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October 2002

Her Little Secret

Perched on a tasseled divan, swathed in silks, her face demurely veiled, this elegant Constantinople lady just might not be a lady.

Western curiosity about the Ottoman imperial harem created a demand for exotic postcards like this in the early 1900s (the Society’s archives received this photo in 1911). But because Islamic tradition discouraged Turkey’s Muslim women from being seen by men who weren’t their husbands, photographers sometimes asked men to pose dressed as women.

This photograph has never before been published in the magazine.

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Photograph from Bettman/Corbis