Tourist fashion in Istanbul

One last post on Turkey. My companion, known here as the Art Student, was fascinated, even obsessed with the many women tourists in Istanbul who were dressed in black from head to toe, faces veiled and even sometimes hands concealed by black gloves. She was indignant that their male companions were very often wearing shorts. Far too hot for a man to wear long pants, they seemed to say, while the women simply sweltered. Paradoxically, many of these women carried cameras. We did see some lowering the veils to below their chins so as to be photographed, but mainly they took snaps and remained themselves unsnappable. Traditional Turkish attire for women involving garments resembling trench coats of varying lengths and colours, didn’t look much cooler, but at least the women showed their faces in public,








6 responses to “Tourist fashion in Istanbul

  1. I’m with the art student on this one, though of course it’s not my place to do anything about it. I saw similar scenes in Malaysia on a sweltering humid day in Kuala Lumpur. Men in shorts, women in burkas.


  2. my guess would be that the women in black burqas are not Turkish, they’re tourists from other Muslim countries such as Pakistan. the woman in the grey robe with white hijab and black face veil looks maybe Indonesian? except the face veil isn’t so common there.
    as you say, the traditional Turkish women are wearing dresses that look like trench coats, and head scarves.
    it doesn’t seem that long (but it’s probably about five years) since I read about a woman in the Turkish parliament being given a slow hand-clap of disapproval because she was wearing a hijab, and Turkey at the time was proud of being a progressive Muslim country, where women dressed modestly by Western standards, but weren’t expected to wear a hijab, let alone a burka.


    • I don’t think they were quite Burqas, Deborah. Most of them had their eyes showing, or would have if not for the expensive sunglasses. My impression was that the vast majority were from Arab countries. Your story of the slow handclap fits with the tone in which different young people, one of whom wore a headscarf (not of the hijab variety), said the veiled women were definitely not Turkish.


  3. I am not sure why the anger at the men. Were the women being forced – in some way – those wearing the full-length cover? I remember the barely contained fury – at times – of people in Australia – while I was living in Japan – their naive perception that women in Japan were somehow second-class citizens – from some mis-understood perceptions or stories from friends who had been briefly to Japan. Their fury directed at Japanese men! Little did they know the strength of Japanese women – the finance directors in most families – doling out weekly/monthly “pocket money” to husbands – directing their children’s education – taking on professional or P/T work to further supplement earnings/etc. When I told a group of professional women I was teaching how they were viewed with concern and pity by their sisters/some brothers in Australia for their downtrodden status – they were amazed and shocked at the mis-reading of their central and powerful family role. It makes me wonder therefore what the response of the women photographed would be to the anger aroused at their husbands – while in the photographs I see indicated none of the tension that the emotion felt should reveal. I see couples (the men in clearly casual clothing appropriate for hot weather, at least) or family groups (mothers/daughters/sisters/friends – hard to know) strolling around, enjoying the tourist scene in a foreign land – but happy (or not – I can’t judge exactly beneath the cover-all dress) taking photographs and so on. I don’t know the full back stories to these scenes to react as strongly as the words suggest – especially when true gender equality is NOT yet a part of the scene here in Australia – much though we might wish it were so – and feel certain that it is – among our own “class” – if I can term it in that sense. But yes, it must have been hot wearing those heat absorbing full-length burqas. I wonder why they were wearing them? Could it have been a part of their cultural and/or religious belief system? What kind of clothing were they wearing beneath it? T-shirts and shorts perhaps? Maybe it was not quite as heavy and hot as we might think? I don’t know.

    I spent part of Sunday afternoon with Riverina friends and a young man of Hazara ethnicity from Afghanistan – here nearly 16 months – a teacher. Speaking with a weariness of spirit about the disappearance of dozens of friends there – yet with energy galore since arrival in this land to work and study and to try and get his wife here (and two younger brothers) – $10,000 just to get the Australian government papers he needs to fill out in order to apply for a visa for his wife – according to the migration lawyer he saw along with my friends. And he’s only 23 – with the soul of someone twice that age. His journey involved Malaysia and Indonesia – variously Medan and Jakarta and Bogor – and registration with the UNHCR. Our conversation ranged widely as you might imagine – over the nature of our society and its history as an Indigenous land further peopled by those arriving as exiles/immigrants/refugees! I am afraid that politicians of various persuasions – though more particularly a schoolboy debater naysayer – came in for some negative comment from yours truly!!


    • Jim: I think the anger against the men wasn’t based on an assumption that as individuals they were forcing the women to dress that way. It was about the double standard: the women were wearing clothes that were obviously uncomfortable in the heat – under the veils we could see they invariably wore long trousers, shoes and socks; some wore black gloves. In some cases, their male companions’ clothing was completely climate appropriate, the only concession to modesty being that their shorts came below their knees, and their T shirts covered their shoulders. We did see a number of men wearing jalabayas, and the ones that we saw appeared to be wearing very little under them, but at least both partners were wearing clothes that proclaimed their cultural/faith allegiance. No doubt it was the women’s choice, just as it’s the choice of many young women in the west to wear skimpy clothes in winter or shoes that damage their spines. But individuals of all stripes make ‘choices’ all the time that come out of internalised oppression. Those veiled women might well have strong emotions about such skimpily dressed young women – the view from outside can often see things that insiders are inured to.


  4. D’accord! Exactly so, Jonathan – as you say – in response to my thinking! Thanks.

    By the way my Leeton friend and I with some assistance from the Narrandera Tourist Information Office tracked down Massacre Island in the Bidgee River nearby. It was a moving experience to stand, head bowed, within sight of the place of that awful event – at once beautiful yet terrible – c.170 years ago. A few days later with a cousin of my wife in The Rock (south of Wagga Wagga) I mentioned The Yalda Crossing by Noel BEDDOE and the film project with which you and your son are associated. The cousin canoes past Massacre Island as a kind of annual event downstream from Wagga – noting the absence of any marker to that 19th century tragic event – as well as some on-going erosion of the island itself. An old friend from my first year of teaching in Hay now in retirement in Albury says that over a period of some 10 years he admired the general demeanour of Noel BEDDOE at regional conferences/seminar days.


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