Known for their cylindrical, flat top appearance, fez hats have been a part of Middle Eastern history for a very long time. In this article, we will study the history and origin of this unique headdress, and also its symbolism in various cultures where its use is prevalent.
Did You Know?
The fez, also known as ‘tarboosh’ or ‘checheya’, is a hat which is usually made of felt or rough woven fabrics. These hats are brimless, and are either shaped like a short cylinder or a truncated cone, attached with a tassel to the top. They are either worn as is, or in rarer cases with a turban on top of the fez.
Fez Hat History
With time, this style lost its appeal, and was found only with a few people. However, interest in the hat was reignited in 1826, when Sultan Mahmud II of the Ottoman Empire was looking to change the traditional garb of his civil officers into something new. Initially, he thought of using a triangular hat of European descent. However, his advisors pointed out to the three corners represented the Holy Trinity of the Christians, which could sow discord amongst his largely Muslim subjects. So, when a shipment of fezzes arrived from Tunisia, they were selected instead. The hat was publicized as being a badge of identification for Turkish subjects, and even those citizens who were not Muslims were obliged to wear them. Smaller fezzes without tassels were made even for the women. Although it took a while for this fashion to catch on, by the 1900s, the fez had become extremely popular, and was considered to be the national headdress of Turkey.
At one time, the fez was even a symbol of protest against the French occupation of Morocco. However, the legend of the origin has been disputed by other theories, which state that the fez originated in ancient Greece or from the Balkans, but not in Morocco. With the discovery of synthetic dyes in the 19th century, the headdress started being manufactured across Europe. By the beginning of the 20th century, Austria had become the new capital of the fez manufacturing industry.
The fez again came up against a wall in 1925, when the new leader of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, felt that it was a sign of being backward. He felt that traditional garments should be replaced by British suits and styles. To push Turkey towards alleged modernization, the fez was banned. However, this ban was not taken well by the people of the country, leading to several riots, and large numbers of fezzes being confiscated as illegal contraband. When an attempt was made to overthrow Ataturk, and bring back the fez, 9 – 10 people were shot and killed, virtually making the fez disappear.
- Members of the Greek Presidential Guard wear the fez as a part of their uniform, used on ceremonial occasions.
- A variant known as ‘peci’ is a part of Indonesian culture, and is worn during special ceremonies.
- Members of Shriners, an organization of Freemasons, wear a red fez which is embroidered with gold.
- Until the 1950s, soldiers of the Turkish army wore fezzes as a part of their uniform.
Symbolism of Fez Hats
- The Moorish fez was considered to be a mark of high intelligence. By wearing one, a person claimed that he belonged to a highly evolved bloodline. If the fez is red in color, it symbolizes the ‘supreme height of practical wisdom’.
- In the past, only chiefs and leaders in the Ottoman Empire wore black fez hats, as it was considered to have the highest standing. However, nowadays, they are worn by religious leaders like Muftis, which symbolizes that they know the religion in full, and are able to defend it.
- In Western pop culture, the fez acts as a symbol of relaxation. For example, cartoon characters such as Tom and Jerry were shown wearing a red fez hat while lying on a hammock during a vacation, or while relaxing after a long day of work.
With its unique look and comfortable material, the fez is slowly gaining a foothold in the Western world as an unusual fashion statement. However, while wearing one, we must take care that it is worn appropriately, so as not to hurt the sentiments of any of the communities using this hat for religious or symbolic purposes.