Most of us certainly know the Turkish Fez, the red hat with the black broom. We do not expect to see it on holiday. But do you know the story behind?
I didn’t, so I had to investigate. The fez has had a huge impact on Turkey. Much more than I immediately knew or imagined. So it was very excited to read.
The Fez is a rather controversial garment and has been responsible for everything from modernity and renewal to the desire for an Islamist caliphate!
In fact, it has been quite interesting to read about such a national treasure. Because the fez is a symbol of how times and norms have changed over the years.
Ideas about modernity and unity:
The Fez originated from the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century, creating new military reforms to strengthen and support the state. Of course, they borrowed a lot from Europe and copied the western armies, their uniforms and the many new ideas of a government and national unity.
Back in the 17th century, there had been laws on how to dress, that made a difference in appearence between ex. between Jews and Christians compared to Muslims. But in 1826, Sultan Mahmut d. 2. decided, that all officials working for the Ottoman Empire should wear shining shoes, suits, neckties and a red fez, regardless of religious beliefs. The civilian population should also carry fez. He declared: “From now on I do not want to recognize Muslims outside the mosque. Christians outside the church and Jews outside the synagogue “.
The Fez should therefore unite people in a time of distress and insecurity. However, not everyone was in favor of the idea – especially traders and artists rejected the fez. But it slowly became a symbol of modernity throughout the Middle East.
In 1826, the fez was wrapped in a cloth as a kind of turban with a hat inside. But it was banned in 1829 with a direct prohibition on wearing the turban. From then there was only the slightly stiff, tall, cylindrical red fez with the black broom, which we all know the look of.
They didn’t have enough people to make all the many fez, that was needed. Therefore, tailors from North Africa immigrated to Constantinople to start up factories in the Eyüp district. The shape, color and style began to vary slightly depending on country, army and rank.
Foreign entanglements and Fez boycott:
As synthetic color came in, the production of the fez moved to the Czech Republic (under the Austrian Empire). In 1908, Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina. It resulted in a boycott of Austrian goods and a decline in the spread of the fez. Other styles than the classic began to gain ground and became socially accepted.
The Fez was perceived in the West as a kind of oriental culture identity and viewed as something quite exotic and romantic, even smart. At the beginning of the 20th century it was perceived especially in America and in England as a smart and modern part of the tuxedo.
New times and Fez ban:
In 1925, the great war hero of World War I, Mustafa Kemal “Atatürk”, had arrived and had formed the Republic of Turkey. Here he issued a ban on carrying fez, as it was seen as the symbol of the fallen Ottoman Empire and all its ills: conservatism, backwardness and ignorance.
At the same time, he wanted to approach the West and not create visible differences between Westerners and Turks. Therefore, it was suddenly forbidden and thus punishable to carry anything other than western hats.
Many, for example, used the six pence instead (the flat hat that many elderly med used, when I was a kid). The sixpence has again gained ground in Denmark with Frank, known as the “Bonderøven” and with many hip youngsters.
An issue of identity:
But not everyone took it in. The most religious Turks refused to carry anything but the fez. And it even came to riots in several cities over the ban. Alltogether, 78 people were executed to defy the ban. And it took several months before there was peace and acceptance of the new law.
Today, the hat has ironically ended up as a souvenir and a well-known symbol of Oriental and Middle Eastern culture. But apart from commercial use in advertising, in ice cream vendors in tourist cities, etc., the hat today stands as a highly controversial symbol of the desire to return to the Ottoman era and contempt for what modern Turkey stands for.
One can see it being borne by the extremely conservative, who sincerely want to destroy the secular Turkish republic and instead rebuild an Islamic caliphate. But I have never ever seen anyone with it.
With many Turks, the fez today is perceived either as a symbol of something very controversial or used by some, who are a little more stupid than average. Often caricatured through the advertisements.
Perhaps you already knew some of what I wrote. But I bet you think about the story, keep an eye on and count the number of fez, next time you’re in Turkey.
See this article in Danish/ Læs artiklen på dansk her.