Caftans are Boho-Inspired Summer Chic

My current fashion dilemma: Besides sunscreen, what to wear for summer holidays and/or weekends at the beach, by the pool? Long, lazy days call for breezy comfort and style, a garment that you can wear to the water—in my case, to hide the way I now look in a bathing suit—pop it off for a swim and then put it back on for cocktails at a restaurant. Whew, a lot to ask.

Could a caftan be the answer to my quest? According to Vogue, a caftan, believed to have its origins in ancient Mesopotamia, “has become the catchall term in fashion for any kind of loose-fitting robe or tunic. [Strictly speaking] a true kaftan is a narrow cut, long robe with full sleeves, either with a deep open neck or fully open to the floor.”

Lately, that loose, flowy dress in a variety of lengths and styles, has seen a renaissance. Popular in the 1960s, the garment has been worn by the likes of Grace Kelly (who favored Pucci with matching turbans), Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lee Radziwill and socialite Talitha Getty, famous for her boho-inspired clothing.


At the most recent Paris fashion week, designer Jacquemus kicked off his runway presentation with a beige-colored, floor-length satin kaftan. In February, actress Maya Rudolph wore a red Valentino caftan as a presenter at the 2018 Oscars. Last August, Hillary Clinton traded in her pantsuits for a Tiffany-blue caftan and silver heels. Google “caftan” on fashion sites like Net A Porter, and you’ll get a few pages of results.

To go from patio to the piazza, trade in the flip-flops for strappy sandals and accessorize with big earrings, necklace or a big cuff. Choosing the right caftan for you, though, is a necessary first step. Caftans can overwhelm a small frame and bulk up a larger one. You don’t want to look as if you’re wearing a tent.

Speaking of tents, despite raves from fashion magazines, the aforementioned Hillary won no prizes in my book for that shapeless smock. Pretty color, yes, but the dress swallowed her up, flattering no part of her figure. It billowed out like a mumu. And Maya Rudolf didn’t fare much better, despite the high-fashion label. In this case, the long red dress encased her like a mummy.

So, forewarned is forearmed. If you’re 5 feet 2 inches, think shorter lengths and shorter sleeves, like one from Pippa Holt (expensive, alas, yes) or for more of a tunic, one from Tory Burch. If you like the coverage, pair a short style with a pair of slim pants. Balance a flowy top with trim legs. Even if you’re not vertically challenged, leave some ankle showing, to be sure. Side slits that break up a long shape are your friend. Prints or patterns add impact but beware of beading.

Caftans come in every price point from a lacy, openwork style for $59.90 at Zara to a Missoni in metallic fabric for $2,440 that’s sold out at machesfashion.com.

Here are some we chose for your consideration.

Pippa Holt’s No.74 above-the-knee cotton-canvas, handmade kaftan works for those of shorter stature. Turquoise-blue blanket-stitched edges frame the U-shaped neckline, short sleeves and hem, while side-seam pockets enhance its versatility. Wear with sandals for a laid-back look.

Pippa Holt Cotton Kaftan

Pippa Holt No. 74 Embroidered Cotton Kaftan, $725

Pippa Holt’s loose midi design calls for a belt to cinch in the waist. The perfect piece to go from dockside to dinner. Not available until mid-September.
Pippa Holt Midi Kaftan
The Sun Walker Caftan is comfy cotton with flattering V-neck and slit sides. Take it from pool to party.

A mustard-yellow linen kaftan with deep v-neckline from Three Graces London is ideal for day-to-night styling. Cropped kimono-style sleeves and a loose silhouette with open seams for a relaxed look. Complement the dress with gold jewelry and coordinating metallic sandals.

Three Graces Linen Kaftan

Three Graces London Livietta Linen Kaftan, $485

In luxe terrycloth, this coverup caftan, a result of a collaboration with Margherita Missoni and Splendid, feels almost like a beach-friendly blanket—a perfect post-swim wrap.
Splendid Capri Caftan
Tory Burch’s  knee-length Alcott Beach Caftan with ticking stripe and embroidered detail is pool- and beach-ready.
Tory Burch Beach Caftan
This embroidered caftan is luxurious and romantic—cut from voile made extra comfy in a flowy silhouette in red lacquer or turquoise.
Ikat hand-loomed cotton sari caftan in medium-weight cotton floats flatteringly around the body.
Two Ikat Caftan
Xirena’s Kennedy V-Neck cap-sleeve caftan coverup.
Xirena Kennedy Caftan

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