In Ottoman tradition young girls generally dressed plainly, it being considered improper for them to wear showy clothing made of fabric with silver or gold thread, sequins or embroidery until they were married. The wedding dress was therefore the first richly ornamented attire they wore. It was distinguished from the costume of other women at the ceremony by a bridal headdress, veil and other accessories. Ottoman wedding dresses made of rich fabrics in the fashionable style of the time were in bright colors like red, purple, blue or pink, while red was the traditional color for the daughters and sisters of the sultans.
They were worn with a red bridal veil. From the 1870s onwards, under western influence, wedding dresses of pastel colors became fashionable, but the first white wedding dress was not worn until 1898, when Naime Sultan, the daughter of Sultan Abdülhamid II, married Kemalettin Pasa. This fashion, which began at the palace, gradually spread throughout Turkish society, until eventually it became hard to find any bride not dressed in white.
Wedding dresses and woman’s clothing in general diverged widely between regions with colors, fabrics, embroidery and style varying according to the customs of each sector of society. The number of days a wedding celebration lasted depended on the social status of the family. Among the upper classes brides wore a different dress for each day of the celebrations, which consisted principally of the henna night, the nuptial day, and the day following the wedding. The dress worn on the latter occasion was known as paçalik.
The main items of a woman’s attire were the baggy trousers or salvar, jacket, blouse, a robe called entari and kaftan. An entari worn over shalvar is the most ancient form of Turkish woman’s dress. Entaris of many different styles were worn up until the mid-19th century, with skirts of different lengths, sometimes divided by slits to the waist into two or more sections, and having necklines of various shapes. From the early 19th century onwards the styles called üç etek and dört etek, with the skirts divided into three and four sections respectively were the height of fashion. The üç etek had slits at the sides forming three skirt panels reaching to the ground, was open down the front, and fastened by several buttons at the waist. It was worn in the cities until around 1875 and in rural areas until the 20th century.
Following Sultan Abdülaziz's visit to Europe in 1867, young women gradually stopped wearing salvar and the üç etek. Instead, under western influence dresses with two-panelled skirts became popular. These were cut in various styles, plainer for daily wear and heavily embroidered when used as wedding dresses or intended for special occasions. The latter were almost always made of velvet, with long skirts, shaped bodices and round necks. They were open as far as the waist at the front, and worn over a blouse of helâlis, a cloth with a silk warp and linen or wool weft. The head was covered with a scarf of muslin or crepe, and a silver belt was worn around the waist.
At the beginning of the 19th century, dresses known as bindalli made usually of purple or dark red velvet, and embroidered with floral motifs in couched and padded gold work known as dival, were favored as wedding dresses and for other ceremonial occasions. In rural areas women wore salvars and boleros made of similar fabric and similarly embroidered. From the reign of Abdülhamid II (1876-1909), the bindalli began to be superseded in cities by long skirts and matching jackets influenced by western fashions, and made of silk fabrics like satin, taffeta and brocade. The earliest examples of wedding outfits in this style were made of satin with bindalli embroidery, and had long trains and shaped jacket.
These were succeeded by wedding dresses made of taffeta of silk woven with silver thread, with long skirts cut on the cross, tight boned and corseted bodices, and capes. These were worn with scarves of crepe edged with needle lace. In winter knee-length fur-lined velvet coats tailored to fit the waist, and matching the color and embroidery of the dress beneath were worn. Shoes and bags were made of fabric or leather, again in matching colors and designs. Western fashions also influenced footwear during this period.
Reference: Sebahat Gül, curator of the Ethnographic Section at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts / Skylife
Some selected examples (please click on pictures to enlarge):