From Ottoman Costumes: From Textile to Identity. S. Faroqhi and C. Neumann, ed. Istanbul: Eren Publishing, 2005


Ottoman Influences in Western Dress

Charlotte Jirousek


Fashion is a significant area of cultural borrowing that reflects the broader exchanges of ideas that occurred between the Ottomans and the West. Dress reflected both personal tastes and cultural values in these societies. A great deal has been written about the influence of  Western fashion in Turkey, but less has been said about the contributions of Turkish dress in the West. Although there are some well-known exceptions to this, in general comparative studies have tended to be limited to economic and political history. What has been referred to as Orientalism in the arts generally focuses on literature and painting, but usually drawn from Arab, Indian or Persian sources -- this in spite of the obvious presence of Ottoman civilization on the Mediterranean borders of Europe over a period of centuries. Dress, however, is a form of expression in which all people participate.


The Fundamental Form of European Dress

In order to be able to make coherent statements about exchanges of dress ideas East and West, it is necessary to first define what was characteristic about the aesthetics of both Turkish and European dress. The essential characteristic of European clothing was that it revealed more of the contours of the body than did dress of the East. In the early Medieval period both men’s and women’s garments were laced to the upper body, and although women’s gowns were modestly skirted to the ankles, men’s were short enough to display a well-turned leg, usually encased in closely fitted or laced hose. Although outer garments such as capes, mantles and hoods were worn for functional or perhaps for ceremonial purposes, prior to the Crusades trousers as worn in the East were unknown, as were sleeved, front opening coats. Nor was the layering of these garments a particularly important aesthetic element in the early middle ages.

Tailoring-- the use of curved seams and

darts to achieve individual fit-- is a distinctly European invention of the fourteenth century that enhanced the display of the body contours.[1] Men displayed their legs in fitted hose that were separate covers for each leg, suspended from the interior of the upper body garment, also closely fitted. Only much later did men encase their legs in a single bifurcated garment, trousers. For women the legs were enveloped in long skirts, with no bifurcated garment of any kind worn until the mid nineteenth century. The gender division of dress was thus much more pronounced than in Near Eastern dress, with garments of entirely different construction-- hose (later trousers) and skirts each reserved exclusively for one sex.[2] For women, not only was the  upper body garment closely fitted, the neck, head and face might be exposed.

Yet within these general aesthetic limitations we see changes so dramatic that an observer from the fifteenth century would be hard put to identify the nationality, or even the rank and occupation of Europeans he might encounter in later periods. Costume historians find it far easier to date European garments that have survived, because fashions changed much more rapidly and dramatically in construction, silhouette and embellishment.


The fundamental form of Turkish Dress

The Turks trace their origin to the steppes of Eastern Central Asia. There they first appear in history as pastoral nomads, horse riders who followed their herds of sheep and goats. From this lifestyle a form of dress evolved that was adapted to life on the move, and the vagaries of climates that could include extremes of heat and cold. The fundamental garments for both men and women were loose trousers, most suitable for riding, with front opening coats and vests or jackets.[3] The coats, jackets, and vests could be layered over a shirt for warmth. They had the advantage over closed tunics in that they could be removed easily a layer at a time as needed, even when on horseback.[4] Sashes are used to close garments and also serve as receptacles for personal items or weapons. Distinctions of gender or status are indicated by differences in other accessories, such as jewelry and above all, headgear. Prominent and often complex headgear was a particular characteristic of Ottoman dress for both men and women. Details of accessories, textile embellishment, textile choice, and the particular combinations and layering sequence of garments worn further distinguished gender, class, and particular clans or communities .

The wearing of many layers always had been a characteristic of ceremonial or festive dress, and was a sign of wealth and status.[5] The layering of coats is a particular characteristic of Turkish dress, creating a silhouette that muffled the body form and equated luxurious dress with modesty and bulk. The layers were not merely worn one on top of the other, they were designed and arranged so as to reveal the materials of all the layers, to sumptuous effect. The significance of layering as a broader aesthetic and spiritual concept is deeply embedded in the culture. There is an array of special textiles, often elaborately embellished, used as covers or wrappers for gifts, or storage of especially valued items which may themselves be articles of dress or textiles.[6] Here again formality is associated with layers. In Islamic decorative arts, the layering of intricate patterns one on top of the other is seen as a spiritual metaphor for the nature of the divine order, seemingly incomprehensible, but in fact planned and meaningful.[7]

Once Islam was adopted, Turks also adopted the tradition, based in the teachings of the Prophet, that Muslims must be distinguished by their dress from non-Muslims.[8] Turbans for men, veiling for women and the wearing of certain colors and fabrics became markers of the Muslim. In Ottoman society, which included many ethnic and religious groups, dress became a particular marker of any religious affiliation, established by law.[9]

These forms remained essentially unchanged over centuries, particularly for men, except for dynastic changes in headgear. For women, the essential forms also remained the same although there were some gradual changes in silhouette, materials and accessories. The fact that many items in the royal wardrobes preserved in Topkapı cannot be dated to a specific reign, and perhaps not even to a specific century confirms the stability of Ottoman dress forms, especially in earlier periods. This slow rate of change had begun to accelerate in the eighteenth century, however, as a wider range of consumer goods became available and exposure to new tastes and fashion ideas proliferated.[10]

Sources of fashion ideas

The contacts between Ottomans and Europeans were far more extensive than is often suggested. It is easier to document the presence of Europeans-- merchants, diplomats, and tourists in Ottoman lands than the other way around because so many have left us memoirs of their experiences, starting with Breydenbach in 1481, and including such famous travel writers as de Nicolay, de Busbecq and many others.[11] The travel accounts were widely published. Many offered both descriptions and illustrations of Ottoman dress to a select but influential audience. These accounts and their illustrations were republished, quoted, and copied by others. Costume books became a popular commodity beginning in the sixteenth century.[12] Artists such as Giovanni Bellini and Melchior Lorck were early travelers to the Ottoman court. Their works provided source material for many other painters and printmakers who sought to include the Turk in their representations of the world. Even in the early medieval period features of Muslim dress had been used in portrayals of Near Eastern figures incorporated into Biblical scenes. By the late fifteenth century Ottoman costume was meticulously and often quite accurately depicted. (Left; 1481 image of Turks, Breydenbach) Paintings recording panoramas of great battles against the Turk, diplomatic receptions, and historic events that involved Middle Eastern figures were displayed in palaces, churches and council chambers in every part of Europe.

Actual Ottoman clothing returned to Europe in the baggage of merchants, soldiers  and diplomats. Travelers in Ottoman lands were frequently encouraged to adopt Ottoman dress for reasons of safety and convenience:

“When you go from Constantinople, Smyrna or Aleppo with the Caravan, it behoves all people to carry themselves according to the mode of the country; in Turkie like a Turk, in Persia as a Persian; else would they be accounted ridiculous, nay sometimes they would hardly be permitted to pass in some places...”[13]

Clothing was also important as a ceremonial gift in the Ottoman Empire. The official reception of visitors involved the presentation of luxurious coats, from the fifteenth century onwards. Both textiles and costume were part of royal exchanges of gifts.[14] A number of travelers had their portraits done in their exotic Turkish dress; such portraits were particularly popular from the seventeenth century onwards. Of course, these European travelers were also exposing Ottoman citizens to European dress, but the effects of this exposure would be slower to appear.[15] The numbers of European visitors and residents in Ottoman lands began to rise markedly in the eighteenth century, and exploded  in the nineteenth century.

On the other hand, Ottoman visitors to Europe were far less numerous, although they increased markedly in the 18th century and after. The most likely encounters with Turks were on the battlefield. Military dress and other military customs and characteristics were important influences on Western tastes. However, in certain cities Ottoman citizens-- both Christian and Muslim -- were to be seen; clearly they were commonly on the streets of Venice where they came as merchants. In 1621 Ottoman Turks were established by the city fathers in their own emporium on the Grand Canal, which structure survives today and is still known as the Fondego di Turchi. This large structure served as both a warehouse for goods, but also as the residence for Muslim Turkish merchants in the city, until 1835. Non-Muslim communities of Ottoman merchants (Greek, Armenian, and Balkan) had establishments of their own in other districts of Venice.[16] However, Muslim travelers were rare in Europe prior to the sixteenth century, and therefore whatever information existed in the West regarding the Levant was most likely brought back by Western travelers. The presence of Ottoman dress in the streets of Venice by 1500 is evidenced in the many paintings of the city that can be seen in public buildings documenting public events. Street crowds were frequently depicted as including Ottoman figures, and Ottomans are often featured as honored emissaries being received by notables of the city. During the sixteenth century the Ottoman navy wintered in Toulon and Marseilles in 1537 and 1542 as treaty allies of France, providing the French with ample exposure to Ottoman dress and customs. Although regular Ottoman diplomatic missions were unknown until the eighteenth century, envoys  visited  the courts of Europe for specific diplomatic purposes.[17] These relatively rare but noteworthy appearances frequently aroused interest in Ottoman dress formsCor at least details, reinterpreted forms based on Ottoman dress that would result in a surge of “orientalist” fashions following such visits. There were also Muslim merchants who ventured to travel throughout Europe. For example, a Dutch orientalist scholar, Thomas van Erpe, reported an encounter with a Muslim merchant from Morocco in the town of Conflans in 1611.[18] By the late eighteenth century such contacts became relatively commonplace, and further expanded in the nineteenth century as Ottomans began to reach out to European political, technological, and educational models.[19]

Trade was itself an extremely important source of  cultural and fashion exchange. The history of the textile trade between Europe and the Ottoman Empire is too long and complex to describe in depth here. However, suffice to say that goods traveled in both directions, were copied in local manufactories in both empires, and altered the look of clothing in both directions. From the eighteenth century onward the flow of goods was increasingly from European to Ottoman markets, but in earlier periods, Europeans were more likely to be customers for Ottoman luxuries, or for the luxuries arriving from points further east and acquired through Ottoman ports.[20]

Of course, textiles and dress were far from being the only cultural borrowings that occurred. Music, decorative design in architecture and furnishings; philosophical, literary and artistic ideas; even foods, as well as technologies and military ideas also traveled between both worlds. Theater and Opera both became venues for the presentation of Ottoman dress, costume for the many productions with Turkish themes or characters that can be documented from the sixteenth century onward.[21] Although theatrical productions often distorted Ottoman dress to suit local notions of beauty and fashion, images of such theatrical “Turkish” costume tells us just what features of Ottoman dress Europeans considered both attractive and distinctively “Eastern”. Fanciful representation of Turkish costume frequently involved layered or asymmetrically draped or loose garments for both men and women, turbans and enormous plumes for men, or elaborate headdresses with plumes and trailing veils for women. However, these features were embellishments applied to the typical tailored garment forms, with doublet and hose or corset and skirts. However, by the eighteenth century we see images of famous actors and actresses in Turkish dress that appear to be somewhat more accurate; indeed, at least one actress, Madame de Favart, had her costume sent from Constantinople.[22] By this date, the stylistic distance between Eastern and Western dress was not so vast, and so accuracy became more appealing and acceptable.

Historically, there has been a tendency for fashion to be borrowed from centers of perceived power, even when the source is an adversary. This tendency can be readily seen in the twentieth century, where American fashions have permeated virtually every corner of the world; witness the television images of Anti-American protestors in China following the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Kosovo, in which mobs are united not only in their disapproval of U.S. actions but also in their uniform of levis, T-shirts, running shoes and baseball caps. Similarly the dress of the seemingly invincible Turk made a great impression on those who faced them in the marketplace and on the battlefield, particularly from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries, although that fascination has never completely gone away. Since fashion systems depend upon planned obsolescence to engender profits, there is a continual need to make fashion “new”. The exotic has long been a source of novelty for fashion leaders seeking fresh ways to enrapture their audience. However, the fashionable have never been scholars of dress, and so are casual in their blending of ideas and in their attribution of sources. Only by comparing the actual garments can one see the likely origins of fashion innovations.


Ottoman influences in Western dress: Coats and trousers

Coats and trousers were the essential garments of Turkish men and women. By the twelfth century front opening coats begin to appear as outer garments worn initially by scholars and clerics (Left; 14th century monk). However, trousers, which were a great departure from European clothing construction, would not be adopted so quickly. The advantages of coats, however, were more apparent. Coats and jackets or vests, unlike mantles or cloaks, stayed in place on the body and did not encumber free movement of the arms. They can also be readily donned or doffed as circumstances require, and need not be pulled over the head as did the sleeved tunics common to previous European experience.

In religious and scholarly dress, during the First Crusade coats begin to appear  that had either no sleeve, like the Arab ~b~ or the short sleeve of Turkish-style outer kaftans designed to show the sleeve of the coat(s) underneath. The adoption of such garments by European clerics coincided with the emergence of scholarly interest in Islamic texts as a source of knowledge on medicine, mathematics, and other subjects. Also we see the appearance in Western dress of the very distinctive Turkic feature of the hanging sleeveB another means by which the Turkish wearer could display the rich fabric of an under coat, through the opening of the partially detached sleeve of an outer coat. The drawings of such coats in European contexts show a different construction than the Turkish examples, but the concept is strikingly similar, and quite new to European fashion.

The earliest form of this feature are the long extensions of sleeves called tippets, Both are reminiscent of the Turkish hanging sleeves . The tippet resembles the effect seen in a quilted silk jacket with chain mail lining, dated to the fourteenth century, seen in the Istanbul War Museum. This jacket had tight long sleeves that were slit from the wrist to the elbow with closely spaced buttons that closed the mail-lined sleeve snug to the wrist. However, it is probable that when not in battle, or in warm weather, the sleeves would have been allowed to dangle from the elbow like the tippet. (Left; 14th c.) Hanging sleeve effects become increasingly striking in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Fuller long  sleeves beginning in the late thirteenth century may have a long slit through which the arm can be inserted. This idea continues to be used in sixteenth century coats.  Treatments are extremely varied. as longer gowns come into vogue, particularly for older men, we see various arrangements of layered sleeves that permit a closely fitted under-sleeve, often long and wrinkled and pushed up, and/or with a funnel-shaped cuff turned back to show a contrasting lining. Both features were common to Turkish, Persian, and Central Asian coat sleeves even before the Muslim period. The over-sleeves may be also wide, and either long  or short, but designed to reveal the snugly fitted under-sleeve of the cote or pourpoint.

Also by the end of the twelfth century we see the appearance of pelissons, which are fur-lined outer garments, worn by both men and women.[23] By the fourteenth and fifteenth century we see fur-lined coats that bear a striking resemblance to the Ottoman style. From this time on coats, short and long, become part of the repertoire of fashion.

The visual effect of layering inevitable with coats is particularly interesting. Coats are a very important feature of male dress in the first half of the sixteenth century. A short wide coat is worn that creates an impressive upper body silhouette without obscuring the essential European feature beautifully hosed and decorated legs, the fitted doublet, and the ostentatiously displayed codpiece. The sleeve of the coat is short, permitting display of an elaborately decorated under-sleeve in the Turkish manner. Loose short coats of this type first appeared in the 1490s in Italy, where the cut of sleeve and collar is virtually equivalent to Turkish examples. By the 1530s the form had been adapted to European tastes, becoming much more structured and elaborated in keeping with the aesthetics of the Mannerist style then in vogue in Europe.

The sixteenth century was a period in which in both war and commerce the Ottomans were a crucial issue for the European powers. Henry VIII is known to have been taken with Turkish dress. His chronicler Edward Hall described a fete at the English court at which  Henry appeared with his retinue dressed as a Turkish Sultan as part of a masquerade.[24] Toward the end of his reign in 1542, Henry VIII posed for a portrait that is a striking comparison (apart from headgear) to that of his contemporary, Süleyman the Magnificent, but because of the pose even more dramatically resembles that of a later sixteenth-century sultan, Mehmed III .

Another item of dress inevitably associated with coats is the button. In the early Medieval period European clothing was normally secured with brooches, pins, or laces (also known as points). It is part of the Middle Eastern and Central Asian tradition of coats from an early date. In the Book of Chess of Alfonso the Wise of Castile a Moor is shown wearing a long gown with buttons, but buttons were not worn by the Spaniards in the illustrations. Buttons can also be seen in a Moorish ceiling painting in the Alhambra (c. 1354). Button makers are one of the trades listed in a document from Paris dated 1292, so by this date, buttons were beginning to come in to use in France at least. On sixteenth century European coats rows of horizontal bands form distinctive closures not previously seen in European fashion. Comparable examples can be seen on kaftans from the late 15th century in the Topkapi collections. The Turkish examples use an applied flat silk braid joining the fronts with a button and loop; Henry’s more ostentatious Mannerist version seen to the left is created in bejeweled gold, but braid equivalents were also being used. This type of closure first appears in European dress in the first half of the sixteenth century, and will become a staple of European fashion, particularly associated with military or ceremonial dress. However, it does not only appear as a closure on men’s coats. A portrait of Elizabeth I c. 1575 has a bodice closed with such bands of decorative braid.  When trade negotiations were concluded in 1581 between the Ottoman Empire and the English, the exchange of royal gifts included an entire ensemble of Turkish clothing sent by Sultan Murad to Elizabeth.[25] A delightful portrait by Rubens of the child Eleonora Gonzaga dating from 1600 also shows an Ottoman style short sleeved coat with rows of gold braid and buttons.

The wearing of loose dressing gowns at home, sometimes referred to as banyans became a fashion in the 1670s. There was a particular fashion for banyans made of painted Indian cottons[26] Diarist Samuel Pepys bought Indian gowns, and posed for a portrait in one. Although initially these gowns were imported from India, the shape was simple, and was soon copied by English tailors. As is often the case with exotic fashions, the provenance of these gowns was vague; Pepys visited Sir Phillip Howard dressed “in a gown and turban like a Turk”. There is also a mention of a rare collection of Chinese “vests” admired by Evelyn.[27] Clearly the fashion for dressing gowns included articles with a wide variety of origins. At this time, however, things described as Indian or Persian had an undeniable cachet. Then as now the terminology of fashion was intended more to capture the imagination of the moment than it was intended to accurately document provenance. In any case, as was stated previously, the roots of clothing forms among the Ottomans, Persians and Muslims of India were related, involving similar forms and arrangements of layered garments.

By the last quarter of the seventeenth century France had established a standing national army, paid and equipped by taxes, and wearing a national uniform. This was the first such military organization and national uniform.[28] The mehter, or military band that accompanied janissary armies into battle made a great impact on the military powers of Europe; by the sixteenth century military bands had been created by the Austrians and others to inspire their own troops, dressed in uniforms that resembled Turkish şalvar and çepken.

The bifurcated trousers or pantaloons long worn in the East begin to appear as sailor’s garments in the late sixteenth century. The garment often referred to as “melon hose”, worn by fashionable men during the later sixteenth century are constructed in the same manner as one type of Turkish şalvar; that is, with draw string waistband and drawstring gathering at each leg-- only shorter, in keeping with the European male penchant for displaying the leg. By the early seventeenth century melon hose had elongated into full breeches, gathered just below the knee and at the waist.

Probably the most notorious example of orientalist influence in western dress is the emergence of the modern men’s suit. The suit would replace the doublet and hose long worn by European men with layered coats and trousers.  The appearance of this style is documented in the diaries of Pepys and Evelyn as a new introduction in October, 1666. The essential components of what we know as the suit were trousers or breeches; a single bifurcated lower body garment; the shirt, which had now been exposed as a garment of fashion and not merely underwear; the vest or waistcoat; the outer coat; and the cravat. By the 1660s all of these components had come into use.

The outer coat appears as a fur-lined hunting coat in the 1620s. It began to be worn indoors thereafter. Some men took to wearing it without the doublet, and with the personal linen, the shirt, visible. This style may have originated with the soldiers habit of wearing their long outer coat without the doublet in summer.[29] The corners of the coat were often turned up over the full petticoat breeches Worn in this way, the resemblance to the Janissary coat is striking. John Evelyn reports that he reminded King Charles II of a treatise he had written which argued for dress reform, suggesting a “Persian vest” as a modest alternative;[30] after the plague and fire of London in 1665-66 it was widely felt that the licentiousness of the court (including dress) had brought down God's wrath. Charles did announce a reform, which was to be a “vest”, an item which Pepys wondered about, as it was a term usually associated with eastern garments, and therefore presumably improper attire for a Christian gentleman.  At this time the vest was a sleeved garment. It was typically a loose coat made of plain silk. In the new ensemble proposed by the King, the exotic vest was to be worn buttoned over the shirt as a more modest covering to that controversial inner garment, but under the coat that had come into fashion, with both being the same length. The entire ensemble was to be made in one fabric, in a sober solid color. A neck cloth, or cravat, was added to the ensemble; an item purported to have been introduced from the costume of Croatian soldiers. The vest soon became a fancier fabric, however. Thus all the components of the modern suit came together.

Evelyn reported the interesting coincidence that this ensemble was first seen in public worn by the King to a performance of a play entitled Mustapha on October 18 , 1666 in London, a play with a Turkish theme; however, he describes the new garment as a “Persian” vest, although even the editor of his diary notes that there are no grounds for the Persian provenance.[31] Both Evelyn and Pepys had admired Persian dress. Evelyn had seen Persians in Italy in 1645. Turkish vests were featured in Davenant's popular opera, The Siege of Rhodes in 1656, among many other productions with Turkish themes. The costume worn by the lead actor, Betterton, was described as a turban and Turkish vest, which was a knee-length coat of fancy brocade. Artists had been promoting a similar garment for use in portraits, known as an “artistic vest” which was held to be more fashion-neutral. Persians, being like Indians more distant and exotic, also had the allure of common enmity with the Turk, and so the cachet of calling the new vest “Persian” was greater. However, since real Persian coats in this period typically had a diagonally cut neckline that closed at the side seam (essentially double-breasted), and the Turkish coats closed center front, the actual prototype was likely Turkish. Double breasted waistcoats did not appear in fashion until the end of the eighteenth century.

Thus a major paradigm shift in European men’s dress occurs, in which the hose and doublet or tunic that had been the core of European men’s fashion was replaced by the prototypes for trousers, waistcoat, coat, shirt and tie. Another century would be needed to bring the new ensemble to a form fully recognizable as the classic business suit, uniform of the industrial era, but the elements were in place. By the nineteenth century this Near Eastern contribution to Western dress would, in its evolved form, return to its land of origin and begin to transform dress  in the East, accompanying the wider reforms that would begin to occur.

Meanwhile in Europe and the United States, Orientalist factors continued to emerge in fashion. Of particular interest is the role played by Ottoman women’s dress in the emerging suffrage movement. In the eighteenth century Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Embassy Letters had painted a sympathetic picture of Ottoman women that differed markedly from that previously provided by condescending or fantasy-inspired male writers. She noted in particular that they possessed legal property rights and  protections that far surpassed the rights of Western women.[32] She took the comfortable and modest dress of Ottoman women as a symbol of this admiration, and wore it on her return to England, (see left) where she supported the emerging feminist movement. In the early nineteenth century other female travelers similarly adopted Ottoman dress following their sojourns in Constantinople, notably author Julia Pardoe, Sophia Lane Poole, Isabel Burton, Anne Blunt, and Isabella Bird Bishop.[33] These writers frequently commented on the personal, reproductive, and economic rights enjoyed by Ottoman women but not by their Euro-American counterparts. Fanny Janet Blunt, who lived for twenty years in the Ottoman Empire, wrote that “should a lady possess any property the husband cannot assume any right over it, nor over any of the rest of her belongings. The wisdom and generosity of this ... cannot be too highly commended”.[34] This was written four years before the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act by the British Parliament in 1882. Thus when Amelia Jenks Bloomer adopted and promoted her “Turkish trousers”, she was neither the first to do so, nor was her choice of costume without deeper meaning than mere physical emancipation from corseting and  crinolines.[35]

The intense reaction against this sign of women’s emancipation was not simply a reaction to a garment; the symbolism of Turkish trousers was not unknown to those engaged in the debate over women’s rights. Although “Bloomers” did not immediately take hold, and were gradually abandoned by many feminists, they eventually entered the mainstream of dress; first as exercise wear for girls, and by the 1890s as cycling wear and beach wear for women. However, at the same time, nonconformists of rank such as Lady Archibald Campbell sought to expand the meaning of womanhood in part through her dress, on one occasion shocking her hostess by appearing at a ball at Marlborough House dressed in a costume that featured very full trousers, and eliciting comment on the “Arabian Nights Dress” she wore in the streets of London. The Crimean War (1853-56) And the Russo-Turkish war (1877) served to maintain European attention on the Ottoman Empire.

Male dress, which was almost as restrictive as women’s in this period, was also challenged by nonconformists who sought a degree of comfort and escape from the rigidities of public life. In some instances these variations in dress challenged established notions of male gender identity through the adoption of exotic forms of coats and trousers. The adoption of loose knee length trousers, colorful smoking jackets or dressing gown and fezzes for at-home wear were among examples often associated with “aesthetic dress”. Aesthetic style embraced Islamic sources in architecture and interior design as well as fashion, and also was associated with social reform issues of the day.




Headgear was one of the most dramatic areas of borrowing from East to West. It is possibly the most prominent and distinctive of Ottoman dress features. Prior to the Crusades, however, headgear was not a particularly important feature of Western dress. Europeans wore hoods or hats to keep off sun and rain, or helmets for protection in warfare, but apart from royal crowns (themselves a borrowing from Byzantine practice) headgear was essentially functional. In contrast, the earliest ancestors of the Turks wore prominent headgear to mark status and affiliation.[36] As Muslims this tradition was augmented by the adoption of the turban, and also of more strict veiling for women. Turkish women had not previously veiled their faces, and even in the Muslim era most were less strictly veiled than were their Arab counterparts.

The influence of Ottoman headgear on European fashion particularly between 1380 and 1580, was the subject of an earlier paper.[37] This discussion will summarize that study.

By the eleventh century the turban, that quintessential mark of the Muslim, had already spread to Europe.[38] From the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries European trade with the Near East had greatly expanded, an outgrowth of the Crusades. European commercial attention in this period initially centered on Egypt, then under Mamluk rule.  Although the Mamluks shared aspects of the Islamic culture with their Arab and Coptic subjects, they also  maintained a certain separation.[39] This was evidenced in their dress, and particularly in their prominent headgear. Mamluk headgear included a distinctive horned structure that bore a striking resemblance to the bicorne headdresses that became fashionable in Europe at the end of the fourteenth and beginning of the fifteenth century. Mamluk court headgear were documented in paintings by Mansueti, and in works by Carpaccio, such as the Triumph of St. George.[40] These forms of Mamluk ceremonial headgear date to as early as the thirteenth century.[41] The fashion for these forms  faded when in the later fifteenth century Ottoman conquests first weakened Mamluk power and strategic position in the Eastern trade, and eventually ended Mamluk rule in 1517.[42]

In the latter half of the fifteenth century  following the conquest of Constantinople the bicorne is replaced by a headdress with a single “horn”, the hennin.[43] The hennin varied in height, with some forms being quite tall and pointed, and others shorter and flat topped. Both types were typical of Turkish headgear.

Between 1380 and 1450 Turbans were an obviously oriental feature of European dress that would also reappear at intervals into the twentieth century. Although turbans had long been known in Europe, in this period they became ubiquitous. The forms that fall into this category include the chaperon, the smooth padded structure referred to as the roundlet, and a variety of actual wrapped turbans. The chaperon is typically described as a wrapped arrangement that evolved from the “capuchon”, a collared hood which in the thirteenth century had developed a long tail that hung from the point of the hood, called a “liripipe”. The chaperon initially was structured as if the face of the hood had been placed on top of the head, and the liripipe had been wrapped around the whole arrangement, with the collar fabric sticking up and out in various directions. What is not usually explained is why anyone would have thought to do such a thing, even as a joke. Since Muslim turbans were an exotic prototype of headgear of which everyone was aware, the chaperon’s arrangement was probably intended as a parody of Muslim headgear. It is probably not coincidental that one of the earliest representations of a chaperon identified was in a depiction of a Genoese money-changer’s shop, dating to the mid- fourteenth century.[44] Since the Genoese dominated trade with the Mamluk and Levantine ports of the Eastern Mediterranean, Genoa would certainly be a likely place to see an affectation of turban-like headgear. Although the wrapped, turban-like silhouette of the chaperon is quite apparent, in due course these forms were stitched into place to form a sort of hat with protruding ends of fabric  that  draped about the face. The chaperon, with its draped liripipe and protruding folds of fabric, most closely resembles the form of the turban seen in thirteenth and fourteenth century miniature paintings from Shia Persia or Arab Baghdad, and also in depictions of North African and Andalusian Moors. These turbans were wrapped around the head with varying degrees of care, but the most distinctive feature was the long end of turban cloth that hung down and might be looped  across the shoulders.[45] The more structured turbans of the Ottoman court and the casually wrapped turbans of the ordinary citizen both had their counterparts in the headgear of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. By the mid- sixteenth century the turbans, hennins, and bourellets had all but disappeared, with the exception of the padded roundlet that continued to be seen in Italy through the 1530s.

During the 1530's Archduke Ferdinand of Austria attempted to fortify the border country of Slavonia and Croatia by subsidizing a military class known as the ‘Grenzer’ or ‘Uskok’ which paralleled the Ottoman sipahis (cavalrymen), and resembled them very much in dress. [46]. Among the features of dress shared in common was the use of very tall, and often very prolific, plumes and crests. From the beginning of the century elaborate displays of plumes became a prominent feature of German and Swiss mercenary knights or Landesknecht. It should be kept in mind that since ostrich plumes and other exotic feathers were generally a commodity to be obtained only from south of the Mediterranean, this is inevitably an exotic innovation in fashion. In 1583 a Venetian caravan from Basra to Aleppo was reported to include along with spices, ostrich feathers.[47] The wearing of plumes and crests was a feature of very ancient origin worn as a mark of prowess in battle, affiliation and rank among the Turks, dating back to pre-Islamic Central Asian beginnings.[48] The wild plumes of the Landesknecht and his lady can be best compared to the display worn by the deli kanlı as depicted in Nicolay and elsewhere. Plumes, although less outrageous in size, became a common addition to male headgear everywhere in Europe from the 1490s onwards.

While by the mid sixteenth century  for the most part women’s headcoverings had ceased to be so prominent, there is one interesting form that appears in southern Germany, Switzerland and Northern Italy in the last third of the century. The shape of this headdress is striking; a tall cylinder set on top of the head, but closed at the top edge to make a flat edge parallel with the face that therefore becomes slightly wider than the round base.[49] At the back there is a cloth appendage that hangs down. This headgear is strikingly similar to the characteristic headdress of the Janissaries, elite Ottoman military corps. Their distinctive headgear, known as the börk, has the same shape, but was traditionally made with felt. Italian, German and Swiss soldiers were encountering the Janissaries on the battlefields of Eastern Europe. It is quite possible that such a headdress came home as a trophy and inspired a new style. Certainly the timing and location of the examples seen in sixteenth century costume books is suggestive.

Turbans, of course reappeared in fashion at intervals for both men and women. In the eighteenth century men adopted turbans or caps to cover their shaved heads when they removed their wigs at home. Turbans were adopted by women again in the early nineteenth century, following the French revolution and during the Napoleonic wars. Napoleon’s adventures in Egypt engendered interest in the East, as did the Greek revolution, which became the cause celebre of the early Romantics.[50] Turbans and turquerie would reappear again a century later as part of the exotic fashions created by Paul Poiret and others in the years preceding World War I.[51] Influenced by the exotic costumes of the Ballet Russe, which had relocated to Paris following the Bolshevik Revolution, turbans and plumes became the fashionable headdress for evening wear.



A very distinctive feature of Ottoman dress is the idea of layering. Garments are constructed so as to reveal at neckline and sleeve the varied materials of under layers of garments. Sleeves are partially detached to display under-sleeves. Wide sleeves with trailing ends permit a glimpse of inner sleeve ends. The ends of coats are tucked up into the sash to display both linings and the garments worn beneath. These ideas were not part of the European aesthetic until the twelfth century, when religious and scholarly dress began to include coats  that had the short or hanging sleeves of Turkish-style outer kaftans that permitted a glimpse of the sleeve of the coat(s) underneath. The drawings of such robes in European contexts show a different construction than the Turkish examples, but the form is strikingly similar, and quite new to European fashion.

           Although many early gowns did not open down the front, images frequently show slits center front (or sometimes at the sides), that as seen in drawings certainly suggest the openings of coats, even if on closer inspection it usually turns out that the opening does not seem to continue up the front. This can be observed both in the skirts of the women’s fitted gown from the mid-fourteenth century, and also the loose long gowns worn by men. However, these slits would serve to reveal the fabric of the garment beneath, and do not seem to have any other function.

During the High Renaissance (1490-1510) the shirt, formerly considered a hidden undergarment, became a layer visible through the gaps between lacing of the sleeve at shoulder, elbow, and through slits along the length of the snug sleeve of the doublet. Women’s dress was similarly treated, with the chemise visible at neckline and through the gaps in the lacing of the sleeve. Over these a loose gown or coat could be worn that revealed all of these layers. The idea of slashing is also added to the vocabulary of dress at the end of the fifteenth century, opening up the garment surface to expose more of the fabrics beneath. Initially slashing simply revealed the garments worn beneath, but by the 1520s slashing evolves into a very contrived and elaborate form of surface ornamentation in which not undergarments but rich linings of contrasting fabric are exposed through the slits. While slashing per se is a peculiarly European aesthetic that seems a predictable result of European taste for constructed, controlled clothing, it also could be argued that the layered illusion achieved might ultimately derive from the Eastern aesthetic concept of layering.

For women, the skirt, previously a solid extension of the upper body garment, also developed a layered appearance beginning in the sixteenth century. The slits observed at the bottom of skirts and gowns a century before now bisect the front of the skirt, revealing a panel of contrasting fabric, frequently a fabric that coordinates with a cuffed under-sleeve emerging from the fuller outer sleeve of the bodice. The form of the garment is stiffly constructed, but layering is clearly intended.

In the first half of the seventeenth century women’s skirts were full, soft, and highwaisted. The skirt may still be split down the front, and the overskirt might be lifted up to further show the underskirt, not unlike the tucked-up ends of kaftans depicted in images of Turkish figures, male or female. In the latter part of the century, during the majority of Louis XIV, dress would again become more stiffly structured and elaborately embellished.. A narrower funnel-shaped skirt replaces the fuller skirt of the early Baroque, but the style also featured an overskirt attached to the fitted bodice and gathered up and to the rear in a form that would come to be called a bustle.  Reference is made to a mode a la Turque that appears following the visit of an Ottoman envoy, Müteferrika Süleyman Ağa, to the Court of Louis XIV.[52] The new arrangement of the overskirt that appears by the 1670s corresponds to the way in which both Ottoman men and women lifted and tucked up the hem of the outer kaftan revealing the rich fabrics of underlayers.[53] Turkish contacts with Europe increased in the eighteenth century. The visit of the Ottoman Ambassador Yirmisekiz Celebi Mehmet Efendi to the French court in 1720-21 sparked a resurgence of turquerie that affected literature, the arts, and fashion. A number of paintings and engraved prints were executed depicting the Ottoman ambassador, the prints being widely circulated.[54]

The lifted and draped overskirt appears throughout the century, notably appearing in the 1780s as Robe à la Circassiene and Robe à la Turque.[55] Coincidentally, in this period there is a fashion for striped silks reminiscent of the striped patterns commonly used in traditional Ottoman dress.

In the nineteenth century there are revivals of the lifted, layered look of bustles, echoing the styles of the eighteenth century. By this time the style is integrated into the European vocabulary of dress. However, this style does reappear during the 1820s when European attention turns to the Greek war of independence; and in the 1870s, when Arts and Crafts style popularized Islamic motifs in art and design, following the Crimean War and during the Russo-Turkish war. A short jacket came into style along with the bustle, cut to accommodate the prominent rear drapery of the skirt, and called a dolman. This term was borrowed from the Turkish dolaman or dolman, a term for an outer coat. However, by this period other regions were beginning to contribute exotica to western fashion, although for the most part this took the form of surface embellishment rather than alterations in silhouette.


Twentieth Century: Globalization of Fashion

The twentieth century brought a new era in western dress that reflected the revolutions that were occurring in social, political and economic terms. The disappearance of the corset as an essential element in women’s dress just as women obtained the vote is not a coincidence. For fashion designers, however, the new relaxed silhouette presented a challenge; an entirely new vocabulary of garment forms was called for. Ideas were taken, as always, from exotic sources, but in this new age a broader range of options came into play.[56] Japonisme and Chinoiserie dominated fashion and design during the first quarter of the century. However, Islamic ideas also continued to be important. The Bolshevik Revolution caused the renowned Ballet Russe to flee to Paris, where their sumptuous productions featuring Eastern themes, electrified the designers and artists of Paris. One of the most influential designers of the day was Paul Poiret. Although he also used Classical Greek tunics and Japanese kimonos in his designs, one of his most important shows had a Turkish theme, using salvar, turbans, veils and plumes.[57]

Following the establishment of the Turkish republic, Turquerie became less prominent in fashion and design, although it has never really disappeared.  As Turkey  moved toward a Western mode of dress that seemed to correspond to a desire for the fruits of industrial and social reform, the unique aesthetics of the Ottoman past became an inevitable casualty,  less accessible to foreign and Turkish sensibilities alike.  The twentieth century will likely be remembered, among other things, as the century of globalization, and as such the place of Turkish influence in what has become world fashion has changed. Rather than being merely a source for the creations of European imagination, Turkish designers are themselves participants in the aesthetic dialogue. Numerous Turkish designers working in Turkey are creating designs that participate in world fashion trends, although with a certain Turkish flavor. A few expatriate Turkish designers have joined the ranks of  international couturiers, notably Ozbek and Caglayan . They have contributed subtle and thoughtful aesthetic ideas that are clearly drawn from their Turkish roots.

The visual language of dress has become a world language, in which increasingly a common vocabulary is shared, although still with numerous local dialects. If fashion is a reflection of its times, then fashion is telling us that culture is increasingly a shared construction in which an increasing proportion of its elements are active collaborators in its creation, not simply raw materials to be used or ignored by a select few. The question is whether this is taking us into a homogenous future in which the rich variation of these elements will be dissolved , or one in which diversity will be valued.



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[1] Douglas A. Russell, Costume History and Style (Englewood Cliffs NJ, 1983): 145; Blanche Payne, Geitel Winakor, Jane Farrell-Beck, The History of Costume (New York,1992): 2-4.

[2] The sexual dimorphism of dress is associated with the rise of consumerism in general and the emergence of a mass fashion system in particular in a given society. Mass fashion systems encourage the development of incentives such as marked gender distinctions in clothing as a means of exaggerating attractiveness , by way of promoting the marketing of fashion. A feature of mass fashion systems is that fashions change more rapidly, due to planned obsolescence. The mass fashion system emerged much earlier in Europe than it did in the Ottoman Empire, where the basic forms of men’s and women’s garments remained similar. See: Alan Hunt, Governance of the Consuming Passions: A History of Sumptuary Law (New York, 1996); and Jirousek, “Transition to Mass Fashion System Dress”.

[3] Mehmet Özel, Folklorik Türk Kıyafetleri (Istanbul, 1992); Jennifer Scarce, Women’s Costume of the Near and Middle East (London,1987): 32-36.

[4] The tunic, a seamed unfitted garment pulled on over the head, was typical dress for settled agriculturalists, and under Roman rule came in to wide use throughout the early Near East. Arab dress in the Islamic context is based on the form of the tunic (sometimes referred to as qamīs, from the Latin camisia), although earlier pre-Islamic garments were unseamed. The unseamed form of dress survived as the ihram garments worn by pilgrims to Mecca: Yedida Stillman, Arab Dress From the Dawn of Islam to Modern Times: A Short History. (Leiden, 2000): 7-11. Exposure to Ottoman dress later introduced additional elements into the Arab repertoire.

[5] V. Gervers, „Construction of Türkmen coats”, Textile History 14,1 (1983): 3-27.

[6] Nurhayat Berker, Türk İşlemeleri, Yapı Kredi Koleksiyonları (Istanbul, no year).

[7] N. Ardalan and L. Bakhtiar, The sense of unity: The Sufi tradition in Persian architecture, Publications of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Vol 9 (Chicago and London,1973).

[8] Patricia Baker, “The Fez in Turkey: a Symbol of Modernization?”, Costume 20 (1986): 72-85.

[9] Donald Quataert, “Clothing Laws, State and Society in the Ottoman Empire, 1720-1829”, International Journal of Middle East Studies 29 (1997): 403-425.

[10] Charlotte Jirousek, “The Transition to Mass Fashion System Dress in the Later Ottoman Empire” in Donald Quataert ed., Consumption Studies and the History of the Ottoman Empire, 1550-1922 (Albany, 2000): 201-242.

[11] Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, The Turkish Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, Imperial Ambassador at Constantinople, 1554-1562, Elzevir edition 1633 (Oxford, 1968); Nicholas Nicolay, Nauigations, Peregrinations and Voyages, Made Into Turkie by Nicholas Nicolay..containing Sundry Singularities Which the Author Hath There Seene and Observed (London, 1585); Samuel Purchas, Purchas, His Pilgrimes (London, 1625); Bernhard von Breydenbach, Peregrinationes in Terram Sanctam, Erhard Reuwich, illustrator (Mainz, 1486).

[12] Jo Anne Olian, “Sixteenth-Century Costume Books”, Dress, the Annual Journal of the Costume Society of America 1 (1977): 20-48.

[13] John Baptiste Tavernier, The Six Voyages of Jean Baptiste Tavernier (London, 1678): 47.

[14] Janet Arnold, Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlocked (Leeds, 1988).

[15] Initially, Ottoman dress was affected not so much in form as in its materials by European aesthetics. European textiles were imported from an early date. European forms begin to affect the cut of Ottoman clothing in subtle ways beginning in the seventeenth century, but it is not until the nineteenth century that European modes of clothing construction begin to seriously alter Ottoman dress: Jennifer Scarce, “Principles of Ottoman Turkish Costume”, Costume 22 (1988): 144-167; Filiz Çağman, “Women’s Clothing” in Woman in Anatolia: 9,000 Years of  the Anatolian Woman (Istanbul, 1993): 256-257; Nancy Micklewright, “Tracing the Transformation in Women’s Dress in Nineteenth-century Istanbul”, Dress, the Annual Journal of the Costume Society of America 13 (1987): 33-43.

[16] Deborah Howard, Venice and the East: The Impact of the Islamic World on Venetian Architecture 1100-1500 (New Haven, 2000): 135-138; Canal Grande de Venezia.(Facsimile) (Treviso, 1990).

[17] Bernard Lewis, The Muslim Discovery of Europe (New York, 1982): 112-118.

[18] Maxime Rodinson, Europe and the Mystique of Islam, translated by Roger Veinus (Seattle, 1987): 42.

[19] Fatma Müge Göçek, East Encounters West (Oxford, 1987): 75.

[20] Fatma Müge Göçek, Rise of the Bourgeoisie, Demise of Empire: Ottoman Westernization and Social Change (New York and Oxford, 1996): 99.

[21] John MacKenzie, Orientalism: History, Theory and the Arts (Manchester, 1995): 208-216; Rodinson, Europe and the Mystique of Islam: (page numbers)

[22] Göçek, East Encounters West: 74.

[23] Millia Davenport, The Book of Costume (New York, 1965): 105.

[24] Edward Hall, Henry VIII, Vol 1 of The Lives of the Kings, reprint of 1550 folio edition (London and Edinburgh, 1904): 15-16.

[25] Arnold, Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlocked: page numbers

[26] Davenport, The Book of Costume: 533.

[27] Samuel Pepys, Diary, edited by Robert Latham and William Matthews (London, 1970), Vol 7: 373; John Evelyn, Diary, edited by E. S. Beer (Oxford, 1959), Vol 3: 460.

[28] Davenport, The Book of Costume: 518; MacKenzie, Orientalism: 171.

[29] Diana De Marly, Fashion for Men: An Illustrated History (London, 1985): 55-56.

[30] Evelyn, Diary: 465.

[31] Evelyn, Diary: n.1.

[32] Mary Wortley Montagu, The Turkish Embassy Letters, edited by Malcolm Jack (London, 1994): 71-72.

[33] Dianne Sachko Macleod, “Cross Cultural Cross Dressing: Class, Gender and Modernist Sexual Identity” in Julie F. Codell and Dianne Sachko Macleod eds., Orientalism Transposed: the Impact of the Colonies on British Culture (Brookfield VT, 1998): 63-86.

[34]. Macleod, “Cross Cultural Cross Dressing”: 63-86.

[35] Quoted in: Macleod, “Cross Cultural Cross Dressing”: 70.

[36] Nurettin Sevin, Onüç Asırlık Türk Kıyafetlerine Bir Bakış, reprint of 1955 edition (Istanbul, 1990): 9-23; Albert von Le Coq, Buried Treasures of Chinese Turkestan (London, 1926): plates 9 and 10.

[37] Charlotte Jirousek, “More than Oriental Splendor: European and Ottoman Headgear, 1380-1580”, Dress , the Annual Journal of the Costume Society of America 21 (1995): 22.

[38] Davenport, The Book of Costume: 104.

[39] L. A. Mayer, Mamluk Costume (Geneva, 1952): 13-17.

[40] Julian Raby, Venice, Dürer, and the Oriental Mode (London, 1982): 66-72.

[41] Mayer, Mamluk Costume: 13-17.

[42]Duncan Haldane, Mamluk Painting (Warminster,1978): 1-3.

[43] Scarce, Women’s Costume: 200.

[44] Fernand Braudel, The Wheels of Commerce: Civilization and Capitalism in the 15th-18th Century, Vol 2 (New York, 1979): 576.

[45] Mayer, Mamluk Costume: 13.

[46] Melchior Lorck, Konstantinopel Unter Sultan Suleiman dem Grossen Aufgenomunen Im Jahre 1559, Manuscript: 121 plates of Turkish costumes, animals, and buildings inlaid on 45 sheets (London, 1570-83).

[47] Halil İnalcık and Donald Quataert eds., An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1914 (New York, 1994): 340.

[48] Nazan Tapan, “Sorguçlar [Crests]“, Sanat 3/6: 99-107.

[49] Nicolay, Nauigations, Peregrinations and Voyages, Book 3, Chapter 4; I. Kumbaracılar, Serpuşlar [Headgear] (Istanbul, no date).

[50] Sarah Searight, The British in the Middle East (New York, 1970): 168-169.

[51] Michael Batterberry and Ariane Batterberry, Fashion: The Mirror of History (New York, 1977): 276-277.

[52] E. d'Aubigny, "Un Ambassadeur turc à Paris sous la Régence", Revue d’histoire diplomatique 3 (1889): 83; Hélène Desmet-Gregoire, Le Divan Magique: L’Orient turc en France au XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1980): 18-19, cited in: Göçek, East Encounters West: 9.

[53] Payne, Winakor, Farrell-Beck, The History of Costume: page numbers

[54] Göçek, East Encounters West: 73.

[55] François Boucher, 20,000 Years of Fashion (New York, 1987): 209-303; Batterberry and Batterberry, Fashion: 185.

[56] Barbara Baines, Fashion Revivals from the Elizabethan Age to the Present Day (London, 1981).

[57] Batterberry and Batterberry, Fashion.