Sultan Caftans, Fabrics, Carpets and Sacred Coverings

The collection of sultans’ clothing, which showcases perhaps the finest examples of Ottoman textile art, contains clothing of the sultans and princes from the second half of the 15th century to the early 20th century. The collection was assembled owing to the tradition of bundling together all the garments worn by recently deceased sultans and princes, labeling them, and then storing them in the palace treasury. The collection has also been enriched by the addition of the caftans, turbans, and coverings placed on the sarcophagi of sultans and others in the Ottoman dynasty. In the Ottoman Empire, clothing was not merely functional or aesthetic, but also served as a symbol of the wearer’s professional, ethnic, and social status.

has an appliqué decorative pattern as well as a very striking lining. There are numerous caftans of Italian velvet in the collection of the Topkapı Palace Museum which clearly reflects the taste of the Ottoman sultans and princes for Italian silk. The fact that Italian silk was so highly valued and generally preferred may well have been due to the fine patterns and compositions found on this fabric, as well as its red and gold hues. The palace collection also contains many inner caftans. These are typically uncollared, tight-fitting, short-sleeved garments open at the front; they had slits along the side stitches of the skirt and widened below the waist by means of pieces of fabric added to the garment’s front and side apertures. Closing from right to left, the inner caftans also have strip-shaped front fasteners called “çaprast”. Some of the short-sleeved inner caftans would be made of the same fabric as the outer caftan, and the sleeves would be attached to the outer caftan by means of buttons on their upper part. The outer and inner caftans were worn over a loose inner robe called “entari”, which were long-sleeved garments open in front, with silk-threaded buttons extending down to the waist. In the empire's early period, the caftan and “entari” had contrasting colours, but identical colours became common beginning in the second half of the 18th century. Apart from these garments, the Ottoman sultans would also wear traditional wide-stitch shalwar trousers which had separate legs pleated on the upper part and whose wide waist would be drawn in by a sash passed through drawstrings on the waistband. When the sultans would appear before the public during ceremonies, they would typically wear a type of brocade known as “serâser”, woven with gold and silver thread and visually expressive of their power and majesty: the silk yarn found in “serâser” cloth was made in Bursa while its gold and silver wire was manufactured in special workshops called sîmkeşhâne. Production of serâser cloth, which was typically woven with patterns of large dimensions, began in Istanbul in the 16th century. Currently, the palace collection contains only those few garments of serâser cloth that have survived. The decorative patterns of the sultans’ clothing were drawn up by palace miniaturists, who made up a large part of the court's artists and artisans working for the court, or “ehl-i hıref”. Besides “serâser” cloth, the sultans' garments were made with expensive silks such as velvet, “çatma” velvet (with raised designs) and “kemha” or velvet pile. Beginning in the time of Sultan Ahmed III (r. 1703-30), these heavy and expensive fabrics (due to their large amount of gold and silver thread) were replaced with lighter and simpler fabrics such as satin, taffeta, gezi (thickly woven silk cloth), canfes (thin taffeta), sandal (a mixture of cotton and silk), geremsut silk, and selimiye (silk cloth made in workshops near Istanbul's Selimiye barracks). For the Ottoman sultans, headgear not only completed an outfit, but also served as an important status symbol. During ceremonies and on reception days, sultans would wear headgear called horasanî, mücevveze, selimî, or kâtibî. Sultan Mehmed II (r. 1451-81) and Sultan Bayezid II (r. 1481-1512) are known to have worn the mücevveze, a red-topped cylindrical turban widening towards the top and with a height of 32-33 centimetres; the “mücevveze” would be prepared by wrapping white muslin around cardboard. The muslin-covered turban type known as selimî (so named because it was first used by Sultan Selim the Grim (r. 1512-20)) also had a cylindrical shape, with a relatively wider top than the bottom part resting on the head. In addition to the “selimî”, the flat-topped “kâtibî turban” came into use in the time of Sultan Ahmed III (r. 1703-30). Another important piece of Ottoman headgear was the fez. In 1827, Sultan Mahmud II issued an imperial decree abolishing the Janissary corps and establishing a new army called the “Asâkir-i Mansûre-i Muhammediye” (Victorious Soldiers of Muhammad), whose mandatory uniform consisted not only of coat and trousers, but also of the fez. Subsequently, a new clothing regulation was introduced obliging all state employees and religious scholars to wear the fez. This clothing reform of Sultan Mahmud II served as a means of promotion for the radical changes he brought to the structure of the Ottoman state. The introduction of the fez resulted in other kinds of headgear losing their function as status symbols.


On the talismanic shirts found in the Sultans’ Clothing collection are written verses from the Qur'an and various prayers which was believed to protect the wearer from illnesses and enemies. There were even claims that these talismanic shirts could protect the wearer from swords and bullets. Apart from the Qur’anic verses and prayers on the shirts, there are also various geometric shapes, pictures of the Kaaba in Mecca, and floral patterns reminiscent of those used as ornamentation for books; all of these were drawn primarily in black and red ink with gilding and silvering used as the base. The talismanic shirts were most likely prepared through a collaborative effort between astrologers and theologians. The writing on the talismanic shirt belonging to Cem Sultan, son of Sultan Mehmed II (r.1451-81), began and ended on an hour indicated by astrologers as being particularly auspicious and known as “eşref-i sâ`at”. This shirt can currently be seen in the palace collection.

Ceremonial uniform (jacket and pants) worn by Sultan Murad V at his enthronement ceremony, 1876 Talismanic Shirt of Cem Sultan, 1480. The preparation of this talismanic shirt began on 30 March 1477 and was completed on 29 March 1480