Turkey Pulse

Turkish folk costumes reflect roots from the Balkans, Central Asia

Article Summary
The folk costumes of Anatolia show great variety, but most have two things in common: they consist of layers and they open at the front.

The folk costumes of Anatolia, which originate from the area of the Balkans to Central Asia, show great variety, but most have two things in common: they consist of layers and open at the front, to allow both men and women to lead an active outdoor life.

Fatma Koc, associate professor at the Faculty of Arts and Design at Gazi University in Ankara, told Al-Monitor that for centuries tribes that came from Central Asia to Anatolia continued wearing their traditional attire. “There are two crucial features [of folk costumes] across the region, one of which is that the outfits consist of layers. The other is that they were not sewed up at the front.”

Rich embroidery on cepken (jacket) and the hems of traditional costumes of Antalya, a city on the Mediterranean coast (Gazi University of Ankara)

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But the practicality of these features did not mean giving up on aesthetics; silk, cotton and wool were used to produce the costumes that were embroidered to mark their identity.

Different types of fabrics and designs generated a large variety of costumes across the region, yet with common features. Shalwar trousers, unisex baggy pants, are part of folk dress across the region and occasionally appear in modern-day fashion. The bottom of the trousers would have pleats or cuffs to keep them from touching the ground. The entari, a loose robe, is worn mostly by women, whereas the kaftan, a thick embroidered robe, is for men and women. Some women also wear an apron on top of the entari. In the Black Sea region, the peshtamal, a thick black and red woven blanket-type cloth, is tied around the waist to cover the hips in a rainy and humid climate.

Traditional costumes of Trabzon, a city on the Black Sea (Gazi University of Ankara)

Just as important as the costume is the headgear. Koc explained that there are different headdresses for married and single women, as well as those who are divorced or widowed. The saying “tying the knot” is translated in Turkish as “tying the head," indicating that once a woman is married, she would start wearing an elaborate headdress.

A Turkish wedding headdress, with coins and veils in white and red (Izmir Olgunlasma Enstitusu) 

In Turkey's urban neighborhoods one rarely sees people wearing traditional costumes. Inside the house, however, yazma or tulbent, thin fabrics with needle-lace edgings, can be found in many dowry chests. Easy to adapt to modern life, tulbent is an essential item in the contemporary home to wear while cooking or cleaning. Turkish tulbents have made their way into vintage US stores as well, serving as fancy bandanas.

Carik or tsanouhi, soft ox or buffalo leather shoes or boots with pointy toes, are sold as Ottoman-style sultan slippers on the Turkish and European markets.

Today, Turkish traditional costumes are worn mainly at special events such as the traditional henna night the evening before a wedding, circumcision ceremony or wedding day. Elaboratedly decorated belts, precious stone-embellished headpieces, colorful shoes and accessories with complex designs and handmade lace are worn during the celebrations.

Folk dance festivals across the region are another occasion for people to wear colorful shalwars, short vests and traditional belts. But mostly, the shalwars and cariks are found in the traditional markets and in malls for local and international customers. In addition, slippers, decorative items and folk dolls have become a collector’s item.

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Found in: Cultural heritage

Pinar Tremblay is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse and a visiting scholar of political science at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. She is a columnist for Turkish news outlet T24. Her articles have appeared in Time, New America, Hurriyet Daily News, Today's Zaman, Star and Salom. On Twitter: @pinartremblay

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