Moroccan wedding traditions are among the most vibrant in the world. Regardless of social status or religion, Jews and Muslims alike spread their celebrations and ceremonies over several days where the bride – and her attire – are at the center of attention. As the – sometimes literal – weight of traditions and protocol has been getting lighter since the 80s, how has Moroccan bridal fashion evolved?

As far back as the 12th century, the kaftan, a single piece, wide dress, was common luxury attire in North Africa and Eurasia, but while it has disappeared in most cultures, the Moroccan kaftan has evolved throughout history, becoming a universal staple in women’s fashion and worn with a sense of pride at big celebrations and weddings. Nowadays, what we commonly refer to as a kaftan is actually more accurately a takchita: a modern, layered version introduced by Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour.

Since the 1950s, and influenced by Western fashion, the first generation of elite Moroccan couture designers, such as Zina Guessous, Zhor Sebti or Tamy Tazi, introduced lighter materials such as silk and velvet instead of brocade, they modernized the cut, making it more fitting to allow for greater movement, but the modern caftan is no less flamboyant, they added sequins, crystals and contemporary embroidery shapes to the traditional woven silk gallons (sfifa) and buttons (aakd).

Seven different kaftans

As the ultimate expression of the finest Moroccan craft when it comes to weddings, the tradition was for the bride to wear seven different kaftans, each representing a region of the Kingdom. Despite the global secularization of rites and the simplification of festivities and clothing – incidentally the white, Western dress was introduced to Morocco in the 80s – the kaftan remains a central piece of the modern bride’s attire, who  often wears three to four outfits. For her big entrance, the bride is carried on an embellished wooden litter wearing a white and gold takchita that suggests purity. The other outfits are usually intended to represent her origins and to make fashion statements.

Each outfit is an occasion to create a perfect combination of the kaftan, antique and luxury jewelry, tiaras, shoes, makeup and hair. “A wedding is a performance, a mix between a drag race and a photo shoot where you have to walk the walk, stand out and strike the pose,” explains Zainab, a Moroccan newly-wed, laughing. For her, the neggafas, a group of traditional stylists, where a huge help. Since the ceremony is timed around the bride’s changes of outfits, the neggafas are responsible for her appearance and attitude. “They tell you how to move, smile, sit, and will pin the slits and folds to make you look picture perfect. Literally,” she says.  Her favorite look on her special night was a faded pink velvet kaftan with geometrical embroidery and feathers at the bottom for a Roaring Twenties touch! Her mother had it made before she even met her fiancé.

Mixed weddings

Moroccan weddings are definitely a women’s affair. “They are the life of the party. They’re in charge of everything, and they dance and light up the room!” claims Zainab’s French father-in-law. As a matter of fact, the wedding represents a unique space of freedom and catharsis, where the belted kaftan allows a suggestive sense of sensuality, gracefully highlighting the women’s curves. But as mixed weddings are increasing in popularity, the demand for evening gowns and modern bridal fashion is growing as well, according to contemporary designer Said Mahrouf.

Still, it would be a reductive, Eurocentric vision to place the ‘modern’ wedding dress in opposition to the ‘traditional’ kaftan, as the kaftan industry is very much alive, creating trends and shows, (Kaftan Dubai, the Oriental Fashion Show in Paris, Kaftan in Marrakech) and is part of an overall Moroccan ‘fashion ecosystem’ with a whole value chain throughout which different people intervene to add their layer of meaning, codes and aesthetics.