For thousands of years, men and women of the Middle East wore caftans without the slightest inkling they were hip. This backward state of affairs changed forever when Christian Dior made them (with an open-front version) fashionable in the mid-1950s.
The style came into vogue in the 1960s and 1970s when many designers, including Yves Saint Laurent, Emilio Pucci, and Halston, revisited this simple, rectangular tunic with beautiful, flowing, colorful fabrics and square, round, or V necklines.
photo courtesy of palm springs life, june 1978
“For late day or evening choose a nostalgic print of airy chiffon. The shoulders can be bared at will thanks to clever design.”
Elizabeth Taylor started ditching 1960s formal wear for comfortable Thea Porter–designed caftans and remained a devotee the rest of her life. Taylor wore the fabulous, floor-length, loose-fitting garments everywhere (she even wore a version by Gina Fratini at her second wedding to Richard Burton in 1975).
No doubt she rocked them, especially in Palm Springs, at her stunning Spanish estate in the Old Las Palmas neighborhood. Our desert resort lifestyle is ideal for a breezy, light caftan, worn either poolside over a swimsuit or at casual or formal parties, as Palm Springs Life’s fashion spreads from that era testify.
photo courtesy of palm springs life, november 1978
“All eyes turn toward this stunning entrance-maker by Samantha Scott of California, a silk caftan over skinny pants etched against the rippling stream.”.
In the late ’60s and ’70s, with the counterculture interest in Eastern philosophies, caftans symbolized liberation and freedom. Bohemians and hippies embraced tie-dyed versions of the caftan that were Moroccan-inspired as emblems of a nonconformist, carefree lifestyle. Modern women shedding the confines of tailored, silhouette-wrapping dresses found that luscious silk chiffon caftans let them move freely and feel relaxed while still looking elegant and sophisticated.
The venerable caftan may have gone into hiding for a few decades, but it’s never completely disappeared — and now this timeless, versatile, glamorous garment is back stronger than ever. Last year, Mad Men star Christina Hendricks, wearing a caftan on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, said she planned to enjoy comfort food and comfort clothing with her friends at a caftan-and-casserole party in our very own Palm Springs.
Fashion mavens are taking note: Caftans are now a staple of any respectable desert chic wardrobe. Renowned designer and part-time Palm Springs resident Trina Turk (who owns a closet full of vintage caftans) offers a wide selection, including mini caftans or “halftans,” as fashion bloggers call them. Lilly Pulitzer, Tory Burch, Roberto Cavalli, and Missoni have been offering them in bold, printed fabrics.
And caftan pioneer Emilio Pucci, who showcased his creations in Palm Springs in 1968, has also introduced a new line of caftans in luxurious silk. Local vintage boutiques, including The Fine Art of Design and Déjà Vu, carry exquisitely embroidered versions. So slip one over your head, pour a martini, and lounge in your stylishly retro rendition.
Photo courtesy of Trina Turk
The “halftan,” Trina Turk’s Peruvian Stripe Tunic.