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RH406 - Ottoman Turkish Woman

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Make yourself what Turkish Women really wore in the early part of the Ottoman empire (16th and 17th century)!

Buy our full-size paper patterns with complete instructions and historical notes for Lady's Ottoman Turkish Outfit including caftan(s), shalwar (trousers), and gömlek (shirt). Fits busts 30.5"-48" and waists 23"-41" with instructions for adjustments to smaller and larger sizes.  All Sizes in one envelope. Embellishment suggestions included.

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Suggested Fabrics:
fine wool, silk or brocade
linen or lightweight silk for lining.
may also be entirely or partially lined with fur

Yardage Requirements: 
caftan(s) -- 4 yds at least 60" wide
pants --  2 yds at least 60" wide
shirt --  3 yds at least 45" wide

10-20 buttons and loops for front closure
braid and passementerie trim to taste

Let us help you! At Reconstructing History, we want to see you wearing the best garments you are capable of making. Call us Monday through Friday from 9am until 4pm Eastern Time (or email us at info@reconstructinghistory.com) and we will answer any questions you might have.


Below is an excerpt from the historical notes you will receive as part of this pattern:

Women's Costume of the Ottoman Empire


One might expect that because of the habit of Turkish women in the Ottoman Empire to only venture outdoors completely veiled there would be no solid information on the clothing of the women of Istanbul and other Turkish cities.  But like anything hidden, veiling excited the interest of foreign visitors to Anatolia and as a result, many pictures of Ottoman woman exist starting in the 16th century. 

Additionally, the court tradition of cataloging and preserving the sultan’s clothing after his death leaves us with a wealth of textiles.  Over one thousand five hundred pieces were kept in the treasury and form the collection of the Topkapi Palace.  The earliest garments are from the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror (1451-81) and the latest extend into the early 20th century.  The clothing of sultanas and children are also included in this collection.

One of the only true Western portraits of the 16th century is that depicted at right.  Sultana Mihrima, the daughter of  Sultan Suliman the Great and Roxalana, was born in 1522 and painted in 1541.  The painter is unknown, but the style of the portrait indicates a European artist, perhaps one of the travelling Dutch masters.  In this portrait, Mihrima wears a high-necked, orangish red kaftan patterned with quatrefoils and closed with alternating pearl and red jewel buttons.  Her kaftan is form fitting and the sleeves appear set into the armsyces.  This, however, could be a mistake of the European artist who would be used to set in sleeves.  Surviving kaftans do not have set in sleeves.

Three Turkish Women from Salomon Schweigger’s Reyssbeschreibung auss Teutschland nach Constaninopel u. Jersulaem (shown at left) display the typical clothing of Turkish women from Istanbul.  The woman on the far left wears outdoor clothing consisting of a ferace (coat), yashmak (two-piece veil) and peche (black face veil).  This is the typical outdoor dress of wealthy Ottoman Turkish women.  The lady in the middle wears the outfit probably worn under her neighbour’s ferace:  a short-sleeved kaftan over a long-sleeved one, a waist sash (kushak) and a hat (tarpush).  The woman on the right reveals more in her casual way of wearing her clothing: we see her knee-length shirt (gomlek) and baggy-ankled pants (shalvar) tucked into soft boots.

An engraving from the 16th century (left) again shows the elements of a lady’s indoor clothing -- ankle-length kaftan, under kaftan with extra long sleeves pushed up on the arm, and small pillbox-type hat.  A single curl of hair hangs over each shoulder.  The rest would be plaited down the back.  Her jewelry consists of a simple necklace and possibly drop earrings.  Her belt is a fabric sash, not anything metallic.

A 1570s illustration by Balzas (right) shows a little more detail.  Working from the outside, this lady wears a white kaftan patterned with and all-over black cloud-like design.  Black embroidery or lace adorns her shoulders, sleeve ends and hem.  The front of her kaftan is closed with fourteen tiny black buttons pushed through loops of black braid.  This braid extends to the point of the bust.  The top five buttons are undone.  Her kaftan is lined with red that can be seen at the edges at the front opening and hem since it is tucked up into her red sash.  Two tassels decorate her sash.  Under her kaftan, she wears a green knee-length garment that shows nowhere else -- not on her arms or at her neckline.  This may be simply another kaftan -- a shorter, sleeveless one -- possibly worn for warmth as it does get cold in Turkey.  It may also be essential to wear two kaftan layers.  Under the green kaftan, she wears a see-through mid-calf garment with large sleeves.  The neckline of this garment is adorned with gold sttiching and closed with a single gold button.  She also wears a simple gold necklace just above the neckine of this sheer garment.  Underneath it all, she wears a pair of orangish-yellow pants that bag around the ankles and red shoes. On her head is a hat and a simple red veil.

The woman in the illustration at left from a picture album in the Bodleian Library at Oxford shows what the short caftan worn by the woman above might look like.  She appears to be dressing -- the front of her short kaftan is not yet buttoned -- but her diaphanous ankle-length shirt (gomlek) and baggy-ankled pants (shalvar) can also be seen.

This short kaftan is called “hirka” by some sources and “yelek” by others (one is an undergarment and the other an overgarment, but my sources disagree as to which is which).  It is clearly a garment that may be worn alone as documented by the illustration at right.  This woman is clearly dressed to go outside.  She has not yet put on her yashmak and efrace, but she is wearing patens on her feet to keep her out of the mud.  She wears a short kaftan closed with a red sash over a white gomlek and white shalvar.  On her head is a tarpush with a feather adornment.

That women also wore two full-length kaftans together is also clear.  The illustration at right is based on a picture of a member of the Harem in the 1588 album in the Bodleian Library.  She wears a long-sleeved kaftan under a short sleeved caftan which she wears open in front.  Her kaftans are clearly of stiff brocade as evidenced by the way they stand away from her body.  Her sash is rather plain without any decoration and her only visible jewelry is a simple choker.

The Sultan’s Favourite Wife as depicted in the Codex Vindobonensis 8626 wears a similar costume, but it appears to be of softer, more pliable material.  She sits with her attendants with her slippers on the floor before her bare feet.  She is the only one in the picture wearing a tight-sleeved under-kaftan (all the rest, you can see only their gomlek sleeves under their short-sleeved kaftan).  Her upper kaftan is red with a large bold circular pattern while her attendants’ are solid coloured or have a more subtle pattern.  The neckline of her gomlek is decorated with gold as is the button that closes it.  Her tarpush carries a decorative feather.  Her hair appears to be loose.

The next century did not bring a great deal of alteration in the way Ottoman women dressed.  In an illustration after the illustrations from Englishman Peter Mundy’s journal of his trip to Istanbul, dated 1618, the woman at right wears a short black sleeveless kaftan over a long red one faced with green and lined with golden brown which is tucked up into her white sash with gold lace or fringe edges.  A short golden brown under-kaftan can be seen at the front opening over her white gomlek and white shalvar.  Greyish patterned, tight, wrist-length sleeves emerge from under her red kaftan and may be associated with the under-kaftan.  She wears yellow slippers on her feet.  The only difference between her clothing and that of a sixteenth century Ottoman woman is the tall cap on her head.  It strangely resembles a medieval hennin and there is some speculation that the hennin was brought back to Europe after the Crusades (although this timeline appears to be backwards in this 17th century example).

Another illustration in the Mundy album is shown at left.  She wears blue patterned shalvar under a red short under-kaftan with gold and black brocade sleeves.  Her over-kaftan is golden brown and either unlined or lined with a simliar colour.  It is faced with a dusky lavendar and the left side is tucked into a golden metallic belt.  Her gomlek is hidden from view.  On her feet, she wears white socks with multiple seams.  Like her partner on the previous page, she wears a tall pointed hat with a gold brocade scarf across her forehead.  She seems to have looped a white sash with gold edges around her right shoulder and around her upper back.  The reason for this is unknown.

A goodly number of pictures of Ottoman women in the early 17th century show them wearing short kaftans with either short sleeves or no sleeves over a gomlek and shalvar with no over kaftan.  The illustration from the TSMK manuscript at left shows a woman wearing a white short kaftan over her gomlek and white shalvar.  Her sash is also white but it is divided at intervals with gold fixtures and fringe at the ends.

As the 17th century progressed, few changes overcame Ottoman lady’s dress.  The biggest change can be seen at right in the hat worn by the Lady from the Capital.  Her brocade hat has widened at the top and become flat.  It is worn far forward on the head and is possibly pinned to the red veil that covers her hair.  She also wears a cape tied around her shoulders.  In all other ways, she doesn’t differ from the previous women -- she wears a short-sleeved turquoise long kaftan over a long-sleeved dark brocade short caftan that can be seen at the center front opening.  Her long caftan is faced with red and lined in orange.  A red sash is clipped at her waist with a jeweled clasp.  She wears burgundy shalvar and yellow slippers.  She wears a gold jeweled bracelet on each wrist and blue drop earrings in her ears.

The sultan’s head wife drawn after a Parisian manuscript shows a figured white turban-like headdress on her head under her disk-topped hat.  Two sprays of feathers decorate the turban, perhaps an imitation of the sultan’s turban.  She wears a blue kaftan patterned with small flowers and only buttoned for a few inches under the bust.  She may be wearing a short under-caftan, but it is only slightly visible at center front.  She also may be missing her shalvar or they may be white and blend with the gomlek that piles about her legs.  She wears a black fur-lined cloak with a red brocade outside and gold brocade mules on her toes.

Her metal jewelled belt matches bracelets on each wrist.  A small necklace is at her throat and tiny drop earrings in her ears.  She seems to have painted her lips and fingertips red with henna which was a common practice.

In the eighteenth century, Turkish dress began to adopt elements of Western style and this is a subject for future work.

Extant Examples

A blue taffeta kaftan dating to the 16th century and belonging to Ayse Sultan (d 1605), the daughter of Sultan Murad III, is housed in the Topkapo Palace Museum (Accession number 13/198) and is shown in outline at right.  It has a pattern of silver circles arranged in triagles called chintemani.  The robe is lined with a similar fabric of a salmon colour.  The front is closed to the waist with blue fabric buttons and the elbow-length sleeve ends are curved at the front to accommodate the bend of the arm.  The neckline is round but not deep.  The skirts are widened by round-topped gores set into the side seams.

Another garment belonging to Ayse Sultan (Accession number 13/205) is shown at left.  It is a salmon-coloured short kaftan with the same chintemani design as the blue kaftan.  In English, it is called a “cloak” and in Turkish, the word used is hirka but I have read it called yelek or cepken in other sources.  It is almost identical to the blue kaftan described above except that it is short (thigh-length) and salmon lined with blue instead of the other way around.

A seraser (velvet) hat belonging to Hanzade Sultan (d. 1650, the daughter of Sultan Ahmed I) is Topkapi Palace Museum accession number 13/792.  It is precisely the kind of tall hat we see in pictures of women in the early 17th century.  A sketch of the hat can be see at right.  It is beautifully simple in its construction.


For more, purchase this pattern.

This information © 2008 Kass McGann and Reconstructing History

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