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The fez (Turkish: fes, plural fezzes or fezes), as well as its equivalent, the tarboosh (Arabic: طربوش / Egyptian Arabic pronunciation: [tˤɑɾˈbuːʃ], ALA-LC: ṭarbūsh), is a felt hat of two types: either in the shape of a truncated cone made of red felt, or a short cylinder made of kilim fabric, both usually with a tassel attached to the top. The tarboosh is of ancient Greek origin and the modern fez, which is similar, owes much of its development and popularity to the Ottoman era.
In 1826 Sultan Mahmud II of the Ottoman Empire suppressed the Janissaries and began sweeping reforms of the military. His modernized military adopted Western style uniforms and, as hats, the fez with a cloth wrapped around it. In 1829 the Sultan ordered his civil officials to wear the plain fez, and also banned the wearing of turbans. The intention was to coerce the populace at large to update to the fez, and the plan was successful. This was a radically egalitarian measure which replaced the elaborate sumptuary laws which signaled rank, religion, and occupation, allowing prosperous non-Muslims to express their wealth in competitions with Muslims, foreshadowing the Tanzimat reforms. Although tradesmen and artisans generally rejected the fez, it became a symbol of modernity throughout the Near East, inspiring similar decrees in other nations (such as Iran in 1873).
To meet escalating demand, skilled fez makers were induced to immigrate from North Africa to Istanbul, where factories were established in the neighborhood of Eyup. Styles soon multiplied, with nuances of shape, height, material, and hue competing in the market. The striking scarlet and merlot colors of the Fez were initially achieved through an extract of cornel. However, the invention of low-cost synthetic dyes soon shifted production of the hat to the factories of Strakonice, Czech Republic (then in the Austrian Empire).
The 1908 Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina resulted in a boycott of Austrian goods which became known as the “Fez Boycott” due to the near monopoly the Austrians then held on production of the hat. Although the hat survived, the year-long boycott brought the end of its universality in the Ottoman Empire as other styles became socially acceptable.
Initially a symbol of Ottoman modernity, the fez over time came to be seen as part of an "Oriental" cultural identity. Seen as exotic and romantic in the west, it enjoyed a vogue as part of men's luxury smoking outfit in the United States and the UK in the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century. The fez had become traditional to the point that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk banned it in Turkey in 1925 as part of his modernizing reforms.
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 color fixed to red. Praying while wearing a fez—instead of a hat with brim—was easier because Muslims put their foreheads on the ground many times during the prayer sessions.
A version of the fez was used as an arming cap for the 1400–1700s version of the mail armour head protector (a round metal plate or skull-cap, around which hung a curtain of mail to protect the neck and upper shoulder).
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, Belgian, 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 US rule briefly wore black fezzes. The Liberian Frontier Force, although not a colonial force, wore fezzes until the 1940s.
The largely Muslim 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar, which was recruited from Bosnia, used a red or field grey fez with Waffen SS cap insignia during the latter half of World War II. Bosnian 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.
The fez is a part of the traditional clothing of Cyprus, and is still worn by some Cypriots today. Traditionally, women wore a red fez over their heads, instead of a headscarf, whilst men wore a black or red cap. The fez was sometimes worn by men with material (similar to a wrapped keffiyeh or turban) around the base. In his 1811 journey to Cyprus, John Pinkerton describes the fez, "a red cap turned up with fur", as "the proper Greek dress". In the Karpass Peninsula, white caps are worn, a style considered to be based on ancient Cypriot Hellenic-Phoenician attire, thus preserving men's head-wear from 2,700 years earlier.
The fez was introduced into the Balkans, initially during the Byzantine reign, and subsequently during the Ottoman period where various Slavs, mostly Bosniaks and Serbs, started wearing the head-wear.
Among the Muslim aristocracy of South Asia, the fez is known as the Rumi Topi (which means "hat of Rume or Byzantium"). 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 veteran Pakistani politician Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan was one of the few people in Pakistan who wore the fez, until his death in 2003.
A variation of the fez has been commonly worn in Maritime Southeast Asia since the 19th century when it was introduced by Muslims from South Asia. Known as a peci in Indonesian and songkok in Malaysian, this variant is black in colour with a more ellipse shape and sometimes decorated with embroideries. The Philippine varieties tend to be colorful and highly decorated.
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