Since vaccinations started to become available in the U.S., various publications have posited that the summer of 2021 is a time to be Seen. The Wall Street Journal mused about the end of athleisure in the face of a newly-vaccinated public. High Snobiety proposed that post-pandemic dressing will trend towards the Big Fit. Vice has offered various suggestions, which include bathing suits as tops, and honestly, whatever you can find that fits. Fashion rules are out the window, and everyone who is now vaxxed, waxed, and ready to rumble, should show out appropriately, dressing not for other people but for themselves. This directive is easier said than done.
Sure, buying a lot of clothing that is categorically out-of-character is one thing, but working up the nerve to shove the body into, say, bike shorts and a blazer (?) or a FarmRio dress that does not leave space for a bra is a different kettle of fish. Bodies that looked one way prior to a year and a half inside might look different now. Dressing to be “seen” with the sort of reckless abandon suggested by the fashion powers-that-be makes me feel like I should be walking down the street in a string bikini top and Bermuda shorts, or, alternately, swaddling my entire frame in gingham and daisy-print linen, caving to the Y2k trends by dressing like a Lizzie Maguire background actor or a kindergarten teacher. Neither of these appeals to me, but the truth is, nothing does? All clothing feels bad in a way that is less about the clothes and more about me, and I can’t be fucked to figure out who the culprit is. Enter: the caftan, the
The idea of dressing in any sort of uniform is antithetical to my general sartorial mood, which relies mostly on the sad pile of clothing in my closet. Technically, the clothes I gravitate towards are a uniform of sorts, in that every time I try to branch out from what I feel comfortable in, I end up buying the same things, over and over again: mostly neutrals in vaguely baggy shapes, meant to convey Eileen Fisher on a Thrift Town budget.
Currently, the vision for who I am now has manifested in a few purchases that are out of character for me in that they highlight my jiggly middle belly in a way that I generally tried to avoid. In honor of this dubious assignment—to wear what I want and not care— I crammed myself into a new skirt before leaving the house for a barbecue and considered the soft curve of my lower abdomen in the mirror for at least 20 minutes, debating whether or not I was comfortable with showing the contours of my body as it currently is, which is somehow slightly smaller than before the world closed for a minute. Though I made the decision to go forth with the skirt in question, and promptly forgot about my body’s shape after one to four wines, the alternative tempts me: Why on Earth have I been ignoring the caftan?
“In my opinion, every summer is a caftan summer — but this summer it is especially apropos. As we emerge from quarantines and lockdowns into seeing and being seen, we need garments that speak to liberation, not constraint, that evoke lightness and ease, not heaviness and formality,” Dodai Stewart—New York Times editor, founding Jezebel editor, and notorious caftan acolyte—wrote in an email.
“We have lived through trauma and grief. Who has time for coordinating? Why waste precious moments on buttons and zippers and pulling down and yanking up and forcing thighs into jeans? With a breezy caftan, it’s one and done. Work, play, breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails, picnics, bike rides, kite-flying, gardening, ferry rides, sunrise photoshoots — a caftan works.”
It’s hard to argue with this logic. Caftans are engineered to skim over the body’s contours in service of comfort. Caftan living reflects the sort of future I dream of for myself, where I am an early retiree in Fort Lauderdale, padding around from my tiled kitchen to my backyard pool, reading a book for fifteen minutes in front of the sink, pouring myself an iced tea, and then lowering myself slowly into the shallow end. They are a perfect summer staple because it eliminates any thought: the dress is enough, and, technically, so are you.