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They were popular from the 13th to the 16th century in Europe, especially France. Now it is primarily known as the traditional headgear for professional cooks, except in Canada where the term is primarily used for knit caps.
The word toque is Arabic "طوق" for "round" and "طاقية" "taqia" for "hat" originally for something "round" that has an opening. The word has been known in English since 1505. It came through the Medieval French toque (15th century), presumably by the way of the Spanish toca "woman's headdress", from Arabic *taqa 'طاقة' for "opening", or rather from the Spanish word for any "head gear" tocado from the Spanish verb tocar (touch) as a head gear that requires "re-touching" retoque, also used for women hair styles that are highly elaborated.
The toque most likely originated as the result of the gradual evolution of head coverings worn by cooks throughout the centuries. Their roots are sometimes traced to the casque a meche (stocking cap) worn by 18th-century French chefs. The colour of the casque a meche denoted the rank of the wearer. Boucher, the personal chef of the French statesman Talleyrand, was the first to insist on white toques for sanitary reasons.
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In the Napoleonic era, the French first empire replaced the coronets of traditional ("royal") heraldry with a rigorously standardized system (as other respects of "Napoleonic" coats of arms) of toques, reflecting the rank of the bearer. Thus a Napoleonic duke used a toque with seven ostrich feathers and three lambrequins, a count a toque with five feathers and two lambrequins, a baron three feathers and one lambrequin, a knight only one ostrich feather (see Nobility of the First French Empire).
In Canada, toque or tuque // is the common name for a knitted winter hat, or watch cap (also called a beanie); the spelling "touque", although not recognized by the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, is also sometimes seen in written English. The Canadian-English term was assimilated from Canadian-French tuque. Toque first appeared in writing around 1870.
The fashion is said to have originated with the coureurs de bois, French and Métis fur traders, who kept their woollen nightcaps on for warmth during cold winter days. Such hats are known in other English-speaking countries by a variety of names, including beanie, watch cap or stocking cap; the terms tuque and toque are unique to Canada and northern areas of the United States close to the Canadian border.