Steampunk inspiration and resources

Hats Off to the Fez

74071The red conical hat with a black tassel is very familiar sight for many movie and television fans. Characters and extras in movies set in Egypt like The Mummy and Raiders of the Lost Ark are often seen wearing them, and Doctor Who’s 11th Doctor has an affinity for a good fez as well. But beyond their iconic shape, most people don’t anything of the fascinating history they represent.

Fezzes actually started out as part of Ottoman military uniforms in 1826, and later were mandated dress for civil servants as well. In an attempt to modernize his country in 1829, Sultan Muhmad II banned the wearing of turbans which lead to the widespread adoption of fezzes, especially by Muslims who must cover their heads as part of their religious practices. The materials used and method of wrapping a turban carry great social significance and can act as a way to denote wealth, so by moving people towards wearing fezzes instead, the Sultan was promoting a more egalitarian mode of dress.

Istanbul from 1870s-1900s (1)

Nowadays, fezzes you see are always red and probably have a black tassel. But when they were first created there was a much larger degree of variation in color and shape. Originally, fezzes were wrapped with cloth and were some combination of red, white and black, but eventually settled on a rich, dark red. When synthetic red dyes were invented in the late 19th century, production of fezzes shifted to factories of the Czech Republic, which was under the rule of the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary at the time.

The relationship between Austria-Hungary, Russia and the Ottomans was a shaky truce between three states that all wanted control of the Balkan region in the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish war in 1877-78. The Congress of Berlin in 1881 brought them to the table with Italy, Britain and Germany to divvy up the spoils. The influx of cheap goods from Europe, like the fez, was already undercutting the Ottoman economy, so when Austria-Hungary announced their annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 (which the Ottomans controlled on a technicality), they couldn’t let it stand. This transgression resulted in a boycott of all Austrian goods and was known as The Fez Boycott.

Istanbul from 1870s-1900s (8)

6 responses

  1. That’s a more interesting origin than I expect for a hat!

    Due to a running joke about fancy dress, my wife banned our friends from wearing fezzes at our wedding. In response, three of our friends brought a fez and spent the evening secretly getting guests to pose for photos in the illicit headwear. They even took a picture of Laura that they could photoshop a fez onto. Three weeks later we received a book in the post full of fez photos.

    The highlight of all this was the manager of the Masonic guildhall we’d hired for the reception. When he found out what they were doing he fetched his ceremonial fez and was photographed in that.


    August 20, 2015 at 10:21 am

    • That it a hilarious story, you have awesome friends! And I agree, I had no idea the fez would be so interesting when I started to look into it. It was actually the hat that inspired the new “Hats Off” series, but I thought I’d start with bowlers because they are oh so steampunk 🙂


      August 24, 2015 at 12:25 pm

  2. Very interesting! I’ve wondered every time I watch a movie with a fez featured in it what their origins were. Thanks for sharing!

    I started becoming interested in hats a couple years ago, when I picked up a couple for myself. There’s something very sophisticated about a good hat with proper dress. Now, I own a leather newsboy cap, a narrow-brimmed fedora, and a Panama. Can’t wait to get a nice winter hat, too!

    I can’t wait to read more of the Hats Off series!


    September 1, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    • I too am a lover of hats. I especially like to wear men’s hats even though I’m a lady. My go-to hat is a gray fedora 🙂


      September 1, 2015 at 1:58 pm

      • I have to admit that my passion for vintage and classic things stems far beyond hats. Between the hats, fountain pens, double-edged and straight razors, and woodworking hand tools, there’s something about the older way of life that I really enjoy. Like when people take pride in making something with their hands or dressing up to go out on the town. I honestly wish more people would dress up a bit more, donning a nice suit with a matching hat.

        In any case, now I’m rambling… 🙂


        September 1, 2015 at 2:14 pm

      • Haha, that’s ok. I for one really want my future offspring to play with toys made of wood and leather, preferably ones they make themselves. My husband grew up in a household where they were encouraged to make their own toys, which is how he learned to sew, and I can’t wait to pass that on to the next generation!


        September 1, 2015 at 2:27 pm

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