19th-Century Album of Ottoman Fashion

These watercolour illustrations made in the early nineteenth century are from an album presented, in 1867, to the Russian heir to the throne Alexander Alexandrovich Romanov (later Alexander III of Russia). The album seems to have been a gift from someone called Grigoriy Sharopenko and the pictures are most likely copies of earlier illustrations. The drawings show clothes and ceremonial dress from the Ottoman Empire, with the most noticeable features being the various headdresses as well as the extensive layering of garments. The combination of different textiles and manner of layering was a way of distinguishing not only gender but class, religion, and clans, and the aim was to combine in such a way that each individual layer could still be seen.

In addition to drawings, actual garments arrived in Europe through merchants, soldiers, and diplomats, and although the most common meeting place between Europeans and the Ottomans was the battlefield, the theatre and opera became a common site where these elaborate outfits were seen. The alterations made by Westerners showed not just the features which were most attractive to Europeans but also what was considered particularly "Eastern". This also translated to costumes worn at balls and masquerades, the turban becoming particularly popular in the early nineteenth century.

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