Modern European clothing is common and customary with the most recent generations of Turks. However, older generations still wear traditional Turkish clothes. The fashions of old were largely influenced by practicality and the various cultures laying within the Turkish kingdom. Globalization made an impact on fashion, and the effects of change are still apparent today.
In ancient times, dress was a clear indication of one’s occupation, social status and income. Most people living in the Pre-Ottoman Empire Turkish Kingdom owned two sets of clothes: one for winter and the other for summer. Wealthier Turks enjoyed several outfits for every season that were appropriate for different social occasions or activities. These clothes were worn at social events at the royal court.
The Ottoman Empire
Under empirical rule, the Turks transformed from peasant farmers and traders into wealthy, well dressed merchant elites who would add value and power to the Ottomans. Alexander the Great established the first roads system that virtually opened up new trade routes stretch from Asia to Europe to Africa. Prosperity soared during this time.
The history of Turkish fashion is a reflection of the times and socio-economic conditions in which the Ottomans lived. One age-old style that was first developed in Turkey is the kaftan. These wrap-style dresses included a two piece slip and a formal or informal outer wrap. The slips of wealthy women were comprised of silk or other fine fabrics, while poorer women wore fabrics closely related to burlap or very rough cotton. Outer wraps of the elite were made of beautifully embroidered silks from the Orient or fine Egyptian Cotton. Peasants wore rough cotton or other cheap fabrics. Other names for kaftans include the ‘gomlek’ or ‘entari’ for the bodice and ‘salvar’ or ‘potur’ for skirt.
Belts and Shoes – Accessorize Ladies!
Turkish men and women both adore belts and shoes, and it is a traditional practice to wear very decorative pieces. Kusakura, or kusak belts are closely related to modern day martial arts belts in that they are stiff, thick and made of fabric. That is where the similarities end, however. Kusaks are very ornately embroidered and are an important accessory to the overall look Ottoman Turks went for.
Basmak shoes were in vogue for centuries, and closely resemble decorate house slippers that American men wear around the house today. Winter basmaks were constructed of soft leather and lined with thick wool or cotton to act as insulation. Summer basmaks may have leather soles and soft cloth wrapping around the feet. Candle wax was warmed and massaged into shoes as a way to protect them from exposure to water, mud and other natural elements.
Sik used by the elites was not Turkish in origin. In fact, silk was brought from China and shipped along trade routes to reach the Turks. Long before foreign silks and fine fabrics were imported into the empire, fabrics were created at home.
Women and men of the ancient world were responsible for weaving or knitting their own yarns and fabrics, and did so as early as 100 BC. Most fabrics were woolen or cotton, and materials were grown locally. Weaving and knitting are still valuable skills used today, and one that can graduate in difficulty based upon the materials woven and equipment used in the process.
Those with farming occupations or who had to travel often usually wore functional clothes, such as Harem pants or other bubble hemmed pants. Men and women both wore this type of clothing with wide belts, some sort of v-neck shirt and vests or jackets. Wearing split skirts or pants enabled women of the day to work with horses and travel more comfortably. Noblewomen later adopted long skirts, vests, made or purchased hair bows and ribbons, wore veils or hats and rode side-saddle.
Materials Used – Social Status
Many different materials were used, each worth a different amount of money. Some of these fabrics included: sheepskin, fur, leather and wool. All were subject to priority by way of natural and social conditions. For example, Turks from Central Asia might wear leather boots, a minitan shirt, a short caftan with a belt and loose riding trousers that narrow at the ankle.
Both caftan and boots were used to establish status. Bashlyks, a type of head covering, were made of sheepskin or fur to keep their heads protected from harsh winter weather and to announce which class the wearer was from. Emigration from Anatolia to Asia, caused the cultures to blend into a more common style of dress, as Bashlyks gave way to hats and scarves or no head covering at all.
The integration of cultures began due to mass emigration of people from Kırkhiz, Özbek, Uygur, Azerbaijan and Tartar tribes from Asia into Anatolia. With this influx of new people came new styles of clothing, which eventually altered the cultural fabric of the region. Unisex clothing came into vogue with the lower classes while sex specific styles of dress became popular with the upper classes.
The varied climate conditions and improving quality of life throughout Turkey encouraged citizens to make or purchase different clothes for all seasons. The Turks had very refined weaving and knitting skills by this time, and the quality of cloth was as good as the world had yet experienced. Turkish people had access to Egyptian cotton, angora and wool from three continents and took advantage of the opportunity to create exceptional clothing and housewares.
Modern Turkish Fashion
Today, the Turks wear a variety of clothing with styles influenced by tradition, religion and modern culture. The Turkish people are of varied religions and socio-economic classes, and clothing style and material quality is still a good indication of occupation and social status. Women still wear scarves to cover their hair, skirts or long pants or a traditional kaftan. Many older Turks still knit scarves and clothes from yarn or weave fabrics.
Recent trends are encouraging younger generations to learn how to sew and create their own clothes. Enterprising designers are opening up boutique stores and selling Turkish clothing online, with great success. It goes to show that the Turks have a great sense of style and will continue to present the world with new fashions for centuries to come.