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Turkish Women's Fashion: Modern and Traditional Items

written by: Laura Wise • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 9/11/2012

The headscarf, baggy trousers and colorful, sequined clothing are common items in traditional Turkish clothing as well as modern. You might be surprised at how the women of Turkey express themselves through their wardrobes!

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    Women's Headwear: the Controversial Hijab

    A delicate grey leaf pattern decorates this woman's headscarf. Such headgear is an integral part of Turkish culture and women's clothing. A multicolored silk square lies at the center of a controversy, which nearly toppled the Turkish government --- and modern Turkish women were at the hub of the conflict.

    The question of whether or not to ban headscarves in universities and official buildings has occupied the highest Turkish court. Many felt that the government was trying to "Westernize" its women with a decree for more liberal dress, while sacrificing a unique cultural characteristic. Whether women wear headscarves or not, the idea that the government can dictate clothing was and is a point of objection and offense for Turkish women. In the storm of controversy, the government ban survived by one vote. However, while political and religious considerations are a vital part of how people choose to dress, they are not the main subject of this article.

    Despite the "progressive" government ban, many Turkish women, in fact, favor the headscarf, or hijab, regardless of age and place of residence. Most Turkish women feel comfortable with covering their hair, a way of expressing their religious feelings. In a population with a Muslim majority, the Koran teaches modesty in dress and includes a stipulation that women should cover their hair. Hence, the headscarf is an item of religious significance as well as everyday dress and fashion.

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    A Colorful Fashion Statement

    Don't take my picture! Floral swirls and designs in rich red, gold and orange make this hijab fashionable as well as functional. These politically troublesome headscarves are elegantly spun creations of silk, or less slippery and more practical cotton. Very rarely are they unadorned or plain. Usually, the base color of the headscarf is selected to match that day's outfit. Turkish women love colors, gold, sequins and embroidery in their hijabs, and the scarves are worn like pieces of cloth jewelry --- with hijabs covered in lace, embroidered with gold thread or sewn with gold coins and baubles.

    There are two ways of tying the headscarf. The first and less common way is turban-style. A woman bunches her hair into a bun at the top of her head, then pulls the scarf down over her forehead, crosses the ends at the back of her neck, and then brings the crossed ends forward and ties them on top of the head in a bow or a knot. The more traditional way to tie the hijab is with the scarf folded forward over the ears and tied or tightly pinned at the neck, the loose ends covering the neck as well as the hair.

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    Traditional Turkish Headdresses

    Turkish headdresses, particularly from the region of Cappadocia, are famous for their bright colors and elaborate designs. Meant for special occasions, events and ceremonies, these headdresses serve a decorative and ritual function, rather than one of everyday wear. In the case of the Cappadocian headdresses, the entire headdress is hand-sewn with tiny, colorful beads in a cap that covers hair and head.

    The headdress serves different purposes in different regions of Turkey. It is typically more common in villages and rural areas, where folk art is vibrant and there is still a tradition of giving an engaged woman or new bride a headdress. The bride-to-be meets with the other women of the community before her wedding and is presented with the headdress by the other women, or sometimes by the groom's family. The headpiece is sewn with gold coins and silver ornaments. The gold can be converted into money in a time of financial crisis, while the silver wards off evil and bad luck. While the actual shape and form of the headdress is unique to each region of Turkey, these characteristics and the custom of giving the headpiece to a young woman on her coming-of-age or wedding are universal across the country.

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    Pants, Skirts, and Coats

    Observe the outfits of several women buying chickens, as well as the scarves and skirts for sale. Among the Turkish elderly, both men and women choose to wear traditional baggy trousers. Turkish-style trousers are especially popular in hot countries because they are designed to beat the heat. Traditionally, the pants are ankle length, with buttons or elastic gathering the many loose folds of fabric. The same method of fastening is used at the waist. The crotch of the trousers is also very loose, coming down to the knees. This loose cut prevents chafing of sweaty skin, rashes and other irritations and is, therefore, well adapted to the heat. More modern trousers are essentially the same cut, but they tend to be calf length.

    As for skirts, modern Turkish women prefer them long and swishy for much the same reason as people like baggy trousers. The motion of walking creates a kind of self-contained air conditioning system, with air always in motion under the skirt. This contributes to comfort and coolness.

    The skirts are combined with tight-fitting tops, T-shirts, or long-sleeved blouses --- often glittering with sparkly appliqué, crystals and sequins. Sparkle is not restricted to evening wear, but can be seen all day long. On colder days, a long overcoat known as a pardosu is worn on top of this ensemble. The denim pardosu is a favorite with younger women.

    Traditional Turkish clothing is definitely still "in style," but modern women and culture continue to adapt old fashions and traditions to suit the times.


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