Ottoman costumes

Folklorist Esat Uluumay is exhibiting his collection of Ottoman folk costumes - 70 garments and 400 pieces of jewelry - at the Museum of Ottoman Folk Costumes and Jewelry.

Clothing has always been an inseparable part of human existence, continuously transformed over time into a phenomenon of colorful diversity. In pre-history men fashioned pleated skirts of tree bark and occasionally covered themselves with animal skins. Further developments followed over the centuries parallel with conditions of geography and climate, and of weaving technology. While clothing was originally intended merely as a protective covering from the elements, in time it became synonymous with personal identity, symbolizing culture, tradition, social status and economic level. As human beings moved about on the stage of history and migration brought them into contact with new peoples, they shared their traditions with others or adopted designs or motifs from them. In this sense, many costumes we term ‘folkloric’ virtually constitute a colorful album of history.

The history of clothing in Anatolia goes back thousands of years with roots in the many civilizations that have made it their home. Its various regions and smaller geographical units are a rich source of unique costumes. If you go, for example, to a Turkmen or nomadic village, it is immediately apparent from the color of their garments who is married, who is engaged and who a widow.

Personality traits are largely responsible for the nature of a person’s wearing apparel. Religion, sect, occupation, educational level, culture and economic status, age, special occasions, and intended use, whether for everyday or dress-up, are all important determinants of how a person dresses.

Dress was extremely important to the Ottoman sultans. The tradition that developed in the palace of wrapping a deceased sultan’s clothing in a cloth bundle is an indicator today of the social history of periods other than our own. Enamored of dressing well, the sultans had textile workshops set up in the palace itself where fabrics specially designed by palace miniaturists were woven with care. When these workshops were unable to meet demand, those in Istanbul and Bursa stepped in to fill the gap. Bursa especially was a major center of the textile industry, and raw silk imported from Iran was woven there.

The Ottoman palace was the leading light of the Istanbul fashion world in the 15th century. While the city’s residents wore expensive, ostentatious clothing, the peoples of the towns and villages of Anatolia and Rumelia dressed more simply, shunning fussiness and decoration.

The outstanding characteristic of Ottoman costumes was that they were long and capacious and covered the entire body. Women wore ‘şalvar’ or baggy pantaloons, cloaks, shirts and gowns, while men donned the male version of şalvar and wore rawhide sandals. Each occupational group had its own characteristic style of dress. Every possible art and craft was represented in the Empire, and all reached their zenith in the 16th century. In the 17th, parallel with the empire’s deteriorating economy the quality of its textiles also began to decline. The use of precious metals was prohibited in the same period.

A special collection of folk costumes and jewelry is being exhibited today at Bursa’s Uluumay Museum of Ottoman Folk Costumes and Jewelry which opened in September 2004. The collection contains pieces from areas of the Ottoman geography stretching from the Caucasus to Bosnia-Herzegovina and all the way to the Arabian peninsula.

The museum, with its exhibits of 70 costumes and 400 pieces of jewelry, also boasts examples of blue bead accessories, embroidery, coin purses, prayer rugs, ‘bohças’ (pieces of cloth used to wrap other items for storage), napkins, Anatolian and Rumelian knitted socks, Bursa silks, men’s and women’s headgear, saddle bags, ‘çuvals’ (the large sacks used by nomads for transporting their belongings), implements for making Turkish coffee, Turkish bath accoutrements, equestrian and horse trappings, framed calligraphic inscriptions, door decorations, Ottoman weapons, kitchen utensils and braziers, and musical instruments.

The museum’s founder, folklorist Esat Uluumay, explains how he got the idea of developing a collection: “I learned the methods of folklore and ethnography from Ord. Prof. Dr. Ziyaddin Fahri Fındıkoğlu and Prof. Dr. Cavit Orhan Tütengil. All the folklore societies in Turkey assisted me in my research. During this lengthy process, when I saw what the local people had produced in a labor of love, I was moved to lend them my support. And in time I got the idea of exhibiting what I found.”

The collection consists of items such as embroidered jackets, vests, skullcaps, stockings, coin purses, jewelry worn by women as well as men from the Roman and Byzantine through the Selçuk and Ottoman periods, bangles, chains, armlets, belts, slippers, clogs, and bridal costumes--all used between the 8th and 16th centuries in Bursa and its surrounding villages, and in Manisa, Aydın, Yatağan, Afyon, Eskişehir, Kütahya, Denizli, Çanakkale, Edirne, Kırcaali, Üsküp, Bosna, Gümülcine, Bartın, Erzurum and several other locales.  Being worn every day, such clothing wore out quickly, explains Uluumay. Little survived to the present and most of the pieces in the collection were purchased from antique dealers.

Uluumay had this to say about the over 400 pieces of jewelry in the collection: “Human beings have worn jewelry ever since they first appeared on the earth. To protect themselves from natural phenomena they either could not prevent or did not understand, to ward off the ‘evil eye’, and for reasons of religious belief. The use of jewelry expanded as well with the instinctive human desire to own, and to show off, items of value, and to make   oneself more attractive by using adornments. Ottoman jewelry can be divided into two main groups.  Precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum and precious stones such as emeralds, rubies and diamonds were used in what is known as palace jewelry. The common folk in contrast, depending on their locale and the owners’ economic status, used materials of lower quality such as silver and lower carat gold, alloys such as brass, bronze and ‘German silver’ (an alloy of copper and nickel with a silvery appearance), or simply beads.”

The most frequently asked question, explains Uluumay, is how the clothing stayed looking so new. His answer: “We have two major traditions. The first is that every man and woman in Anatolia has special clothing, known as ‘yabanlık’ or ‘adamlık’, that they wear only on special occasions. The second is that these costumes are preserved in hope chests… And that is why so many costumes have been carefully preserved up to the present.”

This priceless collection can be viewed in the medrese building, commissioned by one of Mehmed the Conqueror’s viziers, Ahmet Paşa, in 1475, in the Muradiye district of Bursa.