination grew bigger with time as I learned more about the richness of this Moroccan garb.

A kaftan is a long one-piece dress embellished with elaborate ornamentation techniques passed down from generations of maalems, the kaftan artisans. The dress is trimmed with sfifa, a Fez-made silk braid, and closed with a row of cherry-shaped buttons named aakad, made in the city of Sefrou, home to the annual cherry festival.

kaftan dress embroidery details

Kaftan composition | Source: Moroccanzest archives

The caftan can sometimes be accompanied by a belt (m’damma) made of finely chiseled solid gold and encrusted with a flower named fakrone – or turtle – in the center that is supposed to bring happiness and protect the wear from the evil eye.

moroccan kaftan belt

Moroccan Kaftan belt

According to history, the caftan made its first appearance in ancient Persia and was introduced in Morocco at the end of the 11th century through the Andalusians who had settled in North Africa. It was initially an attire worn only by wealthy men and nobles to symbolize wealth and power. It was the sultan Ahmed Al Mansour who actually popularized the caftan in the 16th century. In that period, the attire was named Al-Mansouria in reference to the sultan.

In the 17th century, Moroccan women started wearing kaftan dresses cut in beautiful materials and decorated with intricate embroideries. Each region of Morocco added its distinct touch. While there are as many Moroccan caftan designs as there are regions in Morocco, the main caftans are are those of Tetouan – Chamali, the caftans of Fez – Fassi, and the caftans of Rabat – Rbati.

moroccan caftan 20th century tetouan

This is a 20th-century brocade Moroccan kaftan from Tetouan | Source: Moroccanzest archives

painting moroccan woman tetouan wearing caftan

Moroccan Woman from Tetouan – Louis Auguste Girardot (French, 1858–1933)

embroidery pattern caftan

Example of an embroidery pattern for a Rbati Caftan |Source: Moroccanzest archives

moroccan kaftan dress

In Morocco, every woman and little girl has at least one kaftan in her closet. The kaftan is the first dress a girl will wear in her life and the dress she will be excited to wear at every celebration.

Moroccan Princess Lalla Meryem and her beautiful daughter, Lalla Soukaïna, wore stunning kaftan dresses at the religious wedding of Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene of Monaco.

moroccan caftan

Princess Lalla Meryem and her daughter Lalla Soukaïna

Moroccan Kaftans are usually worn with high heels and accessorized with a clutch bag and/or a few jewelry pieces, either discrete or dramatic.

red moroccan kaftan dress with embroideries

Stunning red Moroccan Kaftan dress with a simple belt and earrings

A Moroccan bride will often accessorize hers with a mix of large traditional jewelry pieces, including a tiara or crown. The more, the better.

wedding kaftan dress

Wedding Kaftan dress with large embroideries, jewelry, and a tiara

In Morocco, women can design their kaftans from scratch with the help of a tailor, which I do with many clients. The process takes a little longer, but the result is literally the dress of your dreams!

moroccan clothing

When it comes to colors, there are really no rules. Moroccan kaftan dresses can be in either pastel, dark or flashy colors, or even a mix of the three.

caftan colors

What Jewelry to Wear With a Caftan?

The elegant caftan is a meticulously crafted piece, adorned with intricate embroidery, hand-woven pearls, or delicate lace. This outfit is designed to make a statement, so it’s important to accessorize beautifully. The best is to avoid daily jewelry as it can easily get lost and unnoticed, and instead, opt for stunning bold, and extravagant jewelry to complement the style. 

One of Moroccan women’s favorite options is Berber and Moroccan necklaces. They stand out beautifully and bring back the focus to your face. They also complement Caftan designs like no other jewelry piece. What makes them a great choice is that they are extremely versatile and can be worn for other occasions (formal or casual) and with modern outfits as a statement piece. They are a great investment, like the genuine Berber jewelry from Little Moroccan Things.

berber amber necklace

Caftan and moroccan necklace

Moroccan caftan and necklace

Kaftan dress with pearl necklace

Where to Buy and Design Your Moroccan Kaftan

If you are visiting Morocco and looking for an artisanal piece that is both handmade and hand-embroidered, I have detailed where and how you can find the right tailor for you in my Morocco shopping guide

If you are not visiting Morocco soon and need help designing and making your custom Moroccan caftan from scratch at a reasonable price, you can reach out to me here. Make sure to include as many pictures and details about the caftan of your dream as possible, and my team will be happy to help make your dream Kaftan dress come true!

Safaa, founder of moroccanzest

From design and decor to food and travel, moroccanzest is the space where I share what I loved growing up in Morocco, and more. It’s your destination for everything beautiful, artistic, and made the Moroccan way with love. Learn more about me here.