I was lucky enough to find myself in Istanbul, Turkey last August. I wrote up a chat about it and forgot to publish it -opps!! But here is part 1 of my new (expanded) Istanbul travel advice focussing on COSTUMES!!
Follow up posts will be a review of a dance show and some travel tips to make your visit just that bit easier and cheaper but for now lets let the sequins shine…..
I managed to hit 5 costumiers during my stay and spent quite some time not finding the 6th. I found the best reference for belly dance shopping was to be found at meissoun.ch
This was a great resource, defiantly look it up, thank you so much Meissoun!
In this post I will outline 5 of the shops strengths and do a solo post on my ultimate favourite, you will never guess who it is!
The obvious place for a tourist to shop is in the Grand Bazaar (Kapaliçarsi – The Grand Basar – www.kapalicarsi.org.tr). It is easy to find and a spectacle in itself. Its not too hard to walk to the grand bazaar from Sultanahmet but its best to save your legs for wandering the labyrinthine market and surrounds by taking the tram to Kapaliçarsi instead. (see soon to be published post for details on riding the tram and where to stay).
Bazar Ali Baba in the bazaar was easy to find stationed on a prominent corner. Meissoun describes it thus :-
“Large range of costumes in every price category, special designs, friendly service. Has two more small shops in the basar. Also many souvenirs.”
The front mostly displayed tourist level costumes at very inflated prices. On enquiry I was shown upstairs by a surly man of very short stature. The costumes upstairs were better but quite dated. Many appearing dusty and tired. I wondered if this would give a bit of bargaining power and I tried on a costume that was decent enough. When it came to bargaining I got quite a shock. They only wanted to talk in euros and a lot of them at that. Now as an Aussie that had just been traveling in switzerland, adding a fourth currency was plain confusing. I was happy to bargain in AUD, Swiss francs or turkish lira but I was not going to use euros, a currency I had never used or even held.
A note here for any turkish vendors that find themselves reading this – just because i am white does not mean I am european!
The upshot of all this was that this costume that was clearly inferior to the costumes I had bought in Egypt. From memory he was asking more than more than $800 EUR. And the tiny man was in no mood to bargain much off the price at all. I was traveling with a friend that had lived in India for 10 years and was no stranger to bargaining but we couldn’t get him to give a reasonable price so I left. Clearly he wasn’t keen on a sale because there was no follow up offer at all. I think the main street bazaar vendors are a bit jaded. I had a costume of similar quality that I bought online, from Egypt, custom made, for around $200 AUD. I was left wondering if the Turks have upped their prices due to more business since the Egyptian revolution made Egypt less attractive for travel or if they are just used to cashed up Europeans willing to splash out on huge prices?
Also in the bazaar was a small shop just around the corner from Bazaar Ali Baba, sporting some stunning and original looking designs with flowing silk skirts. These were truly beautiful, outside my price range though, with prices starting around $1000 AUD. In this case though you could see value, again they wouldn’t bargain all that much. The staff was nice too although photos were not allowed. If you are into bright colours and flowing silk, its worth checking out.
Unfortunately most shops forbade any pictures so I can’t let you see for yourself what they offered, so I guess you will just have to travel to turkey one day to see for yourself 🙂
There were many small shops with turkish folkloric/ tourist costumes to choose from. Some were willing to bargain more than others. I bought my daughter one in maroon from “Beyzade” Yaglikcilar Cad. No 21 Oruculer -Kapalicarsi . They were up for some bargaining and offered reasonable prices.
I did a big adventure to Aksaray catching the tram and feeling like quite the local.
I eventually found the 2 shops San Eli Moda and SIM Moda Evi, one upstairs from the other.
San Eil Moda
Inebey mah. Inkilap cad.
Oto is hani No : 43 Kat : 1/53
Tel. 212 584 21 10
Tram to Aksaray, through the subterran shopping passage, down the Atatürk Blv runter, 2nd street to the right – opposite ISKI (blue building)
Professional costumes at good prices.
SIM Moda Evi
These were not easy to find from the directions on Meissoun’s website. I caught the tram from Sultanahmet in what in my mind was a westerly direction (as the maps didn’t have a north on them for me confirm but all the maps were similar so if you also assume the top of the map is north than these directions will make sense) and getting off at Aksaray.
This is a seriously busy area with large roads everywhere. I then crossed over the road to be on the south side. I walked down the road (I think the street was Valide Camii S.) a bit in order to go over the pedestrian overpass to be on the west side of the main street (there was no subterranean passage I could see). Then followed south a bit more and found the correct road (Inkilap Cad). The arcade was on the left and easy to miss but there were enough numbers on the shop fronts that I did eventually find it. Also on this street were the wildest platform heels i had ever seen. Sizes only go up to 40 in most turkish shoe shops for ladies at best, some only to 38, so not for the tall girls (but we don’t need the extra height 😉 )
These shops had great designs and quality workmanship but prices again were steep (around $1000 AUD and more). I did some amusing bargaining via google translate. I was close to purchasing a costume but it needed a lot of adjusting and there only men to do it. I decided to think about it. Notice how I am not saying which shop I am talking about here? I can’t remember which was which!! I liked one more than the other but forgot which that was. If you go there you will inevitably look in both so I guess it doesn’t matter too much.
The store i couldn’t find was this one.
Alemdar Mah. Incilicavus Sok.
Ates Pasaji No: 33/5
Tel. 514 58 94
In a shopping passage by the Basilica Cistern. Mostly for skirts and training clothes”
I looked and looked and asked around but could not find it. Not sure if it has closed down or what. However the search was not entirely in vain – Instead I found ‘Les Arts Turcs” and found out about a true sufi display that was for spiritual practice not the standard tourist show. It had rave reviews by dance and sufi enthusiasts but i just didn’t have time to fit it in. I would try it out if i get the chance to go again. Belly dance classes are also available through here but they needed longer notice than the few days i had left of my stay.
I also regret not getting to the famous Boutique Bella. It was in another suburb (Sisli) and just didn’t fit into our time frame. While I hear American’s rave about the place, I have also been told they can be quite aloof if you are not famous and that the prices are high. Since I found costumiers in Turkey to be expensive compared to their Egyptian counterparts as it was, I decided not to kill myself getting there just so I could drop the name, especially as it was unlikely I would be able to pay the prices they were asking.
I was traveling with a friend and their child and that limited my shopping time considerably. There is only so much time even the most patient friends and family are willing to tolerate hanging out in costume shops while you try things on. If dance is the main reason you are traveling to turkey then I have to recommend again the value of traveling with fellow dancers. If money is tight, get a few friends together and work out your own itinerary but if time is at a premium the few extra dollars are well worth spending to go with someone like soul dance tours (Australian based but other nationalities are welcome and frequently join in).
The best costume shop of all (in my opinion) was …. drum roll ……. (next post 🙂 )
Have you been to any of these shops? What was your experience? What are your favourite costume shops in Istanbul? What prices did you find? Please comment below and share your knowledge.