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The Fez

Updated on August 16, 2014

"It makes one look slightly degenerate"

The Fez is a red felt hat in the shape of a truncated cone; a black tassel hangs from the crown.

Traditionally the fez gets its distinctive red hue from a dye collected from the bright red berries of the Turkish kizilcik.

The Fez cap originated in Ancient Greece. and was subsequently worn by the Medieval Byzantine Greeks.

The Ottoman Turks adopted the Fez from the Greeks during their conquest of Byzantine Anatolia.

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While the fez was a colorful and picturesque item adopted as part of a military uniform of many armies throughout Europe and Africa  it was in many 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.

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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 milets.

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Fez Facts

  • In Indonesia, the country with the biggest Muslim population in the world, the fez or "Peci" is a part of the local culture.
  • Following the foundation of Turkey 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 ("Fes" in Turkish) was banned in 1925, and Turkish men were encouraged to wear European attire - thus, hats such as the fedora became popular.
  • 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.
  • In hotels in Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia , porters and bellhops often wear a fez to provide local colour for tourist.
  • 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.
  • Albanian levies wore a white version of the fez.
  • 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.
  • 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 Spanish Regulares (formerly Moorish) Tabors stationed in the Moroccan enclaves of Cuta and Melilla 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.
  • 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.

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Fez Trivia

  • 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.
  • The character of Mr Fairbrother, in the BBC comedy "Hi-De-Hi", once commented that "There's something about a fez that makes one look slightly degenerate".
  • Norm the Genie from the Fairly Oddparents wears a fez.
  • Morocco Mole, the assistant to Hanna-Barbara cartoon character Secret Squirrel, was also known to wear a fez.
  • In Matt Groening's comic strip Life In Hell, Akbar and Jeff both wear fezzes.
  • In the syndicated comic strip Our Boarding House, major Hoople wears a fez.
  • Ren, in the cartoon Ren and Stimpy, wears a fez and robe while smoking his pipe and reading his newspaper.
  • In certain episodes of Rugrats, Grandpa is seen wearing a fez while meeting with his "senior citizen" brotherhood group.
  • In his comic-strip religious tract against Freemasonry, Jack Chick records a story that the original fez was red as it was dyed in the blood of murdered Christians. There is no scholarly evidence of truth in this story.

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