fez tarboosh

Cylindrical hat from the East

The Fez (Turkish is Fes with plural Fezzes or Fezes), or Tarboosh / Tarboush in Arabic, is a felt hat either in the shape of a red truncated cone or in the shape of a short cylinder made of felt or kilim fabric. Both usually have tassels.

Before 1826, the Fez was only found in the Maghreb. After Sultan Mahmud II suppressed the Janissaries in 1826, he decreed that the official headgear for his modernised military would be the fez with a cloth wrapped around it. In 1829, he ordered his civil officials to wear the plain Fez, in the expectation that the populace at large would follow suit.

This was a radically egalitarian measure which replaced the elaborate sumptuary laws which signalled rank, religion, and occupation, allowing prosperous non-Muslims to express their wealth in competitions with Muslims, foreshadowing the Tanzimat reforms. On the other hand, tradesmen and artisans generally rejected the Fez.

Initially a symbol of Ottoman modernity, the Fez came to be seen as part of an “Oriental” cultural identity. In Turkey, wearing the fez was legally banned in 1925 as part of the modernising reforms of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In his speech attacking Ottoman dress as decadent, he condemned the Fez as ‘the headcovering of Greeks’, tarring it by association with the recent Greco-Turkish War.

The Fez was initially a brimless bonnet of red, white, or black with a turban woven around. Later the turban was eliminated, the bonnet shortened, and the colour fixed to red.

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 smoking cap when relaxing informally in the evenings.

Punch cartoons during from 1875 to 1890 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.

The Moroccan city of Fez is where the dye for the hat was extracted from crimson berries, hence the name “Fez”. It appears that Tunis, not Fez, was the initial location of production, despite its name.

Other names for Fez

  • Fes
  • Tarboosh
  • Tarboush

Famous Fez wearers

  • Tommy Cooper
  • Gordon of Khartoum
  • Laurel and Hardy
  • Morocco Mole
  • Madness

Fez fancy dress ideas

  • Tommy Cooper
  • Black Tie
  • Madness

Did you know?

The Fez get its name from the Moroccan city of Fez is where the red dye was extracted from crimson berries.

man in fez hat

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