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Ottoman womn’se costume
2003 / April

A century ago in the city of Bursa an elegant young and wealthy Ottoman woman was seated in her house busy creating flowers with her needle. Her apparel was patterned from head to foot with flowers. Her yellow leather slippers were embroidered with gold flowers. There were flowers embroidered around the hem of her trousers, and a posy of flowers and a tree of life embroidered on her sash. The neck and cuffs of her seersucker silk blouse were edged with flowers made of needle lace, and her dress of handwoven silk brocade had a pattern of gold stripes and between them tiny flowers and leaves. Her broadcloth jacket was embroidered in gold thread around the edges with hyacinths and cypress trees, and on the breast were two bouquets of flowers. Her cap was adorned with needle lace hyacinth motifs held by pins in the form of violets set with diamonds, and a crepe kerchief edged with lace carnations. The costume of Ottoman women was everywhere adorned with the flowers they loved, woven and embroidered in a myriad different stitches.

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Ottoman womn’se costume
2003 / April

They chose jewellery and accessories with flower motifs. Flowers were endowed with their own symbolic language, expressing the womn's joys, sorrows, hopes and inner thoughts to those around her. The flowers that she wore as needle lace, jewelled pins, seed pearl embroidery, block printed scarves and veils all conveyed messages about her emotions. She cultivated her favourite flowers in the garden of her wooden house, watching them grow and bloom with delight. Women spent most of their time in their homes and gardens, occupying themselves with needlework and weaving, and the interiors of these houses were like galleries exhibiting their works of art. They embroidered not only their own clothes, but household linen and furnishings, so that their homes reflected each womn's personal philosophy of life. Let us now look more closely at a traditional costume of the type that would have been worn by the wife of a pasa or gentlemen in Ottoman times.

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Ottoman womn’se costume
2003 / April
The red silk velvet cap is scattered with leaves and flowers embroidered with seed pearls, and in the centre of each flower is set a brilliant stone. Around the edge of the kerchief that she wore over this are roses worked in counted thread stitch. Jasmine flowers of needle lace are wound around the cap like a crown. Around the hems of the separate ground length panels of the skirt and the long cuffs that fell over the hand are tulips of openwork embroidery. The robe, known as an üçetek because of its skirt of three panels slit to the waist, one at the back and two in front, is made of handwoven silk stuff, and has a brocaded pattern of undulating branches with leaves and flowers in gold on stripes of blue, green, lilac and red. The silver filigree buckle belt is in the form of a six-pointed star with a flower at the centre. In garments of this type worn by brides and young women, flowers represent the woman and green leaves the man.
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Ottoman womn’se costume
2003 / April

The bridal dress of another wealthy young Ottoman girl is again adorned with flowers. At that time most garments worn by the upper classes were made of silk, and this dress is no exception. Dating from the 19th century, it is made of a stuff called selimiye, of silk interwoven with gold thread consisting of silk wound with yellow metal wire. It is a model of elegance and graceful refinement. The dress has been so carefully preserved that it might have been made yesterday. Beneath the dress was worn a blouse of diaphanous silk bürümcük, a fabric resembling seersucker with satin stripes. Around the neck and sleeves is embroidery in the stitch known as meadow grass. The voluminous trousers worn beneath the dress are red. The slippers are embroidered inside and out in flowers, leaves and twining branches worked in gold thread and silks. Around the waist is a gold filigree belt of the type for which the city of Trabzon on the Black Sea is famous. Flowers like tulips, jasmine and roses seem to draw a picture of happiness, beauty, youth and nature.

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Ottoman womn’se costume
2003 / April

The headdress is hung with gold coins and around it is a wreath adorned with spring flowers. The kerchief is embroidered with apple blossom and apples, which were traditional motifs for the veils and kerchiefs of brides in both Istanbul and the provinces. These two typical examples give a good idea of how Ottoman women dressed, whether at the palace or in towns and villages throughout Anatolia and Rumelia. With some modifications many of the non-Turkish peoples of the Ottoman Empire wore the same style of dress, in which influences can be traced from the ancient civilisations of Anatolia to the Byzantines, Seljuks, Oguz tribes and Ottomans, and in which urban sophistication and the pastoral traditions of the Türkmen and Yörük nomads all participated to create a colourful symphony. These works of art passed down by earlier generations astound us with their diversity, glowing colour harmonies, skilful workmanship and striking designs

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Ottoman womn’se costume
2003 / April

Like a bouquet of flowers whose fragrance perfumes our imagination, these costumes transformed those who wore them into living works of art.

* Sabiha Tansug is an ethnologist, researcher and writer.

All the costumes illustrated here belong to the collection of Sabiha Tansug.

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