St Petersburg University, with the assistance of the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in Russia, has opened a series of online exhibitions dedicated to traditional Turkish dress.

Online exhibitions "Dilemma. Traditional and modern" and "Traditional Turkish felt clothing in modern interpretations"

Exhibits presented in the first exhibition — "Dilemma. Traditional and Modern" — reflect the traditions of Turkish national dress, many elements of which have been lost or in disuse.

Sergey Andryushin, Deputy Rector of St Petersburg University for International Affairs, said that the exhibitions are opening a series of events related to Russian-Turkish cooperation, which have been postponed due to the pandemic. ‘St Petersburg University, the oldest in Russia, is a leading centre for Turkish studies in the country and overseas,’ emphasised Sergey Andryushin. ‘A special gesture of attention to Turkish culture and language was the opening of the Centre for Contemporary Turkish Studies, headed by Professor Apollinariia Avrutina. I am certain that today’s exhibition will help to appreciate the immensity and scale of Turkish culture and understand how the Turks have been contributing to the enhancement of world culture.’

Mr Özgün Talu, Consul General of the Republic of Turkey in St Petersburg, expressed the opinion that the series will be of interest to the residents of St Petersburg. Indeed, the city, called the Northern capital of Russia, shares deep and long-standing ties with Turkey and there are many memorable places connected with the history of Russia-Turkey relations in St Petersburg. Mr Talu also recalled that Turkology has been studied at St Petersburg University since 1822.

As you know, European researchers have always been eager to learn more about the daily life at the Ottoman court. However, due to established traditions, access to this information was restricted and research was scarce.
Mr Özgün Talu, Consul General of the Republic of Turkey in St Petersburg

‘Recently, the interest of the general public has been fuelled by popular Turkish historical TV series and films. I hope that our meeting and the exhibition series will help to meet these interests,’ noted Mr Özgün Talu. The Consul General also underlined the versatility of the projects conducted by the Centre for Contemporary Turkish Studies and Russia-Turkey Relations at St Petersburg University.

Professor Apollinariia Avrutina, Director of the Centre for Contemporary Turkish Studies at St Petersburg University, said that the event launches a series of projects devoted to the study of life in the Ottoman Imperial harem and palaces. According to Professor Avrutina, the University is preparing to publish a study on this topic by the famous Turkish scholar T. Cengiz Göncü. She added that nowadays the harem is often viewed in the context of the popular TV series Muhteşem Yüzyıl (lit. Magnificent Century). ‘But in fact, the Ottoman Imperial harem was a social-cultural and political institution with its own social and political structure, financial and economic system, and hierarchy of officials,’ she clarified. ‘Unfortunately, studies on this topic in Russia are scarce. I hope that our exhibition will encourage further research and become an important step not only in studying the history of the Ottoman Empire, but also in the development of Russia-Turkey relations.’

Alper Alp, Counsellor in Education at the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in Moscow, recalled that historically, modern Turkey was built on the foundations laid by two empires — the Seljuk and the Ottoman. Their cultural heritage is reflected in architecture, fine arts, literature and, of course, folk costume.

Dr Emine Koca, Professor in Fashion Design Department at Ankara Haci Bayram Veli University, delivered a keynote presentation on the changes in Turkish traditional dress throughout history. Such studies promote cultural awareness and foster understanding of the customs and traditions of the people, their beliefs and lifestyle, Dr Koca is convinced. The Turks managed to preserve their ancestral traditions, which had been formed long before they came to Anatolia. Eventually, traditional dress forms changed, while the actual style of clothing remained practically unaltered, having become a significant element of traditional Turkish culture.

It is noteworthy that for a long time, there was no clear distinction between women’s and men’s wear. Thus, on the miniatures of the 13th-14th centuries, it can be clearly observed that male and female clothing only differ in colours and headwear style. In the following centuries, these distinctions became more obvious.

Traditional clothing in Turkey had to comply with the regulations governing the dress codes, reflecting the details of different economic or social groups or strata within society. The colour, type, and quality of fabric used in clothing, the cut of the garment, and the accessories used were all considered key elements in establishing social hierarchy. For example, in the Ottoman Empire, Armenians had to wear red shoes, Jews — blue, and Muslims — yellow.

The keynote speaker drew special attention to specific features of the Turkish traditional clothes. In particular, the Turks used to observe the three-layer clothing principle, which was deeply entrenched in traditional practices. The inner layer comprised a don (underpants) together with a gömlek (a shirt). On top of this foundation would be the entari dress and the şalvar trousers. They formed the famous ‘oriental image’ and became the backbone of the unified cultural space of the oriental costume. The outer layer included short or long kaftans and other outer vestments covering the body. It was also required to wear sashes and headdresses.

‘While an individual item of clothing may have little impact, when selected as part of an ensemble, it contributes to the overall effect intended to create a very beautiful and characteristically Turkish appearance that reflects the charm and richness of Turkish culture,’ Dr Emine Koca concluded. ‘Dressing in layers was originally a matter of necessity imposed by environmental conditions in Central Asia. Later, it became an element of style and one of the most important characteristics of the richness and diversity of Turkish clothes.’

In terms of elements of the costume, clothes of different social strata did not differ. However, the elite wore clothes made of the most expensive fabrics and exquisite jewellery.

The traditional lines of Turkish attire were preserved until the late 18th century, when some elements of European costume were introduced. Relations with the West began to intensify during the 19th century. This had an impact on the use of clothes, marking the ‘beginning of the end’ for clothing styles and traditions that had been preserved for centuries. The influence, however, was mutual: the so-called Turquerie, or the Turkish fashion, imitating aspects of Ottoman art and culture, was popular in Western Europe throughout the 15th-18th centuries.

Over time, women’s outdoor clothing — the ferace (a wrap) and the yashmak (a veil), covering the entire body and face of a woman in public in accordance with Muslim traditions — changed in the way they were cut and decorated. The çarşaf came to Turkey from the Arab countries only in the late 19th century.

‘When we observe the evolution of veils and outer vestments, it becomes clear that eventually, Turkish women began to use them for vanity to add a touch of charm to their outfit,’ noted Emine Koca, Professor at Ankara Haci Bayram Veli University.

In the 19th century, the Western influences took over. The desire to be and live like Westerners made itself most apparent with the formation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. The reforms of Kemal Atatürk also affected women’s suffrage. Under Atatürk’s guidance, Turkey adopted a form of attire in keeping with the standards of contemporary Western countries, thus creating the visual image of the modern Turkish woman.