Updated: May 2022
If you are looking for a city that has it all: culture, nightlife, great food, unlimited shopping - especially for Oriental dancers - you need to go to Istanbul!
This article is the result of 28 trips to Istanbul - I am addicted to this city and travel there once or even twice a year.
Istanbul has been home to some of the best designers and makers of Oriental dance costumes for many decades. This alone is a good reason to fly there. Better go there long enough so that you will have some hours left for sightseeing inbetween all the shopping.
Addresses and links are listed here.
If you would like to see what costumes from Legend, Sim, Bella and others look like, you can visit my gallery.
By the way: Istanbul has an excellent tango scene, one can go dancing in at least one Milonga every night – and get reasonably priced tailor made dance shoes. Read more about this here.
And if you don't want to go to Istanbul alone: You can hire me as a guide for your shopping, dance and culture trip.
It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t buy a dance costume
in 10 minutes. Sometimes I spend over an hour in a shop to see and try on everything.
Most sellers also offer to adjust hooks and straps to your size, so you have
to go back a few days later to get the costume. You see, it’s
really easy to spend a whole week just shopping in Istanbul.
There are two major areas to buy costumes: The Kapali Carsi (Grand Bazaar) and Taksim. Some shops can also be found in the Spice (Egyptian) Basar and other places. Nearly all of the costume stores have a website.
All costume shops and designers can make tailor made costumes (at no extra costs). Personally, I prefer to have my costumes made according to my ideas and wishes. You can bring detailed drawings, color schemes etc. or just seek inspiration in the existing costumes – like "I would like to have this costume, but in red and with a different skirt".
It’s also possible to order via e-mail. But in my experience the price is often better if you go to a shop in person and negotiate. It’s also easier to choose materials and colors. It takes a few weeks to make a costume and it’s best to order right after your arrival in Istanbul (so you also have time for a fitting). Then the tailors will send the costumes by mail. Don't worry: they ship costumes to Europe, America and Asia on a regular basis and know exactly how to handle this.
You can pay for costumes in all currencies, but prices are usually given in Euros. Most shops don't accept credit cards. There are exchange offices all over the tourist areas, those in the Grand Bazaar offer the best rates. If necessary you can also find ATMs at every corner, just beware of comissions.
Now let me take you on a walk…
For many people, the Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi) is one of the main attractions on Istanbul. And it's very "grand" indeed! You can spend a whole day there - and might get lost some times...
Very important advice, no matter what you plan to buy in the bazaar: HAGGLE, HAGGLE, HAGGLE!!!! Never, under any circumstances, buy anything for the price that is quoted first! You will regret it! Some articles can easily be haggled down to half the price. If you need help with that, read this article.
If time allows it, spend your first day just looking around and comparing prices. You will soon find out that many shops have the same merchandise. So don’t buy something at the first shop, you can always come back. And often the price will suddenly drop the moment you leave the shop!
The range of goods for sale has changed over time. I have detected a wider choice and more special shops than in earlier years. Turkish bath accessories seem to be all the rage at the moment. By the way, the Grand Bazaar is not just a tourist trap - locals shop here too.
To determine the general price level in a costume shop you can do the „hip scarf test“. All shops sell the same few models of hip scarves, so ask their price to find out if it’s a cheap or expensive shop. And if you buy something, don’t forget to ask for the special price, especially if you buy several pieces.
Aziza doing the "hip scarf test"
Gülseren Giyim is a costume designer and producer with over 30 years of experience in the business. She has a lot of costumes
in store. You can get a simple costume
for a good price, but there are also more professional models. Hers is also a good place to buy hip scarves and other accessories. She speaks several languages, so communication
should be no problem. Her daughter also helps out in the shop sometimes.
I bought one of my first professional costumes here and I still dance in it - so the quality is really good.
One of our favourite shops in the Grand Basar
is Ali Baba, a big store right in the heart of the
bazaar. I seem to even end up there if I am not looking for
it. It's situated in a way that you simply have to pass by
there sooner or later.
Besides other textiles there is a big choice of dance apparel, from "tourist souvenir" to professional quality. The upper floor is dedicated entirely to dance costumes. It’s here that we found bra-belt sets that have the typical Turkis style with V-shaped belts but are still different from the standard models you see in the bazaar. Ask for Erkan, he has a lot of experience with dance costumes and speaks fluent English.
If your time is limited, this is also a good place to buy your souvenirs, the shop has a large choice from ceramics to t-shirts to lamps.
There are also a few other shops with standard design costumes, but they have become fewer in the past years - apparently dance costumes are in less demand than they used to be. They usually also sell various souvenirs because they don't earn enough money from costumes alone.
If you prefer Tribal Style to glittery sequins, there is an entire street in the bazaar for your taste. One shop after the other with tribal jewellery and textiles. And the same rules apply: Most shops have similar things, so look around first and compare prices.
Do you like sewing your own costumes? There are various textile shops where the designers buy the materials for their costumes as well, especially along the Yaglikcilar Caddesi. Many shops have multiple small rooms, and it's worth checking them all out.
One of there is Tozanli Ticaret, right next to Birlik. They carry high quality chiffon, velvet, stretch and glitter fabrics. This is where all the costume designers buy their fabrics!
If you need more accessories to make a costume you can find them around the bazaar like this shop that sells bra cups in all shapes and sizes.
The really interesting part however are the streets behind the Spice Bazaar. There you will find tons of shops for fashion jewellery, pearls, sequins and rhinestones. It's a glitter paradise for all those who make their own costumes. Materials that are sold in little quantities back home can be bought here in big plastic bags, and extremely cheap.
Now we cross the Galata bridge and take the "Tünel" train uphill. If you turn to your right after the station, you will find a steep street downhill that has many music shops. If you plan to buy an instrument, you should do it here. You will get professional advice and realistic, fixed prices.
It's surprisingly hard to find good finger cymbals though. I asked in many shops and if they had professional quality zills, they often cost as much as the ones from the USA (like Saroyan or Turquoise). But I did find some that were a good price in the end.
Basic rule: Hands off any zills that are sold with postcards - they are rubbish.
Walking uphill you can follow the rails of the tramway up to Taksim square. This is Istiklal Caddesi, the perfect street for fashion shopping. I like buying clothes and shoes here, especially from local brands like Koton, Collezione and Navi.
Close to Taksim square you can find Simi / Legend
Costumes. She designs great
costumes with original ideas and one of my main sources. I have had several of my favorite costumes custom made there, and they are always wonderful.
There are off-the-rack models in the shop, but her strong side is the design of individual costumes.
Thanks to the Metro it’s easy to get to Turkey’s
most famous costume designer: Bella. Unfortunately I can't show a picture because they don't allow photography in the shop.
They have been in the business for over 50 years and know how to make breathtaking, top quality costumes. Of course, sometimes it’s also the price that takes your breath away… Unlike most other shops, service can be rude here. Apparently they don't feel the need to be nice to their customers anymore (this has been confirmed by various other dancers). I personally prefer spending my money in places where I get treated friendly.
Situated in Aksaray, two tram stations after the Grand Basar, is the "Oto Han" building. It's really worth a visit since you can find two costume shops there: Dogan Gök and San Eil Moda Evi (pronounced like Chanel).
The shops belong to two brothers who have been in business for some years now. Both produce extravagant carnival colored costumes as well as really elegant designs for a good price. Service is friendly and language barriers are overcome with the help of pantomime, a calculator and Google translations.
The two of them really do great work and a visit there should definitely part of a costume shopping trip.
As I have noticed elsewhere, many of the costumes are a bit narrow around the hips - what I call "Japanese size". A very large percentage of the dancers who buy costumes in Istanbul are Asians. But of course you can always order the costume in a larger size if necessary.
Of course my overview is not complete - I am working on it constantly and you will find more shops in the address list. If you have a suggestion, let me know.
What would a dancer's visit to Istanbul be without a "Turkish
Night" show? Unfortunately, during recent years with less tourists in Istanbul, many of the big places with dinner shows had to close. But there are still shows nearly every night at Sultana's where several great dancers are performing, supported by a folklore group. Other places in the same style are Gar Music Hall und Tashan Arkat. There are also various boats that do dinners shows with dancers on the Bosphorus.
Furthermore there are various boats with dinner shows cruising up and down the Bosphorus at night. The key there is to book directly via the boat's website as travel agencies often add a hefty percentage.
The events at the Hodjapasha Cultural Centre are worth a visit. They have dervish rituals and a spectacular Oriental fantasy show called Rhythm of the Dance. It is located in a former hamam which gives a special atmosphere.
Most of the time I am too busy shopping and sightseeing in Istanbul to take dance classes - but you can contact one of the teachers on my list.
There are also several big festivals like the Rakkas Istanbul and the Tarazade. I have been to both of them, and they are very well organized and worth a visit.
All the adresses an links you need are listed here.
Want to see me dance all over Istanbul in Bollywood style? Here are to videos:
Find information about hamams, hotels, general shopping etc. here.