Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Making Ottoman Shalvar Trousers

Ok, not really a Turkish Archery article but many friends reenact Turkish archery or mounted archery and it seems there is a need to clarify ''How to make a shalvar''. Shalvar are the historic trousers of the Ottomans (those baggy pants). I just found out that they are fashion again and called ''Harem Trousers''..
One thing we all did wrong in the past was to make veeery big trousers and put an elastic band around the waist. This was good for Halloween parties at best but not for Hstorical Reenactments

A brief look at the shalvars in the Topkapi Palace collection in Istanbul reveals that shalvars were not just oversized trousers but had a certain cut and shape. The cut is made so intelligently that the waist is not too big but it gets loose around the legs which guarantees a good airconditioning in a hot climate (and a certain room for movement).

Let's have a look at a few museum pieces:

In historic miniatures the colour of Ottoman shalvar trousers is mostly red but other colours can be seen as well. Gold, silver and coloured embroidery may have been used. Also don't forget, the shalvars in the Topkapi Palace museum will have mostly belonged to the Sultans or high officials so they may be more expensive, more embroidered and more golden. Also the fabric will most probably be silk. Ottoman Shalvars were very wide, this can be seen from miniatures but there is also historic accounts from foreigners on how wide the trousers were.

I made a shalvar replica according to approximate shalvar measurements and cuts:

This is the folded version and can be used as a template. You can cut 4 of these and stitch them together. I say 24cm at the waist in the folded version; I recommend a bit wider just in case, but not too wide. You can measure it easily. Measure your waist and add 5cm for the seam and 5cm for the belt. Divide the number by 4 and you will get the measurement which you will have to cut out as above. Once opened the shalvar looks like this:

You can turn over the top, stitch it and make a place inside for the belt (the belt should not be fixed to the shalvar). One thing I noticed in my last visit to the Topkapi Palace, some shalvars have a strip attached at the bottom to go under the foot. I assume this was the Shalvar to prevent from sliding upwards when riding.
Alright this is me wearing my shalvar, compared to the miniatures it looks similar:

Some more museum pieces to give you an idea:


  1. Thank you for posting this! I will be attempting to sew a pair for myself soon. Thank you for your blog overall too and for writing in English, since it's very hard to find resources for traditional Turkish archery in the United States.

  2. POCKET!!! image 10 of 17, black polka-dots on cream with light blue at the waist has an additional bit of light blue right at pocket level. Since there are existing overcoats from the region and period with seam openings at the same place, it looks like access to pants pockets was built into more than one layer of clothing. That pair also looks almost more like medical staff pants in shape, making them a good option for those who don't care for the fuller versions.