Isabella's SCA pages

An Italian’s View of Turkish Women’s Clothing


By Lady Isabella Mea Caterina D’Angelo


   [1]                                      [2]


The lady on the left is wearing an Italian version of the lady on the right’s coat.  I used the Italian and Turkish images as well as writings by other Europeans at the time to create what a lady of the Kingdom of Naples might wear whilst traveling in and around the Ottoman Empire.   My recreation is based on the notes, extant garments, and artwork from both Italy (mainly Venice) and Turkey.   Since both Venice and Naples were major ports during the 16th century, I do assume that both had first hand contact with people from the Ottoman Empire.  This is born out in the portrait evidence of “Turkish Coats” from Venice and the surrounding area as well as the amount of Naval battles occurring up and down the western and eastern coasts of Italy through out the 16th century against the Turks.[3]

The chemise is made of a linen cotton blend.  This is partly because it was on sale at the fabric store.  However, this is also because, according to accounts, Turkish women always wore cotton chemises.  In Italy, cotton was cheaper comparatively to the rest of Europe given that Italy was closer to Egypt and other middle eastern cotton producing countries, but it wasn’t something typically used for Italian women’s chemises.  So, a linen/cotton blend would have been more appropriate for a lady of Naples.

The cut of the chemise is based on the drawings by Europeans of Turkish ladies as well as the portraiture evidence.  The sleeves are almost always depicted as being long and full.  The Italian portraits of the Turkish styled coats show v-necked garments or the neckline is covered by the Turkish coat.  According to one Italian observer during the 16th c, the Turkish chemise is “collarless”. [4]


The coat is made out of linen.   Although silk was a more popular choice in both Italy and Turkey, linen was also used.   Mevavino, who was an Italian that traveled to Turkey, states that the garments the Turkish women wore “are lined with a thin

material”. [5]  Because of this, I lined the blue linen coat with thinner pink linen.  I also added trim to the outside of the coat because, according to various European accounts, the coats were either embroidered or otherwise decorated along the edges.  


Another reason I used linen for the coat was due to a law in Istanbul in 1568 “proclaiming that it was forbidden for non-

Muslim women to wear silk-bordered caftans, caftans from

'atlas', 'ala' baggy trousers, 'ala' cotton gauze and shoes that

Muslims wore, known as 'içedik' and 'bashmak', because their

buying them had made the prices rise. The quality and type of

fabric used for garments of non-Muslim women's dress were also

defined in another law issued from the Palace to the Istanbul

judge. Another law that was decreed was that non-Muslim

women should wear 'fistan' instead of 'ferace', their baggy

trousers should only be light blue, and that they should wear

'shirvani' and 'kundura' instead of 'basmak' on their feet.”[6]

So, Linen is a safe bet if you don’t feel like being subjected to Turkish Sumptuary laws.  This law also defines that the trousers should be blue.  A few European observes do note that all the Christian women wore blue trousers.  The trousers with the outfit are not ones I have made.  They were originally part of a linen pant suit that I re-dyed.  I used these to go with the outfit rather than make a new pair because I wanted to focus on the more visible outer layer of the house dress than the underlayers.  Despite this, the pants are only loose and do fit with the cross between the Italian bloomers and the Turkish trousers.


The coat is made to be tight around the bust and waist but flow at the hips due to both the Italian mindset and the written descriptions.   Italian dresses are tight in the bodice.  The gowns are tight but meant to go over corsets.  The dresses can be made to be tight enough on their own to uplift and constrain the breasts and waist into the 16th century ideal shape.  According to a French traveler to Turkey in the late 16th c, the women of Turkey “open the corsage to a modest degree, but they do not confine the breasts as the French women do, nor push them up to make them look bigger as do the women of Venice. They wear clothes not so much as to look different, but to cover themselves.” [7]  However, both art and extant evidence show that the bodices to the gowns were very tight.  Rather than making two garments, I made the bodice to the coat tight.  The coat is what would have been seen and what an Italian lady would have seen a Turkish lady wearing.  They would not, necessarily, have known about layers and this looks to be born out in the Italian portraiture.  In the various portraits of Italian ladies sporting the Turkish coat, you can see the chemise and then the coat; no other layers are visible.  They may be wearing a corset beneath the chemise, as appears to be popular in Italy, but it is not possible to know.  Instead, the coat can become a supportive garment in it’s own right given the lining and the fact that all Europeans agree that there is no shaping in the garment nor is there any difference between a man’s and a woman’s coat. 

I cut the coat to be tight as shown in extant garments and artwork from the period.  This was one of the primary European artwork examples of Turkish dress I used:



The coats appear to support the breasts and are tight around the waists.  The buttons only extend to the stomach/waist area.   The sleeves can be short or long but look to be somewhat tight in the upper arm.  In almost all Italian portraits, the sleeves to the coat are short and tight.

Because the outfit is an Italian’s idea of what a Turkish outfit should be, a simple veil is worn over the hair.   Hats were rarely worn in 16th century Italy but veils were almost always worn while outdoors.  This may further emphasize that the lady is Christian and not a Muslim.  

One of the major differences between the Turkish coat I created and the Italian version in portraiture is the neckline.  I did go with the necklines described in various European accounts as well as the neckline seen above.  The Neapolitans dressed more conservatively than the Venetians.[9]  Because my persona is from Naples, I made the neckline a bit higher than shown in the various paintings.  The neckline is still in keeping with the Italian style and does follow the lines of Titan’s “Salome” shown on the next page.


[3] During the 16th C, Barbarosa, a Turkish Pirate, controlled much of the Mediterranean and is known for attacking Italian and Spanish ships around the Italian coast.  In the later half of the 16th c, Turkish ships themselves were attacked by the Maltese who, by that time, were part of the Spanish Territories as was the Kingdom of Naples.

[6] IBID Page 19

[7] IBID Page 7

[8] Harem, codex Vindobonensis 1590 Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek Vienna.

[9] This is born out in the many depictions of Venetian and Neapolitan dress from various travelers artworks.  The Venetian women are often shown with low cut bodices while the Neapolitan women  have high necked bodices or even a v-neck bodice that covers most of the torso.

Another painting depicting Turkish dress by an Italian painter.  In this one, Bellini shows the women wearing the "street dress" described by many Europeans in Turkey.  With the long white veils, it's easy to see how one would call them "ghosts".  However, the aspect I find interesting is the use of colors you can still see in a few of the gowns.  You can clearly see stripes, buttons, and a pretty good range of color.  Given the European accounts, it's probably safe to assume, from an Italian perspective, that the women's gowns are just as lively in color as the mens are in this painting.

BELLINI, Giovanni

Sermon of St Mark in Alexandria (detail)

Oil on canvas
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

This is the pattern I used for my Turkish coat.   It's not 100% accurate but it does give an accurate look.   I wanted a very full skirt and the least amounts of pieces to piece together.   The length should only come to mid-calf.  The deepest part of the curve is where the natural waist should be.

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