Moroccan Djellabas and Caftans
No matter how much Western influence floods Morocco, there are still several traditions that the Moroccans keep up. One of those traditions is in their clothing, a long hooded robe worn over clothes known as the djellaba. The style is more elaborate than the black abaya robes common in many countries in the middle east, and their hood and row of buttons up the front distinguish themselves from these styles. The hood serves to protect from sun, cold and rain. They are simple, yet intricate and beautiful as well as serve the purpose of modesty at all times.
The djellabas come in every fabric, color, pattern, print, and style imaginable. The fabrics change to suit the season, and the winter styles use heavy fabrics with a thick shawl worn on top to keep warm. The summer fabrics are light, flowing, and airy. While they are mostly worn by women as everyday clothing, there are plenty of men who wear them as well, especially in warm wools to keep warm during the winter. Sometimes, men wear them only on special occasions such as holidays, weddings, or parties. The fabrics for men suit a masculine palette, but a buttery yellow and cream stripe fabric is common for special occasions.
When the women’s version appears in glamorous fabrics and trimmings and the hood in not included, the garment then becomes a caftan, reserved for special occasions such as weddings and holidays. The caftan is also worn with a matching belt made of fabric, embroidery and trimming that coordinates with the garment. Some of the belts, made of gold or gold-plated metal, are like a big bracelet for the waist. They add another level of design and intricacy to the ensemble and give shape and structure. The belts themselves come in a myriad of styles as well, some of them tying in the back like a corset, others snapped on like a belt.
There are as many stores selling djellabas, caftans, and fabrics as there are stores selling Western clothing. Djellabas and caftans are available pret a porter (ready to wear) for purchase, or custom-made by buying fabrics and visiting the traditional tailor. Store bought djellabas will not nearly match the quality of a custom-made design although there isn't much difference in price so it's just as affordable to have a custom-made design.
A custom-made garment will fit exact measurements and not only is the buyer in control of the fabric choice, but the choice of trimming and the style as well. A tailored djellaba handmade according to a long tradition and is mostly hand sewn. New and innovative designs as well as a large variety of trimming styles make the options endless, and almost no two djellabas are alike. The trimming will be handmade, and not mass-produced in a factory adding to the quality of the finished garment.
Even the ready to wear versions aren’t sold in mass quantity, with a few exceptions of popular fabrics. It is not very likely to see another woman wearing a djellaba you bought at a store. The trims on store-bought djellabas are often poor quality and cheaply produced compared to the tailor-made trims. They have a tell-tale machine-made look, and often don’t match as well with the djellaba itself.
Another good reason to have a tailored design other than the quality and uniqueness is the relationship developed between the tailor and the customer. A tailor will keep measurements on file, so unless a change in weight or size occurs there is no need to get measured again.
All the same goes for the caftans in terms of purchasing versus ready-made, although the prices may vary a little more. Caftans are the Moroccan version of a princess dress, and the fabrics and trimmings are more elegant, expensive and glamorous. The fabrics for caftans are lacy, glittery, intricately embroidered, and include a lot of beads and sequins, although a very very muted and simple designs do exist. A caftan, whether bought ready to wear or tailored is much more expensive than a djellaba. While a traditional djellaba ranges from 300-500 DH (about $35-$60 USD), a caftan is usually at least 800 to thousands of dirhams.
Some caftans also come with underclothes such as matching pants and or separate dress that goes underneath in a matching fabric to make a complete outfit, where as the djellaba is worn over everyday clothes which are often pajamas or a house dress for a Moroccan woman, pants and a shirt for a man. A multi-layered caftan style is also known as a takshita depending on the style.
As with all outfits, many Moroccan women painstakingly search for the perfect hijab and shoes to match the djellaba or caftan. Doing so can sometimes take longer than selecting the fabric and style of the garment itself! They look well put together in an outfit so entirely matching.
There are magazine pages and fashion shows dedicated to the djellaba and caftan. Haute couture caftan runway shows play on the national television channels each season to show the avant-garde designs that aren't really wearable for the most part . In the store windows, you can see these designs translated into versions of the djellabas and caftans that are more suited to everyday wear.
The innovation and modernization in both the djellaba and caftan make them more appealing to the younger generations keeping them a tradition in Morocco that will hopefully remain everlasting, and not merely become a national costume.