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What is a Fez?

Fez is named after the city in Morocco.
A fez is a traditional hat that's worn in many Middle Eastern countries.
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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Sara Z. Potter
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2014
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A fez is a traditional hat worn in many Middle Eastern countries. It first became popular during the early 19th century in the Ottoman Empire. The fez is shaped like the lower half of a cone, brimless, and flat on top, and it often features a tassel. The fez is traditionally red, though other colors also exist. In South Asia, the fez became a symbol of Muslim identity and solidarity, while in the West, it became an Orientalist symbol of languor.

In the early 19th century, men in the royal court of the Ottoman Empire, soon followed by those in other walks of life, began to adopt Westernized fashions. Western hats were not practical, however, as Muslim men prostrate themselves during prayer, lowering their foreheads to the ground, and a brim would get in the way. Consequently, the fez was developed.

The fez is named after the city in Morocco where it originated, and early versions incorporated a turban. The hats were originally red, white, or black, though red fezzes became the norm in most contexts. The red fez is traditionally dyed with the berries of the kizziljiek plant. Sultan Mahmud Khan II decreed that the fez would be part of formal dress attire throughout the Empire.

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Many men continue to wear the fez today in countries that were once part of the Ottoman Empire, including Egypt, Morocco, and Bosnia. The fez is not as popular in Turkey, as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey, banned the head wear as a symbol of feudalism. Muslims in South Asia adopted the fez as a symbol of solidarity with their religious brethren in other areas of the world. The fez has a long history of use in military and paramilitary uniforms, often for native troops in European colonies, but also for national forces in Turkey, Pakistan, and Italy.

Fashionable European gentlemen of the 19th century often wore the fez while relaxing at home, so the hat has become associated with luxury and laziness, much like other fashions and objets d'art from the East. Shriners, members of the fraternal organization known as the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, founded in the 1870s in New York, are known for wearing fezzes.

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