The Republic of Turkey is country that is situated both in Asia and Europe. At the crossroads of these two continents, it has been influenced by many, many civilisations. This area has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic age and many of its ancient civilisations are renowned: Aeolian, Dorian and Ionian Greeks (from ca. 1200 BCE onwards), Armenians, Assyrians and Thracians. After Alexander the Great’s conquest (334 BCE), the area was Hellenised, a process which continued under the Roman Empire (from mid-1st century BCE) and its transition into the Byzantine Empire (from 324 CE onwards). The Seljuk Turks began migrating into the area in the 11th century CE, starting the process of Turkification. Starting from the late 13th century, the Ottomans united Anatolia and created an empire encompassing much of South-eastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. The Ottoman Empire reached the peak of its power between the 15th and 17th centuries. After its defeat in World War I (1914—1918), the Ottoman Empire was divided into various new states. The Turkish War of Independence (1919–22) resulted in the establishment of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923, with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as its first president.
Nowadays, 85% of Turkey’s population are ethnic Turks, 18% are Kurds (a non-Turkic people of ethnically diverse origins, but related to the Iranian people) and 7—12% other minorities. There are seven geographical regions of Turkey: Aegean, Black Sea, Central Anatolia, Eastern Anatolia, Marmara, Mediterranean and South-eastern Anatolia. Each one of them has its own clothing traditions, which differ greatly from each other (see below). There can even be differences in the clothing worn in different neighbourhoods of the same village, making a rich tapestry of styles throughout the area.
One of the typical features of traditional clothing in Turkey is the usage of many layers: the more layers, the more formal the costume. Very often people wear trousers, a long robe and a jacket on top. Women usually wear several scarves or kerchiefs of different colours and patterns. Flamboyance is another typical thing for Turkey. The traditional attire is always colourful, bright and striking. Daily, work and special day clothes are different. In addition, women’s hair styles differ in accordance with their social status, and whether they are married or engaged, or not.
As rural women generally have little contact with the outside world, they tend to dress in conformity with the lifestyle and traditions of the community of which they are a part. In contrast, the men who leave their villages to do military service or to work often adapt to city culture. Children’s clothes also differ according to sex and age. The concept of the evil eye is widespread, and many amulets to ward it off are included in peoples’ clothes and hair. Turkish socks are a special part of the costume as they are handmade and very colourful. A lot of different patterns are used.
The earliest sources found in the history of Turkic peoples’ (and therefore Turkish) clothing date back to the miniatures and wall pictures from Central Asia. Sources from 100 BCE reveal that woollen and cotton fabric was woven on handlooms but that silk came from China. Leather, felt materials, sheepskin and fur were also major constituents in clothes of that period.
The Turkic peoples’ way of life at that time brought about functional clothing styles. As the horse was the common and inevitable form of transport in the daily routine, women’s and men’s wear resembled each other (unisex). Sources indicate that central Asian Turks used to wear leather boots, a shirt (mintan), a short caftan used with a belt and a pair of riding trousers loose at the top narrowing downwards suitable for horse riding (şalvar). Open-fronted coats (caftan or dolman) and boots were significant as status symbols. People also wore jackets (cebken) or waistcoats (yelek). Under the coats would be a shirt or chemise. The clothing was typically arranged to show the difference layers of clothing. The long coats may have the front corners tucked up into the sash when engaged in any physical activity or just to show the fabrics of the lower layers. This wearing of various layers also became part of Muslim modesty for both men and women. The ensemble disguised the form of the body while projecting an image of substance, strength and splendour. The greater the bulk of the clothing the more imposing. The sleeves of the outer layers are arranged so that the long, more fitted sleeves of the undercoats could be seen. The sleeves may be buttoned from the wrist to elbow and so can be opened or they may even be detachable.
The head coverings (bashlyks), as with the clothes, were also made of fur or sheepskin with the purpose of protection from the cold. The bashlyks were also used as status symbols and markers of affiliation or gender. Before the conversion to Islam in the 8th and 9th centuries, the Turks wore many types of hats, with people of high status wearing very tall hats.
The emigration of Turkic tribes from Asia to Anatolia caused many cultures to integrate. This was reflected in the clothes, symbols and motifs of the 24 Gagauz tribes which formed a united culture of their own in the European part of Turkey. In the following years, Azerbaijan, Kırkhiz, Özbek, Tartar and Uygur tribes settled in Anatolia, whereby they affected each other’s intrinsic cultures.
In the 11th century CE, the Seljuks Turks migrated into the area. Their clothes were again produced from wool, felt, camel’s hair, fur, cotton and silk, and were adapted to the varying climate conditions found in Anatolia. The clothes of this period in addition display pre-Anatolian influences, though woven materials were more important.
In the Ottoman period (13th century onwards), the socio-economic differences between the administrators and the common people also affected the clothing styles. While the Palace and its court wore highly decorative costly clothes, the common people wore less expensive ones. The administrators occasionally brought about legal regulations on clothes, which were first initiated during the period of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520–66). Not only were the various classes within the society strictly regulated, but also the clothing of Muslims, Christians, Jews, the clergy, tradesmen, state and military officials
The administrators and the wealthy wore caftans with fur lining and embroidery, whereas the middle class wore a robe (cübbe), knitted jacket (hırka) and the poor wore a collarless coat (cepken) or waistcoat (yelek). The headdresses (bashlyks) were the most prominent accessories of social status. While the common people wore a type of hood (külah), while the cream of the society wore exotic headdresses (bashlyks). During the rule of Süleyman, a bashlyk adorned with precious stones called perişani was popular as the Palace. The onion-like kavuk, however, was the most common type of headdress.
The hats from the pre-Islamic era were continued into the Ottoman Period but a Muslim turban was wrapped around the base of the hat. The higher the rank, the more ornate the turban. The turban of a peasant was often just a simple scarf knotted around the hat (taç or kavuk; later the fez). The onion-like kavuk, however, was the most common type of headdress. The common people also wore a type of hood (külah), while the cream of the society wore exotic headdresses (bashlyks). During the rule of Süleyman, a bashlyk adorned with precious stones called perişani was popular. The headdresses were so important that a sculpture of a man’s headdress was placed on his headstone.
In the “Tulip Era” (1718—1730), there was a compulsive need for excessive luxury that was mirrored in the clothing of the elite upper classes. In 1825, Mahmut II attempted to modernise his country which affected predominantly the state sector. While the sarık was replaced by the fez (fes), the people employed in Bab-ı Ali began to wear trousers, setre and potin. During the Tanzimat and Meşrutiyet period in the 19th century, the common people still kept to their traditional clothing styles while the administrators and the wealthy wore a type of riding coat (redingot), jacket, waistcoat, tie (boyunbağı), shirt (mintan), sharp-pointed and high-heeled shoes.
Women’s clothes of the Ottoman period were observed in the ‘mansions’ and Palace courts. In the 16th century, women wore two-layer long entari; and a tül (a velvet shawl on their heads). Their outdoor clothing consisted of a type of cloak (ferace) and yeldirme. The simplification in the 17th century was apparent in an inner entari worn under short-sleeved, caftan-shaped outfit. The matching accessory was a belt.
In traditional clothing, the headdress was the most distinctively female part of the costume. The headdress consisted frequently of a hat (taç or takke) that was variable in shape: small and flat or very tall. A scarf was wrapped over the head and hat and under the chin and was tied on top of the head or at the back of the neck. Married women wore a second scarf wrapped horizontally around the forehead over the first scarf like a turban (all Kurdish women wore such a scarf). These scarves did not cover the face and Turkish women did not wear a full veil. A larger scarf (çarşaf) was worn when the women left the house. This scarf reached either to the elbows or the floor. Women kept their hair covered, though the plaits of young girls may be shown. The more conservative the family, the more heavily veiled the women. The scarves were typically edged in needle lace or crochet lace executed in the form of three-dimensional flowers, leaves or fruit. These embellishments were part of a code that identified the wearer’s age, marital status and affiliations. Silk or painted (yazma) scarves were important as part of the presents exchanged for betrothal or weddings.
The westernisation of women’s wear began in the 19th century, when women gradually began to participate in social life. Pera became the centre of fashion and the Paris fashions were followed by the tailors of Greek and Armenian origin. In the period of Abdülhamit II, the use of a cloak (ferace) was replaced by chador-like or abaya-like robes which hid the whole body (çarşaf) of different styles. However, the rural sector continued its traditional style of clothing. The clothing styles prevailing until the mid-19th century imposed for religious reasons entered a transformation phase of the Republican period. In the 20th century, the reforms under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1925 had a full impact in Istanbul. Garments typical to Islamic custom (both women and men wore turbans and fezzes) were announced illegal by the Turkish government in 1925. After that people began to wear a more European style of clothing. Men began to wear hats, jackets, shirts, waistcoats, ties, trousers and shoes; while the woman’s çarşaf and headscarf (peçe) were replaced by coat, scarf and shawl. However, women continued to use a lot of pieces of traditional Turkish costume. In contrast, men usually wear a mix of modern and vintage parts of attire; for example, men use caps instead of turbans. Still, nowadays, male festive costumes are often equipped with a weapon (pistol, gun, sword, knife, etc.)
Traditional dress of the Aegean region
Women’s attire consists of a long robe, baggy trousers, a short jacket, an apron, several head scarves (sometimes with a fez), slippers, and a lot of jewellery. Traditional fabrics are silk, velvet and cotton. Every piece of clothing is embroidered or embellished. Different patterns of fabric are popular, but the most common are colourful stripes.
Men’s attire consists of short baggy trousers, a jacket, a shirt, a wide belt, a neckerchief, a headdress, socks and slippers or boots. Male clothing is also rather bright and colourful, embroidered and decorated with jewellery. Stripes are the most popular among patterns on fabric. The headdress can be very interesting, high and unusual (not only a fez or turban).
Traditional dress of the Black Sea region
Traditional clothing is used mostly by women, while men wear western-style garments. The women’s attire consists of a peştemal (it is a piece of linen, usually striped, wrapped around the waist), a shawl covering the head, torso and face (keşan), socks and shoes or slippers. In some parts of the Black Sea region, women also use blue aprons, while in others wear a dress made of black silk brocade and a bright orange peştemal. Typical colours of garments of this region are black, orange, burgundy, crimson and brown. Stripes are often used, just as in other Turkish regions.
Men’s attire consists of baggy trousers (şalvar or shalwar kameez), a shirt, a jacket (often a yelek – an Ottoman men’s jacket with hanging sleeves), a headdress, socks and shoes or boots.
Traditional dress of Central Anatolia
The women’s attire consists of baggy trousers, a skirt, an apron, a shirt, a jacket, a belt (often it is a piece of colourful cloth), a headdress, socks and shoes. Central Anatolian dress is very rich, colourful and embellished. There is lots of jewellery used with festive costumes. Pieces of clothing are hand-woven and richly embroidered. Silk, velvet, cotton and woollen materials are popular.
The men’s attire consists of long or short baggy trousers, a shirt, a yelek a yelek or another type of jacket, a wide belt, headgear, socks and boots or shoes. The most commonly used colours are blue, red, yellow and black. Striped fabric is also used sometimes. The male costume has less embellishment (including embroidery) than the female one.
Traditional dress of Eastern Anatolia
Eastern Anatolia is a region where many Kurdish and Armenian people live together with Turkish people. That is why the traditional costumes of this territory have a lot of features of Kurdish and Armenian clothes.
As in other regions of Turkey, women in Eastern Anatolia wear many layers of clothes, covering the whole body. The women’s attire consists of baggy trousers, a long skirt, robe or dress, a shirt, a jacket, a wide belt (or piece of cloth as a belt), a scarf or other headdress, socks and shoes or slippers. The garments are bright and colourful, with red being one of the most popular. Fabrics with floral patterns are widespread. Women do not use lots of jewellery. The clothing is often rather simple, but can look rather festive even without much jewellery.
The men’s attire consists of baggy trousers, a shirt, a jacket (today it is sometimes replaced by a waistcoat), a wide belt, a headdress, socks and shoes or boots. Kurdish costume usually consists of a long robe, a shirt or undershirt, a wide belt, a headscarf, socks and shoes. Men’s modern costume often looks rather European, with only şalvar trousers giving some Turkish flavour to the garment.
Traditional dress of Marmara region
The traditional clothing of Marmara region of Turkey differs a little bit from garments used in other regions as the people in this region mostly use a lot of embroidery on their costumes. They always embroider undergarments (underpants and undershirt) because they are seen from under the upper clothing.
The women’s attire consists of very wide baggy trousers, a long-sleeved vest, a jacket, a belt, a headdress, socks and shoes. Sometimes an apron is also worn. Another variant of folk dress consists of embroidered underpants and long undershirt, a skirt, a jacket, a kerchief on the waist, a belt, a headdress, socks and shoes. Clothes look multilayer, puffy and rather chequered because of its rich embroidery.
The men’s attire consists of rather narrow baggy trousers (tucked into socks), a shirt, a vest, a hand towel worn in the waist belt, another towel worn across the shoulders, a headdress, high socks and shoes. Very often a neckerchief is used as well. The male costume is also richly embroidered and embellished. It is also bright, puffy and multilayer. The shirt is usually striped. A bag, weapons and a tobacco purse complement the costume.
Traditional dress of the Mediterranean region
The women’s attire consists of a skirt or dress (to below the knee), a shirt, a jacket, a headdress or kerchief, socks and shoes. The costume is very bright and colourful. The most common colours are red, blue and yellow. Striped cloth is often used for dresses, skirts and shirts. The clothing looks rich, embellished and multi-layered.
Men’s attire consists of baggy trousers (tucked into socks), a shirt, a jacket, a wide belt, a headdress, high socks and shoes. The male traditional costume looks rather simple but festive. The colour of trousers and jackets is dark: black, brown or blue. But the jackets are embellished with embroidery. The belts are colourful and are eye-catching.
Traditional dress of South-eastern Anatolia
The women’s attire consists of a long dress, a caftan (a long robe), a belt, a headscarf or other headdress, socks and shoes. The folk dress of this region has only few layers, the whole body is still covered with clothing. The pieces of attire are embellished with embroidery and jewellery, but moderately, not as richly as in some other regions.
The men’s attire consists of baggy trousers, a shirt, a robe (knee-length or just above the knee) or a jacket, a wide belt or kerchief around the waist, a headdress, socks and shoes or boots. The clothing looks pretty simple, without much embellishment. The outerwear (caftan, jacket, vest or robe) is usually embroidered.
Condra Jill (2013) Encyclopedia of National dress. Traditional clothing around the world. Volume 2. ISBN 978-0313-37635-8
1) Own picture 6th June 2015 – Young Turkish girl from a Göttingen (Germany) dance group wearing the typical layered look (her Mum said the home-made costume of the group is apparently a mixture of different regions like the members of the group)
2) Suleiman in a portrait attributed to Titian c.1530 – By Titian – http://j-times.ru/turciya/garem-sultana-tureckij-vzglyad.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2646041
3) Aegean region (Merkez Kapıkaya köyü) woman – http://nationalclothing.org/images/2015/07/Aegean-region_woman.jpg
4) Black Sea region (Tabzon) girls – http://www.turkeytraveladvisory.com/Image/large/Turkey-Travel-AdvisoryTrabzon–Tradational-Clothes-19-11-2012-00-43-52.JPG
5) Central Anatolia (Sivas) woman and handmade doll – http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/images/news/201406/n_67872_1.jpg
6) Eastern Anatolia (Adiyaman and Malatya) women – http://nationalclothing.org/31-nationalclothing/middle-east/turkey/40-each-of-seven-turkey-regions-has-its-own-clothing-traditions-and-features.html
7) Marmara region (Keles district) woman – http://nationalclothing.org/31-nationalclothing/middle-east/turkey/40-each-of-seven-turkey-regions-has-its-own-clothing-traditions-and-features.html
8) Mediterranean region (Tefenni ) man – http://nationalclothing.org/31-nationalclothing/middle-east/turkey/40-each-of-seven-turkey-regions-has-its-own-clothing-traditions-and-features.html
9) South-eastern Anatolia (Gaziantep province) woman – http://nationalclothing.org/31-nationalclothing/middle-east/turkey/40-each-of-seven-turkey-regions-has-its-own-clothing-traditions-and-features.html