The Peshtemal: Traditional Turkish Towels

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After two years as an expat in Istanbul, I have converted – to pestemals. I used to be as addicted to terry cloth as the next girl, but then I discovered these Turkish towels – lightweight, flat-weave, graphic – and dropped the loops like a bad habit. 

It all started in the hamam, both for me and for, well, everyone. According to Ilgen Paydas, a founder of Cotton and Olive, an online Turkish towel and soap purveyor, people have been wrapping themselves in pestemals (pronounced PESH-teh-mal) before and after the ritual steaming and scrubbing of the Turkish bath for over 700 years. Woven on looms, pestemals’ classic designs are striped, but now come in a colorful variety of designs. 

I started out buying a couple for a vacation, thinking they would be an ideal addition to a beach bag: space efficient, quick drying, and soft. Not only was I totally convinced on the beach (they even make a great sarong for a trip to the snack bar), I decided they’d be ideal at home. So that was it; we now use pestemals every day. They look chic hanging in the bathroom and dry almost instantly, even in the humid Istanbul summers.

My family in the US will confirm I’m obsessed, since I now bring pestemals as gifts for every visit – orange stripes (in honor of my dad’s alma mater) for his gym bag, hot pink chevrons as a baby-girl gift, green hand-towels for dishcloths. 

Here in Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar is, of course, ground zero for pestemal acquisition, and I have a couple of favorite stops for their price, quality and selection.

Egin Textiles (Yaglikcilar Cd. No: 1), the last shop on the right before the Oruculer entrance, offers a broad range of patterns, colors, and styles, including towels in linen or linen-blend.

Pricier, with more of an earth-mother-meets-the-Hamptons design vibe, pestemels from Abdulla (Halicilar Cd. No: 62) are lightweight but indestructible. After two years of use and washing, the delicate natural patterns look as good as the day I bought them.

Finally, if you can’t make it to Istanbul, or can’t stuff enough of these in your luggage, check out Cotton and Olive, as mentioned above. They shared two of their pestemals with me to review, and I was impressed with the bamboo-blend materials and attractive weaves. The pestemals are authentic Turkish – all produced in Denizli, Turkey, not far from where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean – but can be shipped right to your door.


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Emily Von Kohorn •Istanbul, Turkey

American Expat living in Istanbul - working, exploring, and eating all the mezes she can get her hands on.

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