As Hillary Clinton proved at Chelsea’s rehearsal dinner, caftans aren’t just for beaches and pregnant starlets anymore. The long, flowing robes gained a serious following this summer and have even been spotted wafting down the Chanel runway.
Frédérique Birkemeyer, Marrakesh’s “queen of caftans” and owner of the Intensité Nomade boutique, offers a few tips on finding and wearing the right tunic anywhere, from a souk to Saks.
Size up the shoulders and examine the embroidery.
Like a dress, Birkemeyer explains, “a beautiful caftan is shown by its cut and its finishing.” The fabric should drape well from the shoulders. The embroidery, preferably done by hand, should be smooth and even. Take a close look at the sfifa (a band of needlework) and any rows of silk knots used as trimming.
Go for vivid colors, but save green for certain occasions.
Caftans are a good canvas for stronger, jewel-toned colors. Green, however, is traditionally worn for weddings and baptisms. Birkemeyer emphasizes fabric quality above all; for her own designs, she often sources silk from Italian mills. Feel the fabric and ask about its origin.
Birkemeyer belts most of her caftan styles, from the pearl-embroidered sheaths to the ankle-length gandoura, which would typically be worn loose. The belts add definition and another opportunity for embellishment. Birkemeyer believes that caftans flatter every body type, especially curvy women; along with the belts, she encourages “unveiling little bits of the body, the legs, with tasteful slits [or] a plunging décolletage.”
Hold your head high… and wear great earrings.
Don’t let the caftan wear you! “You must take on the caftan and… hold up your head,” says Birkemeyer, echoing the eternal reminder to stand up straight. Since most caftans have embroidery around the neckline, she recommends a smashing pair of earrings rather than a necklace. Moroccan women also tend to wear their hair up, the better to show off all the decoration.
Learn a ladylike pinch.
Birkemeyer demonstrated a graceful way to walk in a floor-length caftan. With the middle and ring fingers of one hand, pinch a bit of fabric just above your knees, then gently lift and pull it to the side. This lets the skirt flow but keeps you from stepping on the hem.
Intensité Nomade, 139 Blvd. Mohammed V, Guéliz, Marrakesh, Morocco, 212-524-43-13-33.
Guest blogger Jennifer Paull is a Brooklyn-based travel, food, and fashion writer.