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Traditional Turkish Fashion: Everything You Need To Know

Even though time passes by, some things will maintain their value. Fashion is one of the things that are on top of that list.

Without a doubt, modernity has a great impact on Turkish fashion. However, we can’t deny the fact that even today, traditional Turkish designs influence Turkish designers and Turkish Fashion Brands.

Turkey has a rich history that you can still see in modern Turkish fashion designs. In the big cities of Turkey, you can see the beautiful combination of traditionality with modernity.

In this article, as a local, I’d like to help you learn more about traditional Turkish clothing.

Plus, I will help you discover the history of traditional Turkish clothes and give you information about the most well-known traditional Turkish fashion pieces.

If you’re ready, fasten your seatbelts, and let’s start our tour of traditional fashion in Turkey!

Traditional Turkish Aegean Women Dress (My Daughter in the picture.)

1. Short History of Turkish Fashion

The Ottoman period may be the most significant time period in Turkish Fashion history.

The motifs and the embroideries created in this era still have tremendous value in modern Turkish fashion today.

Turkish influence in Europe was named Turquerie; from the 16th to 18th centuries, European fashion designers also imitated aspects of Ottoman art and culture.

Madame de Pompadour, a member of the French court and the chief mistress of Louis XV, is portrayed as a Turkish lady by Charles André van Loo.

Even Elizabeth I was a fan of Turquerie style fashion. Source

Predictably, the fabrics used in the Turquerie era were exceptionally high-quality as well. The most commonly used fabrics were silk, brocade, velvet, cashmere, and cotton.

In the classical Ottoman period, most Turkish clothes were suitable for both men and women. For instance, clothes like kaftans and şalvars are all examples of unisex designs.

Man In Oriental Costume (“The Noble Slav”) by Rembrandt was drawn in 1632. As seen in the picture, European emulation of Ottoman dress was used to portray a dignified, elite appearance.

During the 19th century, with the Tanzimat reforms, European fashion started to influence Turkish fashion designers. 

Jackets, waistcoats, ties, high-heeled shoes, and many more Western designs started to be worn by intellectuals, administrators, and officers of the Ottoman Empire.

After Atatürk’s reforms, the clothes became more modernized and in line with European clothing. Most clothing displaying social, ethnic, and religious identity was banned. Thus, leading to a more homogenous fashion style.

Traditional Turkish Aegean Men Dress (Also known as Zeybek Costume.)

2. Most Popular Traditional Turkish Clothes

As imagined, there are plenty of fascinating examples of traditional clothing. Most of them are replaced by modern style clothing like jeans and T-shirts.

If you are wondering what Turkish people are wearing today, you can read my article “What Turkish Women Wear in Turkey?”

Today, some traditional clothes like Salvar are worn in rural communities. Other than that, traditional clothes are only worn in traditional events or folklore dance performances.

Yet, some motifs and designs of old Turkish fashion still live in modern men’s and women’s Turkish fashion designs.

Turkish Men Wearing Traditional Salvar circa 1870 in Istanbul

2.1. Salvar (Şalvar)

Şalvar is the most famous Turkish traditional unisex pant. Salvar is suitable for everyday wear and for formal occasions.

Salvar is a baggy pants that is tight at the waist and the ankle, creating a ‘balloon-like effect.

Salvar can be made from a variety of materials, including silk, cotton, or wool, and often feature intricate embroidery or colorful prints. While the design is essentially the same, the specifics can vary between regions.

Salvar also inspired the American Bloomers, also called the Turkish dress, the American dress, or simply the reform dress.

Turkish modern style Salvar from Etsy

In rural parts of Turkey, salvar is still a popular piece of traditional Turkish clothing because it is very comfortable to wear.

In big cities like Istanbul, women prefer şalvars as well but style them in a more modern way.

Turkish Women wearing a Kaftan from Etsy

2.2. Kaftan and Bindallı

Kaftan, which is another unisex clothing, was commonly worn by the wealthy in the Ottoman period.

Ottoman royals preferred embroidered and fur-lined luxurious kaftans.

Bindallı is actually mostly confused with kaftan. Even though these two look similar, there are certain differences.

a Turkish Woman Bindallı

For starters, embroidery in bindallis is usually more simple. Additionally, the main difference is that bindallıs have a thinner fabric than kaftans.

Today, women still wear kaftans and bindallı during their henna night.

Ottoman Vest (Yelek) from Etsy

2.3. Yelek (Ottoman Vest)

The yelek, a traditional Turkish vest or waistcoat, has a deep-seated history stretching back to the time of the Ottoman Empire, which spanned from the 13th to the early 20th century.

In the hierarchy of Ottoman clothing, the yelek occupied a significant place.

The yelek was an integral part of the traditional attire for both Turkish women and men, characterized by intricate designs, luxurious fabrics, and meticulous craftsmanship.

Turkish Traditional Clothing From My Wedding Ceremony

It was typically worn over a shirt or under a caftan, serving both functional and decorative purposes.

Historically, yeleks were made from a variety of high-quality fabrics, such as silk, velvet, and brocade.

Yeleks often boasted intricate designs and vibrant colors, with adornments like gold threads, pearls, and precious stones, depending on the wearer’s social status.

Ottoman Soldier wearing a Fez.

2.4Fez (Turkish Hat)

Fez was one of the most popular Turkish menswear in the Ottoman Period. It’s actually a hat, and there’s usually a tassel hanging from the top of it.

The color of this hat is red or crimson, and it has a cylindrical shape.

The Fez takes its name from the city of Fez, Morocco, where the dye to color the hat was produced. However, its widespread use and global recognition are largely credited to its adoption by the Ottoman Empire.

During the Ottoman era, various forms of headwear were prevalent, each representing different statuses, professions, and regions.

However, the Fez became particularly significant during the Tanzimat period in the 19th century, symbolizing modernization and reform.

In 1826, Sultan Mahmud II introduced Western-style military uniforms as part of his modernization efforts and included the Fez as part of the official attire.

Pesthemal is also called Turkish Towel

2.5. Peshtemal (Turkish Towel)

The Peshtemal, made with the same clothing as Turkish towels, has been a fundamental part of Turkish bath culture for centuries.

The Pesthemal word is more used when a Turkish towel is used for clothing.

Peshtemal Dress from Etsy

Peshtemals are traditionally woven on handlooms from natural fibers such as cotton, linen, or even silk.

The most typical form of Peshtemal is a flat, thin, and highly absorbent towel, measuring about the same size as a beach towel.

The design of a Peshtemal is typically characterized by stripes or checks, with a hand-knotted fringe at both ends.

However, regional variations exist, with different areas of Turkey renowned for their unique weaving techniques, patterns, and colors.

Turkish Towels are excellent for beaches and Turkish hammams. (me and my nephew in the picture.)

Pestemal’s uses have expanded significantly over the years.

Its absorbent yet quick-drying qualities, lightweight nature, and compact size have made the Pestemal a versatile textile, gaining popularity far beyond the Turkish bath.

3. Where to buy Turkish Traditional Clothing?

When looking to buy traditional Turkish clothes online, the best shopping website is Etsy. Etsy has way more of a variety of Turkish Traditional Costumes than Amazon.

Further Reading:  “Most Popular 9 Clothes Shopping Websites in Turkey“.

In Turkey and in Istanbul, the best place to buy traditional Turkish clothes is Grand Bazaar. You can easily find traditional clothes and any accessories in the Grand Bazaar, along with many Turkish souvenirs.

Additionally, there are plenty of places to shop for traditional Turkish clothes in Eminönü, Grand Bazaar, Şişli, and Bakırköy districts of Istanbul.

Turkish Medieval Warrior Costume from Etsy

You can also come across stores that sell authentic and traditional Turkish clothes in vacation spots around Turkey. These stores usually attract tourists but also appeal to locals as well.