The Great Turkish Underwear Project — Part I: the thinking

Building A Replica Gömlek

Those of you familiar with our Ottoman Turkish Woman’s pattern will already be aware of my theories on the construction of a 16th century gömlek. But for those who’ve just joined us, let me recap.

In her work Women’s Costume of the Near and Middle East, renown textile historian Jennifer Scarce conjectures that the construction of early gömlek is not significantly different from the construction of gömlek that survive from the 19th century, one of which is shown below. It is from Max Tilke’s collection in Oriental Costumes: Their Designs and Colours. He labels this “Turkish woman’s shirt and shoes from Kars, S. Caucasus.” (The original garments are in the Caucasus Museum, Tiflis.) The shirt is made of so-called “Brussa” material. Could this be an Anglicisation (or Germanization in this case) of “bürümcük”, a crepe silk used for women’s çaksir (drawers)? But I digress. In her book, Scarce shows a different gömlek of strikingly similar construction. The only observable differences between these 19th century gömlek and those in the 16th century illustrations appear to be the presence or absence of a small stand collar. The 19th century gömlek have them; the 16th century illustrations do not.

Tilke gömlek
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The most notable feature of gömlek is the red or orange vertical stripes running down the front of the gömlek and the sleeves. Similar details are sometimes seen around the neckline as well. Scarce suggests that these stripes were achieved by weaving different colour selvedges or by joining the pieces of the gömlek by means of an insertion stitch. This is where I became intrigued…

By the end of the 16th century, insertion stitch was being used to join the seams of Western European undergarments as well. And out came Janet Arnold. Arnold’s last work, postumously published in 2008, deals with the cut and construction of linen garments, most of them underwear or accessories. Towards the turn of the 17th century, lace joins and insertion stitches figure prominently in the construction of shirts and shifts.

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So today I am going to drag the fine linen I bought last Spring for this project and start cutting and hemming the pieces with a view to joining them in an insertion stitch.

Metin And in his book Istanbul in the 16th century, quoting Salomon Schweigger who wrote of his stay in Istanbul from 1577 to 1581, says, “The lady wears baggy trousers made of transparent silk or some other fine cloth. Over these trousers, she puts a similiarly transparent shift of fine silk, red, yellow or blue.” In contradiction to this statement, however, gömlek appear to be more often white.

I am equally intrigued by the presence of the same kind of vertical stripes on the pants of some of the Turkish ladies (see a detail picture at right). This would indicate a similar use of insertion stitch on shalvar or çakshir? The problem with this assumption is the lack of a seam running down the front of the leg in any extant çakshir or shalvar. Let’s just call this “Turkish Underwear Project, Section B”, shall we?

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And, Metin. Istanbul in the 16th century. 1994: Akbank Culture and Art Department, Istanbul.

Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 4: The Cut and Construction of linen shirts, etc. 2008: Macmillan, London.

Scarce, Jennifer. Women’s Costume of the Near and Middle East. Unwin Hyman, London, 1987.

Sevgi Gurtuna. Osmanli Kadan Giyisi. Kültür Bakanligi , Ankara, 1999.


© 2010 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice, the author’s name and website, and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.