History of the Moroccan Kaftan, from the Almohads to the Present Day

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The kaftan or caftan is a piece of clothing once adopted by the great imperial powers. In ancient Persia, it was a mantle that was open at the front and was often called Kandys. In the Ottoman Empire, it was a long jacket called Peliffe in French literature and which the Turks described as Chylaat [1] [2]. Elsewhere, in Poland, it was more like a dress called Kontusz in the 16th century.

It is therefore a generic term that includes various long-range coins in major empires. The kings of the East used this dress as an honorary award. Indeed, they used to offer them to persons of distinction and to the ambassadors of foreign powers at their court [3].

Before adopting its current definition, in other words Moroccan and feminine, the kaftan was previously the preserve of men. Each kaftan has its own characteristics. For example, in Morocco, the kaftan is a one-piece long dress. It is decorated with various ornamental techniques [4] resulting from the know-how of Moroccan artisans (Maalems).

Couture Caftan Marocain

Fully open at the front, this kaftan is lined with braided silk braid (Sfifa) and fastened with a row of buttons (Aakad) whose inspiration would draw inspiration from the shape of cherries. Moreover, the manufacture of these buttons was historically and remains today a specialty of Sefrou, a small province a few kilometers from Fez where a cherry festival takes place every year [5]. As for the manufacture of silk stripes, the Maalems, on the other hand, were based in Fez.

Fakron Caftan Marocain Mdemma
A typical m'damma.

The kaftan is sometimes accompanied by a belt (m'damma) made of finely chiselled solid gold and inlaid by a Fakrone (turtle) in the center, supposed to bring happiness and protect against the evil eye. However, this very old outfit will undergo numerous changes over the course of its history.

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The birth of the kaftan.

In a miniature of The Tales of Santa Maria, the Almohad Caliph appears in a kaftan finely embroidered on the collar and on the forearm.

It first appeared in the 12th century during the reign of the Almohad dynasty. Initially, the kaftan was reserved for royalty, simple and without ornaments.

The rulers at the time, preaching a return to the fundamental sources of Islam and wishing to break with the opulence of their Almoravid predecessors, refused to use silk and gold in their clothing [6].

Under Caliph Muhammad an-Nâsir, a census established for fiscal reasons counted no less than 3,490 weaving workshops [7] and counted more than 3,000 weavers [8] in Fez.

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From simplicity to luxury.

Over time, princely weaving workshops (Tarz) partly dedicated to the manufacture of kaftans flourished, especially under the Marinids. Wearing a kaftan will gradually begin to become common [9]. More sumptuous, it will blend with new fabrics such as brocade. Ibn Khaldoun mentions silk garments and belts decorated with gold threads woven in Fez [10], thus marking the break with the simplistic doctrine of the Almohads.

As a sign of good relations, the kaftan was offered as a present to the sultans of foreign powers as well. A list of gifts sent by the Marinid Sultan Abu Al-Hassan to Sultan Mamluk an-Nâsir Muhammad indeed cites garments embroidered with gold, and garments made of taffeta, wool, and rigid silk and with variegated details [11]. The sultans of the Marinid dynasty also sent luxurious clothing to the Ottoman sultans [12], the latter naming them Fas Kaftanlar in reference to the city of Fez.

The Marinid civilization, which had established its capital in Fez, thus enjoyed a prestigious industrial, intellectual, and cultural influence, so much so that the Nasrid kings of Granada imitated those of Fez. [13]

Kaftan of Sultan Abu Abdallah Muhammad XII, Army Museum, Toledo.
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The democratization of the kaftan.

Towards the end of the 15th century, the kaftan took a new turn with the massive arrival in Morocco of Andalusians driven from Spain. They settled mainly in Tetouan and Fez but also in Chefchaouen, Rabat and Salé.
The Andalusians brought with them their know-how, which blent harmoniously with Moroccan culture and art. This Andalusian influence will mainly be evident in its contributions to embroidery. The Hispano-Moorish culture will be very well preserved in Morocco, so much so that each city today cultivates its own style of embroidery.

However, the Saadian era revolutionized the use of this garment. Women will finally appropriate it, which will therefore mark the beginning of the feminization of the kaftan [14]. This female demand will also be very strong, thus encouraging innovation in the use of new fabrics and so on [15].

On the men's side, the kaftan will be made with a sheet imported from England called Brown Blues. The dark blue of these varieties of sheets will become the national color of clothing for the wealthy class [16].

Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour established the fashion for a transparent tunic over the traditional kaftan, which is nicknamed Mansouria in reference to his name [17]. This outfit, known as Takchita, is therefore composed of two pieces unlike the kaftan: the first is the tahtiya and the second is called fouqia or dfina or mansouria.

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The kaftan in European art.

The Alawite era is symbolized, among other things, by the openness to Europe. Indeed, many European painters and writers stayed in Morocco and represented, through their works, the Moroccan costumes of yesteryear [18].

The Alawite sultans sent diplomats and ambassadors to the various European powers in order to contract peace and trade treaties. European painters, in turn, will not fail to represent them in honor.

The kaftan will of course be mentioned in various Moroccan texts. The study of a marriage contract dating from the 18th century tells us that the trousseau of a bride in the High Atlas was as rich, abundant and refined as that of a city bride in Fez at the same time. Certain garments such as the kaftan, thought to be reserved for the city, were also used in the High Atlas [19].

During the same period, a letter from Sultan Abderrahmane Ibn Hicham to the governor of Tetouan saw him order him to donate a kaftan to all new arrivals in Tetouan. Indeed, at the dawn of the French conquest of Algeria, tens of thousands of Algerians took refuge in Morocco and more precisely in Tetouan. Several sources testify to Moroccan hospitality towards their neighbors at the beginning of their colonization [20].

Some representations of Moroccans by European artists.

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The modern kaftan.

This is how the kaftan has passed through the ages and generations, with different cuts, colors, fabrics. It remains deeply rooted in Moroccan culture. It was only very late, in the 19th century, that this mixed garment became exclusively feminine.

The Moroccan woman, eager for modernity, will push designers to revisit the kaftan. Designers will play a major role in modernizing it and while ancient civilizations abandoned their kaftans, in Morocco the kaftan will be a marriage between tradition and modernity.

Nowadays and in the context of globalization, the Moroccan kaftan crosses the borders of the Kingdom and shines internationally, being worn today not only by women in the Maghreb and the Middle East but also in Europe.

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Références :
  1. Turkish customs and customs, their religion, their civil, military and political government, with a summary of Ottoman history, Volume 2 | Jean-Antoine Guer
  2. Encyclopaedia: or Raisoned Dictionary of Sciences, Arts, and Crafts, Volume 34; Volumes 710 to 734 | Denis Diderot | 1780
  3. Glossary of French words taken from Arabic, Persian, and Turkish | Antoine-Paulin Pihan | 1847
  4. Kawtar and Youssef dress in traditional Moroccan clothing | Emmanuelle Peckre | 2013
  5. Since 1919, every year Sefrou has hosted the cherry festival in June (also known as the Cherry Festival or Moussem Hab Al-Moulouk “Moussem of the fruit of the kings”). This event has been classified as intangible heritage of humanity since 2012 by UNESCO. The Sefrou cherry, or el-Beldi, is a very sweet black cherry that is found in Morocco. Moussem in honor of its harvest gives way to numerous activities, exhibitions, concerts, contests, games and elections of “Miss Cerisette” with a float parade
  6. The Prolegomena Part II of Ibn Khaldoun
  7. History of Morocco | Daniel Rivet |2012
  8. Fez, historical toponymic approach | Hassan Sqalli | 2014
  9. Moroccan civilization: arts and cultures Mohamed Sijelmassi |1996
  10. Fez: jewel of Islamic civilization |Attilio Gaudio | 1982
  11. Relations between the Merinids and the Mamluks in the 16th century |Marius CANARD |1939
  12. The Diplomatic History of Morocco | Abdelhadi Tazi | 1986
  13. Luis Del Marmol Carvajal | 1600
  14. Historical Development of the Caftan Costume | Murida Abdelnor Kassir | 1978
  15. Driss bouhlila | Algerians in Tetouan in the 19th century | 2012
  16. Unpublished sources in the history of Morocco. Archives and Libraries of England. Series 1, Volume 1/H. de Castries | 1918
  17. Nozhet-Elhâdi: History of the Saadian dynasty in Morocco (1511-1670) |Muhammad al-Saghīr ibn Muhammad Ifrānī | 1889
  18. Detailed Dictionary of Arab Clothing Names | Reinhart Dozy |1845
  19. Social changes in the High Atlas: The Ghoujdama |Ali Amahan | 2017
  20. History of Tetouan | Mohamed Daoud |1979