The Caftan and the Older Woman

Vogue Patterns, November/December 1981

Vogue Patterns, November/December 1981

These days, older women who have a little flesh on their bones are advised to steer clear of roomy dresses like caftans. Wear clothes that skim the body, the critics say, not ones that take up a lot of space.

But this wasn’t always the case. In 1981, Arlene Dahl, actress turned designer for the older set at Vogue Patterns, recommended “the Djellabah, most glamorous of caftans,” for women who wore larger sizes up to size 22. It’s worth noting that the woman chosen to model her creation was the tall and thin model Carmen Dell’Orefice, who had just turned fifty.

According to Nicky Albrechtsen in her new book, Vintage Fashion Complete, the caftan (she spells it kaftan) became popular in the 1960s as part of the global bohemian trend in Western fashion. It remained in style through the 1970s. Arlene Dahl’s appropriation of the design for Vogue might be an example of older women taking a longer time to adopt trends. Then again, it might be a recognition that this style could be supremely comfortable for anyone who didn’t like tight fitting clothes.

Elizabeth Taylor in 1989, Forbes Magazine

Elizabeth Taylor in 1989, Forbes Magazine

One woman noted for her enduring love of caftans was Elizabeth Taylor, who wore them from the 1960s until she died in 2011. Her collection, with many by noted designer Thea Porter, went on auction at Christie’s after her death.

TaylorCaftanCollectionAlthough in general I don’t wear dresses, I might have made an exception for that glamorous deep orange caftan in the middle.

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3 Responses to The Caftan and the Older Woman

  1. eimear says:

    it takes a certain person to wear one I think, years ago, my uncle worked in saudi and brought a kaftan back for my mother (who would not wear it), my taller blonder sister appropriated it and loved wearing it/swaning around the house! (I think a person glides rather than walks in a kaftan…. ) that kaftan, however, was nowhere near as glamourous as Liz’s

  2. Fabrickated says:

    I think kaftans can look quite glamorous, and of course there is a version that is shorter and looks great over slim pants (Pucci and others, 60s) Carmen dell’Orifice does look splendid with her thick grey hair and knowing smile.

  3. Carolyn says:

    In t 1974, I made a collared caftan to be my “afterwork” outfit for evenings at home and loved wearing it. Years later, I bought a caftan from I Magnin’s to use as a summer robe and, after it wore out, had a seamstress make me a new one, with pockets this time. I also have a fancy one purchased in the Marrakesh souk. Caftans are extremely comfortable and I don’t expect to stop wearing mine.

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