The History of Fezzes: A Symbol of Tradition and Identity

The fez, with its distinctive shape and vibrant colors, is an iconic headpiece that has captivated the imagination of people around the world for centuries. Originating in the Middle East, this unique hat, known for its cylindrical shape and tassel, has a rich and diverse history that spans continents and cultures.

Origins in the Middle East

The fez, also known as a tarboosh, traces its origins to the early 19th century in the Middle East, specifically in the city of Fez, Morocco. Fez was renowned for its skilled craftsmen, who created these distinctive hats from red felted wool. The name "fez" itself is derived from the city where it was first produced.

During this period, the Ottoman Empire was at its zenith, and the fez soon became associated with Ottoman culture. The Ottomans adopted the fez as part of their official attire, and it became an emblem of their rule. The fez was practical for the Ottoman climate, offering shade and ventilation while also symbolizing a connection to Islamic tradition.

The Fez in Ottoman Empire

The fez was more than just a fashion statement in the Ottoman Empire; it had deep cultural and political significance. Sultan Mahmud II (1785-1839) played a pivotal role in the popularization of the fez. In 1826, he ordered his military to adopt the fez as part of their uniform, replacing the traditional turbans. This move was not only a fashion statement but also a political one; it was a symbol of modernization and an attempt to break away from conservative traditions.

However, the fez's association with modernity came with its own set of controversies. The adoption of the fez was seen by some as a direct challenge to Islamic tradition, and it sparked resistance among conservative religious groups who saw it as a symbol of Westernization. Nevertheless, the fez continued to be an integral part of Ottoman culture until the empire's collapse in the early 20th century.

Global Influence and Misconceptions

The fez's influence spread far beyond the Middle East. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the fez became fashionable in Europe and North America. It was often depicted in literature, paintings, and photographs as a symbol of exoticism and the East.

One of the most enduring misconceptions about the fez is its association with secret societies, thanks in part to its portrayal in popular culture. Fezzes are often seen in movies and books as the headwear of choice for mysterious and enigmatic organizations. While some fraternal organizations, such as the Shriners, do indeed wear fezzes as part of their tradition, the hat's history is far more diverse and complex than these fictional portrayals suggest.

Decline and Revival

In the early 20th century, the fez's popularity in Turkey waned as the nation underwent a period of intense modernization under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. As part of his efforts to secularize and westernize Turkey, Atatürk discouraged the wearing of the fez and promoted European-style clothing. This led to a decline in the fez's popularity in its country of origin.

However, in other parts of the world, the fez continued to hold cultural significance. In North Africa, it remained a symbol of identity and tradition. In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in the fez, both as a cultural artifact and as a fashion statement. Designers and artisans have embraced the fez, creating modern interpretations that blend tradition with contemporary style.


The history of the fez is a testament to its enduring appeal and cultural significance. From its humble origins in Morocco to its adoption by the Ottoman Empire and subsequent global influence, the fez has evolved and adapted to the changing times. It has been a symbol of tradition, identity, and even controversy. While its popularity has waxed and waned over the centuries, the fez continues to fascinate and inspire, reminding us of the rich tapestry of human history and culture.