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Ottoman-Cloth-art - 9/11/09


"Ottoman Costume - An Overview of 16th Century Dress" by Master Giles de Laval.


NOTE: See also the files: cl-Mid-East-msg, cl-Byzantine-msg, turbans-msg, Turkey-msg, fd-Turkey-msg, cotton-art, silk-msg, velvet-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I  have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done  a limited amount  of  editing. Messages having to do  with separate topics  were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the  message IDs  were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make  no claims  as  to the accuracy  of  the information  given  by the individual authors.


Please respect the time  and  efforts of  those who have written  these messages. The copyright status  of these messages  is  unclear  at this time. If information  is  published  from  these  messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

   Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                         Stefan at florilegium.org




An Overview of 16th Century Turkish Dress

by Master Giles de Laval



Shirts (gmlek)

         Womens shirts were tunic style, between knee and ankle length. They had long straight sleeves, or long full sleeves, presumably gathered onto the shoulder. They had a round neck with a vertical slit which reached the bust and was closed by three or four small buttons. Shirts were commonly made of a fine, sheer fabric such as a linen or cotton gauze, and were usually white.

         Mens shirts were similar, having long straight sleeves and falling to the knee. Also possible is an unusual cut, probably Egyptian in origin, which uses only two curved seams.


Trousers (salvar)

Both men and women wore trousers of similar cut, loose on the leg and tapering to the ankle. Excessively baggy trousers did not come into fashion until the late 17th century. Trousers were made of satin, silk, or light cotton.


Caftan (kaftan, entari)

         Caftans of various styles were the main item of dress for both men and women.

         Caftans are fairly simple in construction and tailoring, using mostly straight seams; it was the quality of the fabric that was intended to impress (although the majority of surviving caftans are of plain material).

         They generally have round necks, sometimes with a small stand-up collar.

         Womens caftans likewise had round necks: styles that had low round or square necklines or even came under the bust date to the late 18th century. 16th century caftans did not expose the bosom.

         They usually have buttons to the waist, either jewelled or covered in the same fabric as the caftan. The buttons fastened through loops rather than buttonholes, often attached to frogging in braid or similar fabric across the chest. This frogging seems to be more prevalent on mens garments than womens, although it found on caftans of both genders.

         Caftans were usually three-quarter to full length, although shorter knee length caftans were worn for sport or battle.

         Women also wore a shorter hip to thigh length caftan called a hirka under or sometimes over a full-length caftan.

         Sleeves were short, wrist or ankle length. Short sleeves came to the elbow, with a curved cutout in front where the arm would bend. Wrist length sleeves extended just past the fingertips, and were worn bunched up at the wrist and fastened tightly with buttons (This type of sleeve could also be detachable, to mix and match with short-sleeved caftans). Ankle length sleeves were purely decorative, falling empty behind and worn only on the outer garment.

         The sultan and his court would frequently wear three caftans: one with wrist length sleeves under another with short sleeves, under another with decorative ankle length sleeves, so their contrasting fabrics could all be seen and admired.

         Women tended to wear wrist length sleeves, with short sleeves only on the outer garment. They did not seem to wear ankle length sleeves at all. (Early 17th century illustrations depict women with decorative flared turned-back cuffs, which be easily achieved by buttoning the sleeve differently at the wrist; it seems likely this was also a 16th century practice.) Sleeves split all the way to the elbow and hanging open did not come into fashion until the 18th century.

         Womens caftans did not seem to have the overlapping triangular front gores of the mens caftans: however, these gores are present on a surviving outer caftan from the Topkapi Saray Museum.

         Womens caftans seem to have been tailored quite close to the body. Several 17th century illustrations depict caftans being worn fastened with only every third or fourth button, so as to gape open and show off the fabric of the hirka underneath; it is probable this was also a 16th century practice.



         Fabrics ranged from light silks, satins and cottons to sumptuous polychrome silks and gold threaded brocades to Italian style velvets and velvet brocades, the more colourful the better (dark or sombre colours were uncommon).

         Solid colours, moir, subtle jacquard patterns, triplet spots, stylised tiger stripes, ogival designs and especially naturalistic and stylised floral patterns were all popular. Checks and stripes are almost never seen.

         Caftans of lighter weight materials were worn closer to the body, with the heavier fabrics being the outer layers.

         Cotton was the usual lining material, with fur sometimes used to line a heavy outer coat. Silk facing was used at the neck, cuffs, hem and side slits, and was usually a contrasting colour to the caftan and lining fabrics.

         Apart from the quality and cost of the fabrics, there was little difference in the styles or articles of dress between rich and poor, nor between those of Muslims and non-Muslims.


Belts and sashes (ukur)

         The Ottomans were unusual among Islamic cultures for not treating the belt as a symbol of martial power and prestige. Belts are rarely shown in painting before the 17th century, and were not a conspicuous part of male civilian dress.

         Sashes were made of a folded and seamed length of linen, measuring approximately 2m long by 15 cm wide. They featured elaborate gold-embroidered end panels, around 12-15 cm long.

         Several 16th belts in the Topkapi Saray Museum are presumed to be womens. They are of ivory, silver or mother of pearl plaques, joined by links or mounted on leather. The are elaborately decorated with gold or silver scrollwork, and set with jewels. Their length would indicate they were worn around the waist, not the hips.



         Men wore an enormous white turban wrapped over a red cap with a high crown that projected above the turban. Blue and black caps are also sometimes seen in period illustrations.

         The turban was sometimes decorated with a spray of peacock, ostrich or highly-prized black heron feathers, set in a tulip shaped ornament and worn on the right hand side.

         Women most probably wore veils or head scarves (pee) of light, fine fabric, possibly embroidered. This was held in place with an elaborate, heavily embroidered headband which tied across the forehead, such as survived in the tombs of Hurrem Sultan (d. 1558) and Safiye Sultan (d.1595).

         At no time would a woman ever have appeared in public without her head covered.

         The yasmak consisted of two pieces of fine muslin, one tied across the face below the nose, and the other tied across the forehead, draping the head. This was commonly worn out-of-doors along with the outer caftan or mantle (ferae), or in the presence of unrelated men. (The use of the term veiled in this instance refers to the yasmak; a Turkish women would never be seen without headband and pee even at home, and would add the yasmak for entertaining or venturing out.)  

         Islamic women were forbidden to appear unveiled before men other than their husbands or immediate relatives; of course non-Muslim ethnic groups (ie Greeks) in Turkish cities were not subject to this law, and so would forgo the yasmak but retain the headband and veil.



Footwear ranged from felt and kid slippers to low leather shoes to high boots, and could be plain or decorated with appliqud arabesques. All styles were worn by both sexes according to necessity (although women would not usually need to don high boots). Toes were not sharply pointed, nor curled upwards.



Purses do not appear in period illustrations. It is likely they were worn beneath the outer clothing, or that valuables were tucked in a folded pocket in the sash.



         Ottoman were restrained in their use of jewellery. 16th century illustration depict men occasionally wearing turban ornaments and (thumb) rings, but more frequently not wearing any jewellery at all.

         It is difficult to determine whether this restraint extended to Ottoman women, although contemporary Persian illustrations show women wearing simple pendant pearl earrings and a simple necklace. Much of a womans wealth would have been displayed in fine fabrics and embroideries, and intricately inlaid and jewelled belts.



Baker, Patricia, Islamic Textiles, British Museum Press 1995


Glasse, Cyril, The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, Harper Collins 1991


Ipsiroglou, Mazhar S, Masterpieces from the Topkapi Museum: paintings and miniatures,  Thames & Hudson, London, 1980


Lewis, Bernard (ed), The World of Islam, Thames & Hudson 1992


Rice, David Talbot, Islamic Art, Praeger Publishers Inc, New York 1975


Robinson, Julian, Body Packaging: A History of Dress, Macmillan 1988


Rogers, J M & Ward, R M, Suleyman the Magnificent, Wellfleet Press 1988


Rogers, J M, Hulye Tezcan & Selma Delibas, The Topkapi Saray Museum: Costumes, Embroideries & Other Textiles, Thames & Hudson 1986


The Age of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (exhibition catalogue), International Cultural Corporation of Australia 1990



Copyright 2001 by Mark Calderwood. <giles at sca.org.au>. While permission for republication is usually granted, permission to republish this article, in part or in full, requires the explicit permission of the author.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org