Saturday, December 20, 2014

Turkey of the regions 10: Dressing like a local

Turkey of the regions 10: Dressing like a local

Old blockprinted yazma in Tokat
March 02, 2014, Sunday/ 00:00:00

Anatolia in the 19th-century was a land of few and poor quality roads, a situation that encouraged communities to grow up in virtual isolation from one another.

The great geographical diversity of the land also gave rise to a wide variety of local architectural styles that evolved to make use of the materials that lay at hand. At the same time, local communities developed their own mouth-watering culinary traditions.

But one of the most conspicuous ways in which Anatolian communities used to express allegiance to their locality was in the way that they -- and the women in particular -- dressed. Sadly, except in the far east of the country, that is the aspect of regionalism that is most under threat today, as younger women abandon the old ways of dressing in favor of what could be described as modern Muslim style. Just occasionally, in places such as Erzurum, it is still possible to see three generations of the same family walking together, the grandmother clad in what was once the truly local style of clothing, the mother wearing the drab overcoat and scarf tied under the chin that was the look of the Turkey of the 1970s and 80s and the daughter wearing the colorful, neatly tailored long mackintosh and türban headscarf that is the preferred look today all the way from İstanbul to Artvin.

Today, the only places you'll usually see local costumes are museum showcases (not surprising in some cases such as when, for example, you spot the knee-exposing shorts once worn by the men of the Aegean), although markets, such as those at Ayvacık and Tire, sometimes drop a hint as to what has been lost. If you'd like to visit parts of Turkey where you might actually see people wearing regional dress, here are some suggestions. Most are in the east of the country.

Reinventing the Laz Keşan

The Laz lands

Of all the regional costumes that once brightened up Anatolia, one of the most striking had to be that of the Laz lands, technically the five small coastal towns to the east of Rize that were inhabited by the Laz-speaking people, although people in Laz dress were always visible as far west as Trabzon as well.

Traditionally Laz women wore a cotton keşan -- a wonderful black, white and maroon-patterned shawl that covered their heads and shoulders and that came paired with a wraparound apron of bold stripes called a dolaylık. According to Sevan and Müjde Nişanyan's guide to the Black Sea, the different colored stripes at one time defined where a woman came from, with the females of Sürmene opting for black and red stripes, those of Akçaabat preferring maroon and cream and those of Tonya favoring black and brown.

Sadly, these days you'll rarely see a woman younger than 40 wearing a keşan, let alone a dolaylık. Instead the race is on around Rize to find new uses for the old shawl, which now crops up in the form of everything from oven gloves to the lining for a baby's cradle.

The Hemşin lands

In the mountains inland from the eastern Black Sea coast, another minority people, the Hemşin, also developed a dress code all of their own. Here, the women twisted a flimsy scarf called a poşi around the tops of their heads, covering a plainer black scarf trimmed with white embroidery that hung down to their shoulders. The poşis usually came in black, patterned in red, orange or gold. Strangely, they were not made locally but imported from Syria.

Perhaps because it is neater and more practical, the poşi has proved more durable than the keşan, and in Ayder, Çamlıhemşin and the surrounding villages in the foothills of the Kaçkar Mountains you will still see plenty of women wearing one. Many locals have migrated to other parts of the country in search of work, particularly as bakers. When they return to their villages in the summer, one of the first things many of the women do is put on the poşis they feel unable to wear in resorts such as Bodrum.

The Hemşin people lived in a part of Turkey with an exceptionally harsh climate, so the other important feature of local dress for both men and women was thick woolen socks. This is still one of the best places in Turkey to pick up beautifully designed hand-knitted socks, although most of what is on sale in the shops aimed at tourists has been made in factories.

Bayburt and Erzurum

Twenty years ago, the back streets of Erzurum were full of women scuttling along the pavements wrapped in the closest thing Turkey had to a chador: A brown, woolen garment flecked with patterns in navy blue called an ehram. Today, the ehram has fallen from favor even faster than the keşan. When I last visited, Erzurum was down to its last shop selling the garments, and to see women wearing them you really need to travel north to Bayburt where, in the shadow of a vast medieval castle, women continue to wrap themselves tight in this garment. At the same time, in preparation for the inevitable day when the last woman will hang up her ehram, an EU-funded project has been started to come up with new uses for the hand-woven material used to make them.


In the lands of the Laz and the Hemşin, men long ago abandoned any attempt to dress with local flair. Further south, however, you will see men wearing the baggy pants called şalvar that usually come paired with waistcoats and worn with cummerbunds and flat caps. It's a look usually thought of as Kurdish, although you start to see it as soon as you reach Malatya (where they favor şalvar suits in a particularly fetching fern-green).

The men of Şanlıurfa (Urfa) wear their şalvar suits with a quirky local twist. Wander into the bazaar and you will be astonished to see these most manly of men topping off their outfits with headscarves that run the gamut of colors from the palest lilac to the deepest purple. Oddly enough, their women wear the exact same scarves, a unisex look unknown elsewhere.

Unlike most sartorial specialities of Anatolia, these scarves are a relatively recent innovation. As recently as 2003, most Urfalıs covered their heads with white scarves. Then someone introduced the lilac versions from Syria and the rest, as they say, was history.

In Urfa, too, you'll see women wearing unbelievably vibrant, colorful outfits that anywhere else would be saved for special occasions. These outfits consist of a dress called a fistan that is worn over a T-shirt and leggings in summer or trousers and a jumper in winter. Over the fistan goes an apron called a peştemal and then over that goes a long coat called a zibin, the ends of which get tied up in the peştemal to stop them trailing in the mud. Traditionally, all this was topped off with a kofi, a fez-like cap that was covered with a scarf, although these days most women wear normal scarves. In the bazaars of Urfa (and Van, Hakkari and Diyrabakır), the wonderful materials needed to create these outfits are enough to set a thousand cameras clicking.

Alanya cummerbund


Hard though it might be to believe, the seaside resort of Alanya once boasted its own particular look for men, consisting of black şalvar with a waistband of deepest maroon. Still worn by a few elderly locals, these Alanya şalvarı were worn with brightly colored striped silk cummerbunds, examples of which are on display in the Kültur Evi (Cultural House) at Ehmedek on the hill leading up to the Selçuk castle.


Visitors to the Monday morning market at Göynük, east of Adapazarı, will be thrilled to step into its undercover dairy section and find the local women wearing a delightful local style of şalvar in a variety of tartans. At one time the pattern would have made it possible to identify the village each woman came from, although today most of them wear machine-made tartans picked for a preferred pattern. The scarves are topped off with cotton shawls printed in a pattern similar to those worn by the women in Beypazarı, further east along the road to Ankara. Locals will point out the crucial minor details that distinguish their shawls from a Beypazarlı's.


On the streets of modern Tokat most women dress much as their fellows in İstanbul. This, though, is a town that once played a particularly important role in Turkey's sartorial history as the only place permitted to make the yazmas, the gauzy square headscarves that were the standard head covering of Central Anatolia. It was a monopoly industry, the proceeds of which went to support the queen mothers back in İstanbul. Today, the old Yazmahane where the work used to be carried out stands forlorn in the back streets, despite supposed plans to restore it. Meanwhile, in the surrounding streets, yazmacıs compete to sell machine-made versions of the product to a declining market. Just a few men still blockprint the cloths. One or two even keep examples of old yazmas to show their customers. As ever, the difference between the original hand-made versions and the new machine-made ones is staggering.

Examples of local dresses at Söğüt Museum



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