Culture, Discover Turkey, The Arts

Turkish Clothing of Ottoman Times ©

The Turks are a society devoted to tradition and, of course, this includes clothing and dress. Salvar (trousers), inner robes, and kaftans (outer gowns or robes) worn in Central Asia came to Anatolia with the Seljuks (1037-1157) and continued to be worn by the Ottomans. The earliest sources on the history of Turkish clothing date back to miniatures and wall pictures uncovered in Central Asia in 100 B.C. Woolen and cotton fabrics were woven on hand looms but silk had to come from China. The Turkish way of living at that time required that clothing styles be both highly functional as well as practical. Since the horse was the common form of transport in the daily lives of the people, both men’s and women’s clothing were virtually the same. This would be known in our modern vernacular as “unisex” clothing.

Leather and felt materials were major components of the clothing of the period, along with sheepskin, fur and woolen materials. Central Asian Turks used to wear leather boots, a mintan shirt (a short caftan used with a belt) and riding trousers. The trousers were loose at the top and more narrow towards the bottom, making them suitable for horse riding. Caftans and boots were also a sign of status.

Bashlyks, or head coverings, were made of fur or sheepskin with their main purpose being protection from the cold. The bashlyk is the traditional Circassian, Turkic and Cossack cone-shaped headdress/hood, usually made of leather, felt or wool, with lappets for wrapping around the neck. Local versions determined the trim that might be found on them. It could be decorative cords, embroidery. metal strings, fur balls or tassels. Among dozens of versions were winter bashlyks worn atop a regular headdress. They were also made of cotton, silk, were hand-knit, or other materials were used. Considered a traditional folk garment and the reflection of a person’s status, they were also used as a uniform headpiece.

Emigration from Asia to Anatolia caused many cultures to integrate. Naturally, this constant movement of different tribes and peoples was reflected in their clothes, symbols and motifs. Clothes of the Seljuks were produced from materials such as wool, felt, camel’s hair, fur, cotton and silk.The principal material used was the fabrics that were produced from the highly developed art of weaving.

The Sultan’s Palace and court displayed very showy clothes, while the common people were only concerned with covering themselves. Palace administrators occasionally brought about legal regulations on clothes first initiated during the period of Suleyman the Magnificent. In this period, men wore outer items on the head and on the feet. Palace administrators and the wealthy wore kaftans with fur linings and ornate embroidery. The middle class wore clothing called kaba and cubbe; a long gown with a diagonal opening down the front, often kept in place with a sash or cummerbund. The poor wore collarless vests.

The most striking characteristics of Seljuk dress are the V-shaped neck opening and the decoration on the seam of the outer kaftan, where the arm of the garment joins the body of the garment. This seam would have a narrow, inscribed band along its length called a tiraz. Over time, the Ottomans introduced changes to this style of dress that provided even greater variety for this type of decoration.

In the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, there is a very rich collection of Ottoman garments. More than 1,500 varieties of clothing are on display, from outer gowns to socks. Women’s and children’s clothing is on display as well.

Among the earliest examples in the Topkapı Palace costume collection are two fur-lined outer garments made of dark brownish-green and red broadcloth. Both have a V-neckline and are slightly longer than jacket length – one with long sleeves and the other with short sleeves. The fur lining has been turned to the exterior at the collar, the front, and the sleeve openings.

They are registered as kazaki garments in the palace’s early registers and display a style of dress bearing a strong Seljuk influence. This picture is an example of a type of kazaki.

The term kazaki also appeared in the work of the Italian traveler Luigi Bassano da Zara, who visited Istanbul in 1545 and presented the first information about Turkish dress to the Western world. It appears that the style of kazaki continued to be used throughout the early eras of the empire. But at some point, both the use of the term and the garment style itself vanished.

After that time, other types of garments began to be worn by the Seljuks. The kaba and cubbe, mentioned above continued to be worn until the end of the Ottoman Empire.

Fabrics for Sultan’s Garments

In the 16th century, when the Ottomans were at the peak of their economic and political power, the arts also reached a turning point. The textile industry shared in this wealth and the development of weaving reached a pinnacle when gold and silver metallic threads were added to silk textiles. The Ottoman sultans placed great importance on their garments and wore robes and kaftans sewn of the most expensive and luxurious fabrics. Their taste for luxury and superior-quality materials significantly influenced the development of Ottoman textile weaving.

Designs for the fabrics used for court apparel and furnishings were created at special workshops in the palace by court designers known as hassa nakkasları. Because the palace workshops became unable to meet the demand, orders were also given to workshops in Bursa and Istanbul. The fabrics woven for the palace as well as for the general public, particularly silk fabrics, were subject to stringent control by the state. Details about the number of warp threads, their weight, length, twist, and dye were established and communicated to the relevant artisans via municipal codes. After the fabric was woven, it was sent to a fabric-quality inspector (arsıncı in Turkish), who examined the cloth. If the width, length, and weaving standards were approved, the cloth was stamped and released to the market.

The splendid garments of the sultans were made of various fabrics woven in these workshops. They included heavy silks like kemha (brocade), kadife (velvet), catma (brocaded velvet), seraser (a precious silk fabric woven with threads of gold and silver), satins and silk lampas, and lighter silks such as taffeta and vala (a gauze-like fabric). Of course, there were also woolens, mohair, cashmere, and a variety of cotton fabrics. To meet the demand for fine cloth, fabrics were also imported from renowned weaving centers in the West — notably those in Venice, Genoa and Florence, Italy. In addition, a great deal of fabric and many garments arrived as commercial products and diplomatic gifts from countries such as Iran, India, and China, all famous for their production of silk textiles.

Headgear of the Ottoman Sultans

The earliest types of headgear to complete the dress of the Ottoman sultans was the woolen, cone-shaped horasani. This type of headgear has been used by the Turks since very old times. A tall version of this headgear had long been part of the dress worn by Turkic women as well. During the reign of Murad I (1359-1389), a style of horasani was instituted that was generally called bork. It was made from a long, tubular piece of white felt, half of which was folded back and hung to the rear. When worn by the sultan and Janissaries, it was decorated and known as a uskuf.

It is said to have been worn by Murad I during the conquests in Europe in the late fourteenth century. During the same period, the sultans wore the uskuf with a turban wrapped around it when they participated in meetings of the council of state. This style of headgear became known as the tac-ı sultani (sultanic headgear). During the reign of Mehmed II (1444-46, 1451-81), the royal headgear took a cylindrical form, around which fine muslin was wrapped. This new type of headgear was known as mucevveze. Sultan Selim I wore a headpiece that was named after him, selimi, which was somewhat longer than the mucevveze.

Another type of headgear considered to be the invention of Suleyman the Magnificent is known as yusufi. It is the same height as the selimi, however, its crown was wider and fluted, and it was worn when the sultans were seated on the throne.

The Westernization of Court Garments

Beginning in the 17th Century, the Ottoman Empire began to be influenced by the West, a turning point for the Ottoman state’s fortunes in politics and economics. The West influenced the Ottoman world not only in matters of technology but also in the arts. Economic bottlenecks affected the textile industry as well and resulted in the deterioration of the quality of Ottoman cloth.

Sultan Mahmud II

One of the innovative movements toward Westernization of dress began during the reign of Sultan Mahmud II (1808-1839) in the Tanzimat (Reordering) period. The Ottoman state officially implemented reforms in order to open up to the West. Half of Mahmud II’s garments were traditional in style and the other half were in Western style. He also instituted a new military body called Askir-i Mansure-i Muhammediyye (The Victorious Soldiers of Muhammed). It was Western in its organization as well as its clothing. Westernization of military garments caused the Ottoman sultans to dress like Western commanders. Their uniforms consisted of suits of dark color, such as black and dark blue, pants with bands on the sides, and jackets embroidered with yellow or white thread on the collars and wristbands. Instead of wearing turbans, the Ottoman sultans started to wear the fez. The Ottoman sultans looked very different after abandoning their four-century-old style of costumes.

For those travelers who might be visiting in Konya, Turkey at some point, there is a particular exhibition that might be of interest.

Garments of all 36 Ottoman sultans were recreated by trainees at the Konya Technical School for Girls, from Mehmed the Conqueror to Suleiman the Magnificent to Osman I and Sultan Selim I. The clothing is exhibited in the Kalehan Ecdat Garden of the Konya Metropolitan Municipality.

The first samples of the collection belong to Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror and Sultan Abdulhamid II. As the richest examples of Ottoman textiles and fabrics, the recreated garments were made after a detailed study was conducted. The pieces are exhibited on sculptures of the sultans made of silicone.

Copyright (c) by North America TEN and Mary Bloyd.

All pictures and video clips belong to their original owners, where applicable. No copyright infringement intended. Please ask for permission before reprints.

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