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What to Wear: Istanbul

Nowhere does East and West come together quite like Istanbul, Turkey’s largest metropolis. The city straddles Asia and Europe with the beautiful Bosporus in-between. Get set for adventure, soaking in the iconic sites like Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and hitting up the swank nightlife scene in your finest. Here are our key style suggestions for your Silk Road stop…



Bazaar Days

You need more than a weekend to see the best of Istanbul. The historic city is thoroughly modern yet literally busting at the seams with must-see sites. Be sure to dress comfortably while taking in the Golden Horn. The Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque directly face each other, but Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar are both further away. Start with city chic coated black jeans that give the effect of leather but without the price tag (or the sweating) ($49.90). On top, think lush textiles like this blue velvet blazer ($178)—a subtle nod to the Blue Mosque—with this high-neck bow blouse ($44.99) underneath for religious stops that require a more covered up look.

Throw your phone and smaller Grand Bazaar buys into this easy Coach bag. ($168) The style comes in several colors but we like gold. For chillier fall days, wrap on this print silk scarf in blue and red ($41.97) and pick up an evil eye bracelet at the bazaar or bring this sparkling one along with you ($39.59 evil eye bracelet in cubic zirconia). Finish the look with a pair of handsome flats—the tassels reference the fringed and hand-knotted Turkish rugs you might find at a souk—such as these in blue and black ($265).

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Bosporus Nights

With clubs that hug the banks of the Bosporus, the nightlife scene in Istanbul is fancy and dressed to the hilt. Go for rich finishes like this mini dress cut from brocade ($198). Temperatures can dip into the 40s on autumn nights, so bring along a warm coat. This heather-colored wool coat with gorgeous faux fur collar by Tracy Reese ($498) will become a wardrobe classic, but has a slight peplum for a ladylike finish. Stow your credit cards in this lattice-work clutch (not unlike the screens at Topkapi Palace) by BCBG Max Azria ($168) and pick up on the black and gold coloring by adding a gold collar necklace ($38). With textures and metallic to spare, keep your shoes simple. Go with classic, can’t-go-wrong stiletto pumps like this pointy-toe pair in black suede ($120). For extra style points, invest in these buttery soft leather gloves in hunter green ($89.50).



Nisantasi Adventures

When you’ve had your fill of the Golden Horn, cross the bridge to Nisantasi, Istanbul’s poshest shopping district and where you’re more likely to see locals than tourists. Here’s where you’ll find some of Turkey’s hottest hometown labels like Vakko, alongside recognizable international brands like Cartier and Louis Vuitton (there’s also an excellent Topshop here where you can pick up some last minute nighttime outfits). Considering you’ll be surrounded by the city’s trendy set, pay attention to your cut. (A few beauty items won’t hurt either and you can stash them in this navy dopp kit by Tumi ($70).) Go with a slim cut pant, maybe in army green ($170), paired with this traditional gingham shirt (in travel-friendly non-iron cotton no less) tweaked with a snazzy multi-hue print ($49.25). For a warm layer, think a fall texture, like this brown Donegal v-neck sweater by Club Monaco ($98). Final touches: a simple, easy-to-read chain-link watch with design kudos to spare ($110) and olive suede oxford shoes by Bass ($79). The rubber sole makes for good grip and comfortable all-day walking.


Taksim Evening Hours

When the sun goes down, you can while away the evening hours in the restaurants and hookah lounges around Taksim Square. Try a button-down with a little pizzazz, like this mixed print Odin for Target collaboration ($29.99) in case your itinerary takes you into the wee hours. Add wine-colored cords ($110) for color (cinched with a black on black belt ($95)) and a richly colored scarf ($125) in a wool-cashmere blend, particularly handy for outdoor seating situations. Ground the look in traditional menswear picks like this wool peacoat in camel ($227) and boots with wingtip detailing ($248 by Kenneth Cole).

What to Do

Istanbul being one of the world’s great cities, there’s plenty of literature out there on places to see, including our own Fodor’s guide. But here are a few travel tips to add to your research:

1. If you’re planning on staying more than 3 nights, it might be worth it to split your hotel stay between the tourist-heavy Golden Horn or Sultanahmet area (which is convenient to Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar) and the Taksim or Nisantasi areas where you’ll have a better taste of Istanbul life. The latter is also where frequent business travelers stay and the hotel services are divine.

2. Though not as fancy as some establishments, I’ve had very good meals in the Grand Bazaar. There are several lunch cafes inside including Burç Ocakbasi serving regional Gaziantep fare (great for meat eaters, not as vegetarian friendly as other cafes).

3. The Asian side of Istanbul is considerably more residential, but if you’re up for taking a peek, a scenic way is to go by ferry and stop at Kadikoy. There’s not much to do once you walk up into the neighborhood, but the view is stupendous. Or you can bus or taxi it to the more bustling Bagdat Caddesi where Bagdat Avenue, the main artery, is bustling with shops and restaurants.

4. If you’re planning for a trip next year, buy tickets in advance (they usually sell out) for the Istanbul International Film Festival slated for spring. Next year the city will also host its arts biennial in the fall (held only on odd years). Head to the city’s dedicated site for more details on both.

Photo credits: Women Day: Top Far Left: Express; Top Left: Coach, Inc; Center: Gap Inc.; Top Right:; Bottom Right:; Bottom Center: J. Crew; Bottom Left: Bloomingdale’s By Mail Ltd., dba Women Night: Far Left: Anthropologie; Top Left: Gap Inc; Bottom Left: Lord & Taylor; Center: TR Designs 2009; Top Right:; Bottom Right: Men Day: Top Left: Club Monaco US, LLC; Top Center: Gant USA Corporation; Top Right: Brooks Brothers Group, INC. ; Bottom Right: Tumi, Inc.; Bottom Center: Nordstrom, Inc. ; Bottom Left: PVH Corp. Men Night: Bottom Left: Target Brands, Inc.; Top Left: Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc.; Top Center: Barneys New York; Bottom Center: Tanner Goods; Right: Eminent, Inc.; Far Right: Nordstrom, Inc.

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