Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from Ottoman Turkey

Style and Status: Style

Woodcuts attributed to Johann Lautensack, from von Herberstein's Gratae posteritati, Vienna, 1560; from ’Ipek
Woodcuts attributed to Johann Lautensack, from von Herberstein’s Gratae posteritati, Vienna, 1560; from ’Ipek

As the Habsburg ambassador at the Ottoman court in the mid-sixteenth century, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq had daily opportunities to compare European and Ottoman fashion.

The Turks were quite as much astonished at our manner of dress as we of theirs. They wear long robes which reach almost to their ankles, and are not only more imposing but seem to add to their stature; our dress on the other hand, is so short and tight that it discloses the form of the body, which would be better hidden, and is thus anything but becoming, and besides, for some reason or other, it takes away from a man’s height and gives him a stunted appearance.

Most men and women in the Ottoman Empire wore loose, front-opening robes and wide trousers. A person’s gender and status largely determined the choice of accessories, such as jewelry, sashes, and especially headgear.

“Layering” was a main feature of Ottoman dress. Apart from protecting against the cold, wearing several layers also muffled the shape of the body and lent it bulkier proportions as well as a sense of grandeur. Since the number and type of layers indicated an individual’s social and economic status, Ottoman robes were designed and arranged specifically to reveal the layers underneath. Open necklines and side slits intentionally exposed a robe’s lining and the fine fabric of undergarments.