Having seen the remains of the once impressive and one of its kind (at the time) Fez factory in the town of Fowa(ordered by Mohmmad Ali Bashr and built by Mohammed Maghreb in 1824), taking a close look at the revered Fez hat provided an interesting topic for this page. This small, red truncated cone hat, with its black tassel has had a remarkably turbulent history, and is rather an “iconic” hat, if ever there was one!
THE FEZ: (or TARBOOSH)
The traditional Fez hat is usually made of felt (wool) and is of a striking merlot/red color with a black tassel. It was a brimless “bonnet” which made it easier for Muslims while praying (as there was no brim!) Where it first originated is under dispute, but it appears to have been either in Greece or the Balkans, though many assume it was in Morocco. But it rose to fame in the Ottoman era in 1826.
DURING OTTOMAN TIMES:
In 1826, Sultan Mahmud II made sweeping reforms over his lands, and one of those was to “update” the military uniform. He banned the wearing of the cherished turbans, and substituted it with the compulsory fez. His civil officials were then ordered to wear the plain fez. People were gradually “coerced” into accepting the fez as a symbol of “modernity” and oriental cultural identity: a new national hat!
The result was a sudden and huge demand for the production of these fez hats. The factory in Fowa was key initially, then gradually production centers were established in Constantinople and the Czech Republic (Austria).
Austria continued to produce in an almost near monopoly of the market until 1908, when there was a 1 year “Fez Boycott” and the fabulous fez saw the end of its universality.
In Turkey the Fez was widely worn until the 1920’s, Kamal Turk decided that his “new Republic” needed to follow European trends and stay up to date. On the 30th August, 1923, he banned the Fez, and forcefully introduced various European options of headgear: bowler hats, fedoras, panama hats.
- 1840s – 1910 a red Fez with a blue tassel was used in the Turkish army.
- late 19th Century, all locally recruited “native soldiers” of the Colonial armies adopted the Fez as their distinctive headdress. They wore them at different angles or placement of the tassels differently to denote which regiment they were from.
- The Egyptian army wore the classic Turkish model Fez until 1950
But although they were colorful and picturesque, for military use they were quite impractical: no protection from the sun, and a rather visible target.
The Fez is still used in various places by various people:
Cyprus, Peci (Indonesia), Songkok (Malaysia) and in North Africa in their hotel industry: bellhops, porters, and by some sects.
However it is a charged symbol with a long and complicated history, and for many Muslims today the Fez hat is still a symbol of the “oppressors” and as such it might be considered politically incorrect to wear them.
But for those of you who would like to have one, you can easily buy them on-line, ranging from $4 (used) up to $65 (hand-made velvet)!