Kaftan: For Men or Women?

An African boubou or kaftan (Photo courtesy: jillosblog.com)

Who would have guessed that underneath those beautiful garment are jeans and sweaty shirt? Who would have known that you just came back from a marathon when attending a movie premiere?

Worn for their practicality on top of elegance, kaftan has been most popular amongst women, especially those who love  beautifying themselves in fine clothing.

In Indonesia, kaftan became instantly on high demand, or at least as I knew it, after a famous local singer, Syahrini, worn it on a televised occasion. Thanks to her, we now have kaftan products sewn and decorated by skillful women across the archipelago.

A Grand boubou, West African kaftan, worn by Mamadou Tandja, the President of Niger, when visiting George W. Bush in 2005

Originated from the word xaftan, a Persian word, kaftan was actually derived from khalat or kelat, an overdress worn in the olden days as court robes for men. Kaftan gains popularity in Islamic communities and have been trending in many cultures for thousands of years. In Morocco, kaftans are only worn by women and are more known as takshita or tackchita. The West Africans, both men and women, wear kaftans known as boubou (robe). Popular in many countries, this overdress is made of different materials, catering to the unique climate in each region.

Today, women – especially those who prefer to be stylish and fashionable – like to adorn themselves with beautifully tailored kaftan. Soft and silky materials are often used, due to its comfort, lightness and coolness, suitable to wear in hot weather. Kaftan design has also evolved from long, full-length robe style to short, shirt-style overdress, making it trendy enough for casual occasions as well.

An Indonesian singer, Ashanty, in kaftan (Photo courtesy: forum.detik.com)

From the simplest, minimally decorated to those brightened with splendor and intricate decorations, ornaments on kaftan used to indicate the rank of the wearer in the olden days. Even till today,  splendidly decorated pieces may cost more than 10 times of a simple one – which only implies that the wearers of more intricate pieces might be of higher class, i.e. have more money, than others.

I personally used to have no interest with this fine clothing. Even when my sister-in-law offered to purchase one for me, though excited, I was not sure how it would fit me. Fyi, she didn’t get to buy one for me – disappointing indeed, but I moved on. It was never really a thing of interest then anyway!

But yesterday, I happened to see some clothing products a friend of mine showcased, and among them were these beautiful pieces of princessly (if such word exists) gowns. They immediately grabbed my attention and I spent the whole afternoon taking pictures, intending to share what I myself would like to wear.

Best-suited for any occasions, depending on the designs, the beautifully tailored kaftan with its variety of colour options gives excitement to many women to ‘mix and match’ their overall attire. The head scarf, undergarment, arm covers, and even footwear, all have to match their kaftan. Even now, kaftan is put on together with a matching-coloured belt made of leather, chains, or ornamental features such as seashells, etc. – evolving from the use of sash, a cloth belt in Arabic, in the olden Persian days.

The best thing about kaftan is that it usually comes in all-size measurement, meaning most women – overweight or underweight – can wear it, except of course the extremely big ones. Yet, not to worry if you couldn’t find a kaftan that suits your size; you can always have any local tailor custom-made it for you. Or, you can e-mail me so I can help consult with a local, kaftan tailor in my area.

Some of my friend’s kaftan designs I saw the other day. They are available in various colours and quite affordable. Look out for my upcoming postings for more details.

A couple more of my friend’s kaftan design

More than anything, what I like most from the garment is that I can comfortably perform my salaat (Islamic prayers) in it, without having to worry about revealing my shape. Alhamdulillah!

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