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A History of Moroccan Kaftans

moroccan Kaftan

A History of Moroccan Kaftans

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 did many times – and loved doing. 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

Where to Buy and Design Your Moroccan Kaftan

If you are looking for an artisanal piece that is both handmade and hand-embroidered, I have detailed where in my Morocco shopping guide. The best approach is to shop for your caftan directly from a respected traditional Moroccan tailor who will customize an existing piece or create one from scratch.

If you don’t know me yet, I have spent the last couple of years researching traditional Moroccan clothing in every region of Morocco while helping hundreds of women create their caftan dream pieces. If you have any questions about the process of creating a traditional kaftan dress, reach out to me here. I’m always happy to help.

For ready-to-wear caftan-inspired dresses, I will share my current inspiration below.

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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.