talks through one hat

Fez (hat)

The fez (Greek: Φέσι, Turkish: fes, plural fezzes or fezes), or Tarboosh طربوش, not to be confused with North African Checheya, is a red felt hat in the shape of a truncated cone. The fez cap is of Turkish origin and was worn by many different religious and ethnic groups in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. Its use has subsequently become less widespread.


The fez cap originated in ancient Anatolia, modern Turkey and was subsequently worn by the Medieval Ottoman Turks during their conquest of Byzantine Anatolia. During the reign of the Sultan Mahmud Khan II (1808-39), a European code of dress gradually replaced the traditional robes worn by members of the Ottoman court. The change in costume was soon emulated by the public and senior civil servants, followed by the members of the ruling intelligentsia and the emancipated classes throughout the Ottoman Empire. While European style coats and trousers were gradually adopted, this change did not extend to headwear. Peaked or broad brimmed headdresses such as the top hat did not meet the Islamic requirement that men should press their heads to the ground when praying. Accordingly the Sultan issued a firman (royal decree) that the checheya headgear in a modified form would become part of the formal attire of the Turkish Empire irrespective of his subjects' religious sects or millets.

In post-Ottoman Turkey, the fez was discouraged & ultimately banned under the leadership of the revered Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) through the Hat Law in 1925 & the Law Relating to Prohibited Garments in 1934.


The fez had many names and shapes. In Istanbul it was called a fez, fezzi, or "phecy" while the modern Egyptian version was called a tarboosh, deriving from the Persian words 'sar' meaning head and 'poosh' meaning cover. It was basically a brimless, cone-shaped, flat-topped hat made of felt. The earliest variety was in the form of a bonnet-like headdress with a long turban wound around it which could be white, red or black. When it was adopted in Istanbul the bonnet was modified. At first it was rounded, then, some time later, lengthened and subsequently shortened. At some point the turban was eliminated, and red became the accepted colour. The fez gets its distinctive red hue from a dye collected from the bright red berries of the Turkish kızılcık (kizziljiek, Cornus mas) - a cousin to the common American dogwood (Cornus Florida).

The fez in military use

A version of the fez was used as an arming cap for the 1400-1700s version of the mail armor head protector (a round metal plate or skull-cap, around which hung a curtain of mail to protect the neck and upper shoulder. The fez, presumably padded, raised up the metal plate an inch or two to provide effective protection from heavy blows. The fez could be optionally wrapped with a turban.

The red fez with blue tassel was the standard headdress of the Turkish Army from the 1840s until the introduction of a khaki service dress and peakless sun helmet in 1910. The only significant exceptions were cavalry and some artillery units who wore a lambskin hat with coloured cloth tops. Albanian levies wore a white version of the fez. During World War I the fez was still worn by some naval reserve units and occasionally by soldiers when off duty.

The Evzones (light infantry) regiments of the Greek Army wore their own distinctive version of the fez from 1837 until World War II. It now survives in the parade uniform of the Presidential Guard in Athens.

From the late 19th century on the fez was widely adopted as the headdress of locally recruited "native" soldiers amongst the various colonial troops of the world. The French North African regiments (Zouaves, Tirailleurs, and Spahis) wore wide, red fezzes with detachable tassels of various colours. It was an off-duty affectation of the Zouaves to wear their fezzes at different angles according to the regiment; French officers of North African units during the 1930s often wore the same fez as their men, with rank insignia attached. The Libyan battalions and squadrons of the Italian colonial forces wore lower, red fezzes over white skull caps. Somali and Eritrean regiments in Italian service wore high red fezzes with coloured tufts that varied according to the unit. German askaris in East Africa wore their fezzes with khaki covers on nearly all occasions. The Belgian Force Publique in the Congo wore large and floppy red fezzes similar to those of the French Tirailleurs Senegalais and the Portuguese Companhias Indigenas. The British King's African Rifles (recruited in East Africa) wore high straight-sided fezzes in either red or black, while the West African Frontier Force wore a low red version. The Egyptian Army wore the classic Turkish model until 1950. The West India Regiment of the British Army wore a fez as part of its Zouave-style full dress until this unit was disbanded in 1928. The tradition is continued in the full dress of the band of the Barbados Regiment, with a white turban wrapped around the base.

While the fez was a colourful and picturesque item of uniform it was in several ways an impractical headdress. If worn without a drab cover it made the head a target for enemy fire, and it provided little protection from the sun. As a result it was increasingly relegated to parade or off-duty wear by World War II, although France's West African tirailleurs continued to wear a khaki-covered version in the field until about 1943. During the final period of colonial rule in Africa (approximately 1945 to 1962) the fez was seen only as a full-dress item in French, British, Belgium, Spanish and Portuguese African units; being replaced by wide-brimmed hats or forage caps on other occasions. Colonial police forces, however, usually retained the fez as normal duty wear for indigenous personnel.

Post-colonial armies in Africa quickly discarded the fez. It is, however, still worn by the ceremonial Gardes Rouge in Senegal as part of their Spahi-style uniform, and by the Italian Bersaglieri in certain orders of dress. The Bersaglieri adopted the fez as an informal headdress through the influence of the French Zouaves, with whom they served in the Crimean War. The Italian Arditi in the First World War wore a black fez that later became a uniform of the Mussolini Fascist regime. The Spanish Regulares (formerly Moorish) Tabors stationed in the Spanish exclaves of Céuta and Melilla, in North Africa, retain a parade uniform which includes the fez and white cloaks. Filipino units organised in the early days of U.S. rule briefly wore black fezzes. The Liberian Frontier Force, although not a colonial force, wore fezzes until the 1940s.

The 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar, which was recruited from Bosnian Moslems, used a red or field grey fez with Waffen SS cap insignia. Bosnian Muslim infantry regiments in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire had also been distinguished by wearing the fez until the end of World War I.

Two regiments of the Indian Army recruited from Muslim areas wore fezzes under British rule (although the turban was the nearly-universal headdress amongst Hindu and Muslim sepoys and sowars). A green fez was worn by the Bahawalpur Lancers of Pakistan as late as the 1960s.

Many volunteer Zouave regiments wore the French North African version of the fez during the American Civil War.

The fez around the world

Among Muslims of South Asia, the fez is known as the Rumi Topi ("Movlana Rumi's cap"). It was a symbol of Islamic identity and showed the Indian Muslims support for the Caliphate, headed by the Ottoman Sultan. Later, it became associated with the Muslim League, the political party which eventually created the country of Pakistan. The late veteran Pakistani politician Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan was one of the few people in Pakistan who wore the fez until his death in 2003.

In Indonesia, the country with the biggest Muslim population in the world, fez is a part of the local culture itself. The fez is called "Peci" in Indonesian. The Peci is black in colour with a more ellipse shape and sometimes decorated with embroideries. Malaysian Malay men are also seen wearing it as part of the local culture, and it is better known as "Songkok" in Malaysia. The peci is used in various ceremonies mostly religious and also in formal occasions by government officials.

Following the foundation of the Turkish Republic after World War I, Mustafa Kemal regarded the fez - which Sultan Mahmud II had originally introduced to the Ottoman Empire's dress code in 1826 - as a symbol of feudalism. The fez was banned in 1925, and Turkish men were encouraged to wear European attire - thus, hats such as the fedora became popular.

The fez was introduced into the Balkans initially during the Byzantine reign, and subsequently during the Ottoman period where various Slavs, including Serbs and today's Bosniaks, started using the fez.

A variation of a black soft fez was used by Italian blackshirts under the Fascist regime. This was in imitation of the red soft fez still worn used by bersaglieri units.

In Libya, a soft black fez, called the checheya, is worn by the rural population with or without a long tassel. The Libyan leader Mu'ammar Gaddafi is often seen in it. In tourist hotels in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, porters and bellhops often wear a fez to provide local colour for visitors.

The fez in Western popular culture

In the Western world, the fez occasionally serves as a symbol of relaxation. In cartoons, characters are shown wearing a fez often while lying in a hammock on vacation or just relaxing after a hard day of work. This curious imagery may be a throwback to the late 19th century English practice of men wearing a loose fitting smoking jacket and braided fez-like headdress when relaxing informally in the evenings. Punch cartoons of the period 1875-90 frequently portray middle-class male figures dressed in this fashion. This practice is called "wearing mufti" and came from the habit of British officers and public servants wearing what was then Indian dress in the privacy of their homes. The dress was more comfortable in the Indian climate and created a sense of ease and relaxation such that the clothing, not unlike that of an Islamic scholar or mufti, came into the English language as a word meaning 'out of uniform' or undress. It is also called "en smoking," as Asian men wore such clothes when smoking a hookah. The wearing of fezzes in the western world is undergoing a revival. One of the most well known wearing of a fez in a Hollwood film was by Victor Mature playing Dr Omar in Josef Von Sternberg's The Shanghai Gesture (1942). Theo Marcuse has an uncredited role in the premiere of Ironside as a bartender. The bar is called Algiers and Marcuse wears traditional Algerian costume and a fez. The bar is dead and Ironside is seemingly the only customer. Ironside tells him that since they're alone he should "take off that silly hat."

The Shriners and the late British comic Tommy Cooper are notable for wearing fezzes. The Steely Dan album, The Royal Scam, features a song entitled "The Fez". The refrain is: "Never gonna do it without the fez on" (the song is meant to portray the fez as a prophylactic). The Ron and Fez show on XM Satellite Radio features Fez Whatley who once wore a fez hat, thus gaining his nickname.

In Matt Groening's series Life in Hell, the characters Akbar and Jeff a pair of entrepreneurs wear fezzes.

In the cartoon Pinky and The Brain (Warner Bros., 1995-1998) three-part episode Brainwashed (1998), Pinky is named "Fez" after the hat he is wearing in The Land of Hats.


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