I say caftan, you say…frumpy housefrau sack? Glorified muu muu? Both fair statements, sure, but let’s try to have an open mind here. What about what Beyoncé would wear while yachting in Ibiza? Or at outfit worthy of Kate Moss‘ French Rivera vacation? Done right, a loose-fitting cotton tunic can look enviously chic.
The first step to mastering all things caftan is to treat it as a dress, not a shirt. You do not throw it on over leggings. You do not use it as a way to cover your butt in a pair of white skinny jeans. You do not wear it eccentric art teacher-style with baggy paint-splattered denim and loafers. This piece is all about being effortless and elegant, and most pants simply kill the effect. There is, perhaps, one exception, which would be coordinating trousers—think something Veruschka would’ve worn with a silk head scarf and platforms—but you must be completely committed to pull it off. Unless you are 100 percent ready to go whole hog sixties-era Palm Spring socialite, trust me: no pants.
So once you’ve swathed your entire body in billowy, loose-fitting fabric, how do you accessorize? Well, that depends on how long your caftan is. While something floor length has substance enough to balance an open toe heel (but avoid wedges—they’re truly difficult to pull off in a sophicated way), a shorter style is better with flats sandals or mule slippers. As for jewelry, it shouldn’t compete with any other embellishment on your outfit; so if you’ve got jewels, tassels or beading going on, keep it simple. And if you’re at the beach, go even simplier than that! Your swimsuit should be accessory enough.
If these handy guidelines still haven’t convinced that that caftans are actually, seriously, something you should wear in earnest this summer (as opposed to say, a Real Housewives-themed house party?), maybe the practical benefits will. First off, aside from going naked, it’s the best way to stay cool on hot days. Because the material is so thin, and floats away from the body, it almost feels like you’re wearing nothing at all. What’s more, it’s such a freeing sihouette; you can run, jump and—most importantly!—eat whatever you want unhindered. Look, high-waisted shorts and crop tops have their merits and all, but you’re going to have a better time at a barbecue if you’re wearing a very elegant sack. So c’mon guys—consider the caftan. It might just surprise you.
To shop 20 of my favorite caftans online, right now click through the slideshow above.