The Caftan

Want to feel like an elegant star on a getaway at a glamourous beach resort? Put this voluminous gown on – and perhaps buy a ticket to somewhere closer to the equator.

Georgine at New York Fashion Week spring 2015. All Over Press.

Dating back to ancient times, the Caftan [also spelled Kaftan] has been worn by men and women in different cultures around the world for three millennia. Scientists believe its origin to be in Mesopotamia – also known as the cradle of civilization. 

But let’s skip the next couple of thousand years and land in the 1950s, when the free flowing gown made its way into high-end fashion, first introduced to a wide public by designers Christian Dior and Cristóbal Balenciaga. A few years later multi-coloured versions were popularized by the hippie movement, which was often seen demonstrating for peace, love and understanding, wearing a – perhaps tie-dyed – caftan, matched with a signature peace-sign necklace, a pair of suede fringed boots, and round sunglasses. 

When the hippie-era ended, famed actresses and socialites reclaimed the garment and made it glamorous again. Elizabeth Taylor being one of its most famed supporters. The legend was often spotted wearing a silk version with a colourful 70’s print. 

From there on, the all-round summer outfit has been sported by the ultra rich in beach resorts like Saint Tropez, Marbella and The Hamptons, as well as on any woman wanting to look elegant and laid-back at the same time. 

The most natural way to wear a caftan is by itself, together with a simple canvas shoe or sandal. Perhaps over a bikini top if you’re actually by the beach. But it’s easy to dress it up. Just add a few accessories and you are ready for a ball – or a simple summer party.

“It’s the ultimate thing to wear when you’re on vacation. It’s also very simple to decide if you want to dress it up or down by your choice of shoes. With flat sandals you’re ready for a beach day, but if you change into a pair of platforms, you’re ready for a garden party”, says H&M Life stylist Columbine Smille.

Does it work anywhere else except outside?
“Absolutely. Wear it over thin, wide trousers and you’re more fully-dressed”, says Columbine Smille.


Photographer Tobias Lundkvist’s favourite items are the classics: a black t-shirt and Chuck Taylors. Stylist Columbine Smille’s favourite item is the perfect black silk dress. Our model is the lovely Chiharu Okunugi. Hair by Mette Thorsgaard and makeup by Josefin Scherdin.

The caftan Chiharu is wearing is part of the upcoming H&M Studio collection. In stores and online starting 12 March!

Modern and classic caftan lovers: Kim Kardashian and mom Kris Jenner in Dubai, the caftan queen Elizabeth Taylor, Iman modelling a caftan in the 80s, actress and model Sharon Tate, Bianca Jagger, little North West in an caftan costume, Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine on stage, Jennifer Lopez in her famous 2000 Grammy dress, Nicole Richie and Anjelica Huston in the 70s, All Over Press/Getty Images.