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With little chance to pursue their education due to social constraints, and leading secluded lives, women were not able to make significant impact on the world of art or literature. However, there are poets and some artists among the daughters of educated families. Women got the chance to express themselves only after the Tanzimat (Reforms of 1839 pronounced tahn-zee-maht), when more liberal attitudes enabled a number to take up careers as poets, translators, novelists and journalists. The same was true for arts such as calligraphy, illumination and design which required special training.

The period of modernization following the establishment of constitutional government in 1876 gave women the chance to receive an education in western-style painting. The talented daughters of educated families received private tutoring from famous painters, and some even went abroad for further studies. Music and dancing were the two fields most accessible to women in previous centuries, and there were many women composers, musicians, singers and dancers, both amateur and professional. They obtained their training in the imperial harem or the households of the upper classes.


For many centuries during the Seljuk and most of the Ottoman period, women's articles of dress were similar to those of men and bore the same name. The main items were the salvar (ankle-length trousers - pronounced shal-vhaar), gömlek (under tunic - pronounced ghoem-lhekh), hirka (cardigan - pronounced kher-kah), entari (gown - pronounced aehn-tah-ree) which could sometimes be called a kaftan (caftan - pronounced khahf-tahn) and ferace (overmantle - pronounced feh-rah-djeh) which was for wearing out of doors. Apart from the quality of the fabrics, there was little difference in style or articles of dress between rich and poor, nor between those of Muslim or non-Muslim women.

Because Islam forbade women to appear unveiled before men other than their husbands and close relatives, women's outdoor clothing was subject to strict regulations. During the Anatolian Seljuk period women covered their heads, but were not veiled, as we learn from contemporary visual material. For summer they were made of silk, and for winter of wool, often lined with fur. Through the 16th and 17th centuries the style of the ferace remained unchanged. the yasmak (pronounced yhash-mahkh) consisted of two pieces of fine white muslin covering the head, the upper piece tied around the forehead and the lower piece across the mouth below the nose. Over this was a peçe (veil pronounced pech-eh).

From the turn of the 18th century changes began to come about in feraces and veils. A broad collar, about a handspan in width was added to the ferace leaving the neck slightly open, and Muslim women began to wear feraces of pastel colors (referred to as "unseemly colors" in proscriptive laws of the period) in fine fabrics. What is more, the fabric of veils, became more transparent, and with the introduction of hotoz (high cap) which added height to the headdress, veils began to be tied more loosely, and to be adorned with gold thread of various types.

Far more detailed information is available about the dress of the 16th and 17th centuries, after Istanbul became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The main items of dress for women were again ankle-length trousers, long sleeved under tunics made of seersucker gauze (bürümcük - bue-ruem-djuek) reaching down to the ankles, a cardigan and a gown, which was sometimes called a caftan, and which could have either short or long sleeves. A diversity in minor modification of detail, such as the cut of the cuff or tightness of the bodice, emerged in women's dress in the early 18th century, the period known as the Tulip Era. It was during this period that the trousers became baggier. The miniatures of Levni and Abdullah Buhari also depict the dress of the time in close detail.

The headdresses worn by women in the 12th to 14th centuries are illustrated in miniatures, tiles and stonecarvings. Seljuk women usually wore their hair in braids down to their ankles. They either wore embroidered cloths on their heads or a diadem adorned with a gem in the shape of a drop in the center of the forehead. From the early 17th century onwards women's caps worn in the Capital became lighter, tapering towards the top. as is manifested by extant examples. Towards the middle of the century hotoz (a type of cap reminiscent of the bogtag), worn by the Ilkhanid period palace women, with a narrow base and broad crown. came into fashion. In the Istanbul of Ahmed III, when the Empire was relatively undisturbed by political troubles, women's headdresses began to take a diversity of exaggerated forms, quite unlike those of earlier periods. Hotoz with a one-sided brim curving over one shoulder is the most striking innovation of this period. During the reign of Mahmud I and his successors, women's headdresses were widely varied and ornate.

Woman from Istanbul
Istanbul, dated 1208 (1793). From "Hubanname ve Zenanname" of Fazil bin Tahir Enderuni. Istanbul University Library.
This miniature shows that the innovations in women's fashions of Istanbul were the low neckline which left the breasts naked and the elimination of the cardigan. Her loosely falling hair with a shorter fringe around the forehead and an almost conical headdress were variations in the female fashions of the period.

A Lady of the Court
Istanbul, ca. 1810. Opaque watercolours on beige coloured paper. Ankara, Ethnographical Museum.
The design of the dress, the over-garment and the headdress show that the styles which came into fashion at the end of the 18th century were still continuing while the matching the pastel tones of green and pink, herald a new taste.

Dress with a Three Panelled Skirt (Üç Etek) in an Embroidered Fabric
Istanbul, mid 19th century. Fine gauzelike linen, silk thread. Istanbul, Sadberk Hamm Museum.
This dress used to belong to the family of Osman Hamdi Bey. It is an extraordinarily long dress without a collar, has long sleeves and side slits of the three panelled skirt (üç etek) design. A narrow godet (pes) is inserted into each of the front panels of the skirt.

Fur Lined Over Garment (Caftan), Gown and Shoes
Istanbul, last quarter of 19th century. Silk satin, gold and silver thread, fox fur. Istanbul, Sadberk Hanim Museum.
The outfit consists of a caftan, gown and shoes, all made from the same turquoise silk satin fabric.

Gold Necklace
16-17th century TSM.
The necklace is composed of 69 molded pieces with beadlike golden pieces placed between each pair to conceal the rope which holds them together.

Bridal Aigrette
Istanbul, ca. 1880. Rose-cut diamonds, silver. TSM.
Adile Sultan, the daughter of Mahmud II, donated this bridal aigrette with flemish stones to the Mescid-i Nebi in Medina on March 3rd, 1887 and suggested that it should be used to decorate the tomb of Fatima, the Prophet's daughter.

Pair of Earrings
17th century Pearl, ruby, rose-cut diamond, gold TSM
The gold earrings are in the shape of a half blossom, suspended from a gold loop. The blossom has a rose-cut diamond on a high golden mount in its centre surrounded by blue and pink enamelled leaves. Three pear shaped pearls and two rubies were pierced and attached to the lower half of the blossoms. This type of earring very commonly used by Ottoman women in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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