31 March 2014 -

The support of the Design History Society allowed me to complete significant research for my book, Turkish Influence on Western European Fashion in the Long 18th Century. This project investigates the eighteenth-century Western European vogue for women's fashions identified as “Turkish,” integrating approaches from dress and art history with social and cultural history in order to examine cross-cultural encounters through the lens of consumption and material culture.

During the long eighteenth century, the issue of visual presentation through clothing was of growing significance in Western Europe as increasing numbers of people from a widening range of class backgrounds participated in fashion. Meanwhile, interest in Turkish culture was widespread, particularly Ottoman clothing. Although a growing number of scholars are analysing the effects of what has been called “turquerie” (Turkish-focused Orientalism) in dress, most have limited themselves to the costumes worn for portraiture and masquerade, as well as the clothing of travellers. My book expands this inquiry to include the incorporation of Turkish styles into mainstream fashion.
Throughout the eighteenth century, Western European societies were fascinated by the Ottoman Empire. A growing body of visual and textual sources documented and popularized Ottoman people and life, most significantly the writings of English ambassadress Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) and the works of French artists Jean-Baptiste Vanmour (1671-1737) and Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-1789). What began as fantasy Orientalist masquerade – “Turkish” costumes worn at fancy dress entertainments and in portraiture -- resulted in a direct impact upon mainstream women's high fashion in the last quarter of the century, as women began to wear clothing and accessories that referenced those worn by the Ottomans.

This “turquerie” in dress occurred throughout Western Europe, although it was particularly strong and complex in France, Great Britain, and Sweden. In France and Britain, Turkish sartorial allusions merged the sometimes conflicting images of luxury, sensuality, simplicity, and timelessness. Rousseau and the philosophes promoted the revolutionary idea that people should wear “ageless” and “natural” Eastern dress in order to avoid participating in consumer fashion culture. By adopting these Turkish-influenced styles, elite and bourgeois British and French women were able to adopt the appearance of these philosophical ideals while conversely still participating in the consumption of high fashion. During the same period, Turkish references became so integrated into French Provençal regional fashions and Swedish national court dress that they eventually were used as patriotic local and national symbols.

The DHS research grant enabled me to study extant examples of relevant late eighteenth-century garments at four museums. At the Musée de la Toile de Jouy (Jouy, France), I studied and patterned a particularly fine high fashion dress that incorporates elements of Turkish design. At the Palazzo Mocenigo (Venice), I patterned another high fashion ensemble (a jacket and petticoat) with the same Turkish references. At the Museon Arlaten (Arles, France), I patterned multiple late eighteenth century Provençal regional jackets. Finally, at the Nordiska Museet (Stockholm), I patterned a high fashion robe à la turque, and also studied a number of other relevant garments, including a rare example of Swedish national court dress.

Kendra Van Cleave


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