Thanks to stylish Kaftans, girls in Kashmir have found a way to stay both fashionable and modest. Aanisa Maqbool finds out how Kaftan is changing more than just our dressing sense
At the onset of every summer Andleeb Majeeb, a 27-year-old, self employed girl, starts flipping through fashion websites, magazines and famous boutiques to stay in touch with what is in vogue. Since last many years Andleeb has been changing the hues of her wardrobe on a regular basis. But in conflict ridden Kashmir, where most of the fashion houses were shut after the start of armed insurgency in 1989, getting dressed up for an occasion could be quite challenging for girls. “You don’t buy clothes in Kashmir that suit your taste, but that suits the society,” says Andleeb. “I have to think twice before wearing anything fashionable. Our society is not ready for such fashionable changes in girl’s clothes.”
From once a fashion den, the streets of Srinagar are placid and plain now. But thanks to Kaftans, a hint of colour is added to the Kashmir’s fashion. “It is both traditional and trendy,” says Andleeb. “It is sort of Abaya’s replacement for girls. But a stylish one, I must say,” she adds.
Originating in the Middle East, Kaftans became popular since the early days of Ottoman Empire (1299 – 1923). During that time Kaftans were mostly worn by men; the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey still displays a vast collection of colourful Kaftans worn by the Sultans and Emirs of the past.
But Kaftans took long time to get into mainstream fashion. It remained largely a “Muslim dress” for its long robe look and colour limitations.
It was only after famous French fashion designer Christian Dior introduced an open fronted version of the Kaftan on the ramp in the 1950s, the dress found global clientele. Following Dior’s footsteps, a decade later, Algerian born fashion designer Yves St. Laurent slightly modified Kaftans by creating style designs which could be worn during both formal and casual parties.
However, the real global exposure for Kaftan’s was when it became an iconic part of hippie movement in the West in 1960s and 70s.
“I don’t know about its history but I feel very comfortable in Kaftans. I think they are modest and elegant to wear and come in various patterns, designs and colours,” says Iqra Gulzar Lone, 22, currently practicing BDS from Ghaziabad.
But it was the launch of exclusive collection by Pakistani designer like Sana Safinaz and Mariya Bi that helped Kaftans become part of popular culture in South Asia. And Kashmir was no different.
“Pakistani fashion has always influenced Kashmir. When girls see Pakistani actors wearing Kaftans in serials, which are very popular in Kashmir, it surely has its effect,” feels Iqra.
With no prominent fashion designer or clothing label available in Kashmir, a number of boutiques opened in Srinagar to cash the market demand for Kaftans and other made-to-order dresses. “The USP of these local boutiques is that they promise you true-copy of Pakistani designs, something Kashmiri girls are crazy about,” says Insha Khan, 28, a fashion enthusiast who spends her time between Delhi and Srinagar. “Girls visit these boutiques with fabric of their choice and get Kaftans made to order.”
Thanks to popular Pakistani TV serials and globetrotting Kashmiri girls, Kaftan’s are a common site on the streets of Srinagar now. A replacement of sorts for dull and lifeless Abayas, this modern and stylish gown like dress comes in different designs and colours. “It is easy to wear and quite light as compared to traditional Abaya. But at the same time it is equally modest too,” says Andleeb.
For Syed Mehek Bukhari, a 29-year-old banker working in Dubai, Kaftan is a must have dress in your wardrobe as it lets you stay fashionable while keeping you modest.
Kaftan came as a handly solution for Mehek as she is bound to wear Abaya like long loose robes to the offices.
“I now wear Kaftan which fits the description of long lose robe and its stylish too,” says Mehek with a smile. “In UAE girls wear kaftans during weddings and nikah ceremonies. It is sort of trend that almost every girl follows religiously,” says Mehek.
Over the years a dash of Kashmiri style got added to Kaftans. Presently there are two types of kaftans that are in demand in Kashmir: Aari Kaftans and Sozni Kaftans. “We try to get trendy with Aari and Sozni kaftans. Aari embroidery is hook work and Sozni embroidery is needle work,” says Uzra, a salesgirl at a store selling Kaftans in Srinagar.
“Now digital printing is used to design kaftans. Digital print kaftans have direct colures and acid colours. They do not lose their original essence when washed and have sharp designs unlike screen printing,” says Nighat, a textile designer by profession.
Style gurus believe, if a woman learns how to style a Kaftan in several ways, she can form a variety of designs while will help her save money on clothing. There are a number of ways to wear a Kaftan as it comes in various designs and styles.
Long Kaftans look attractive with leggings. They (kaftans) can also be easily accessorized with various other clothing items.
“There is a huge demand for long and lose fit Kaftans in Kashmir,” says Adil Mir, managing director Pure Weave Fashions Pvt Ltd, a Kashmir based manufacturer and online seller.
Adil says that in last two months, since they launched their e-commerce website, they have sold around 200 Kaftans locally. “Kashmiri girls mostly prefer digitally printed Kaftans which are loose and modest in outlook,” says Adil. “We get orders from rest of the world too, but the demand is for short Kaftans which can be worn on a beach.”
With a price tag that ranges between Rs 950 and 2500 one can buy Kaftans made of micro-modals, and cotton modals for summers. “We have Kaftans made of wool that one can wear in winters,” says Adil.
So this summer if you want to add some colour to your wardrobe while keeping it modest, try Kaftans.