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Oh, caftan, my caftan! |

Fashion and Beauty

Oh, caftan, my caftan!

JACKIE O’ FLASH - Bea Ledesma - The Philippine Star

When a girl reaches her 20s, she is less prone to dressing for trends. She dresses for her figure, while shaping her own sense of style. By her 30s, all bets are off.

When I hit my third decade, I learned to wear a caftan with some sangfroid. Instead of swanning about like an escaped lunatic and flapping my batwings (or dolman sleeves) at strangers, I swan about with nonchalance, like: yeah, my supermarket outfit was worn by Ottoman emperors and Turkish princesses. I refuse to let your pedestrian denim touch my royal posterior!

Historians trace the caftan to as far back as the 14th century, when Ottoman sultans — not yet assaulted by multiple menswear blogs championing shortened trousers (as seen on Thom Browne) — garbed themselves in lavishly embroidered robes.

On a recent trip to Istanbul, my friend Maureen Disini, a designer, and I headed to Topkapi Palace to gawk at the bejeweled artifacts (carpets, chairs, swords, baby cribs studded with emeralds and rubies) on display. Sumptuous textiles, intricately woven patterns characterized the exhibited caftans, which came lined in fur or wool, studded with precious gemstones.

In the ’60s, Talitha Getty and her tribe of boho-chic compatriots made it de riguer to sport the caftan. Marrakech was a hotbed of caftan activity, seducing even YSL who posed for what is today one of the quintessential portraits of the late designer, reclined on a day bed in a cool white caftan.

Like anything worth coveting, the caftan is not without its detractors. Some argue it is lola-ish, i.e. old — or worse, matrona-ish. The horrors! While I resent the ageist implications, I am open to resembling a wise, older woman who is sure of herself and her bank account. Older women are cool, y’all. And they have better jewelry than younger people. So take that, you young persons with your vibrant complexions and taut bodies!

There are many who claim it is unflattering because its loose silhouette indicates a less than hot bod. (They might have a point. Personally, while I am all for the if-you’ve-got-it-flaunt-it sensibility, I do enjoy walking around in the sartorial equivalent of a Snuggie.)

My maternal grandmother, who boasts a deceptively gentle mien masking her hardened interior (she is kindly in the way Nazis are nice), once informed me while I was cloaked in a satin embellished caftan purchased on one of my travels, that I looked like a whale. “A pregnant whale,” she clarified. (When I turned 16, she once told me I was destined to die alone, a sentiment she echoed at a recent dinner after calling me a spinster.)

Less than tactful maternal grandmothers aside, few who have worn caftans can argue its original appeal: its floaty silhouette is regal in its bearing, requiring its wearer to have the confidence to walk around in — let’s be honest — something that resembles sleepwear.

There is something freeing in garbing yourself in something so comfortable, so easy that it doesn’t require control-top hosiery, that it feels almost… well, too effortless.

At a wedding I attended only last weekend, I found myself running late. Instead of struggling into Spanx and a confining dress, I threw on a caftan and ran out the door. I got there just in time to see the bride walk down the aisle.

“Ugh, I’m so tired,” one of the bridesmaids later complained at dinner. She had been required by the wedding party to make an appearance 10 hours before the nuptials to get primped.

“Oh, it only took me five minutes,” I said, and patted my caftan like the prized possession it was.

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