Former first lady's clothes mirror Turkey's journey

Fri Nov 27, 2009 11:21am EST
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By Alexandra Hudson

ISTANBUL (Reuters Life!) - An evening gown slit discreetly from the neck to the navel worn by Turkey's former first lady Mevhibe Inonu is on show in an Istanbul exhibition, tracing how her style helped define the image of the young Turkish Republic.

The purple dress with draped back dating from the 1930s, joins a fringed Charleston dress from the 1920s, a ski jacket, and a 1960s floral-patterned suit to evoke a woman who lived to be 94 and whose husband succeeded Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Turkey in 1923, as president.

The predominantly Western styles of Turkey's first ladies have always been read as emblematic of a western-orientated national identity in the majority Muslim but secular state.

Yet in 2007 Turkey's first first lady to cover her head moved into the presidential palace in Ankara to the chagrin of Turkey's traditional secular elite.

Secularists claimed it was an offense to the emancipation of women that Ataturk had struggled to achieve and epitomized a power shift toward a more religious, conservative social class.

Mevhibe was born into the crumbling Ottoman Empire in 1897.

As the new Turkey looked to define itself as progressive and western-orientated, she typified a first generation of Turkish women who shed the traditional scarf, reveled in new freedoms and enthusiastically embraced the styles of Paris and Milan.

Her knee-length skirts, sleeveless gowns and trousers on show in the exhibition at the Istanbul Fashion Academy come in contrast to the Muslim dress of the wives of the current President and Prime Minister, Hayrunnisa Gul and Emine Erdogan.   Continued...

<p>A visitor looks at the clothes of Turkey's former first lady Mevhibe Inonu in an exhibition in Istanbul, November 26, 2009. REUTERS/Murad Sezer</p>