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History & Heritage


What is the fez, this red wool hat typical of North Africa?

If you stroll through the souks of most major cities in the Arab world, chances are you will come across a curious-looking red hat, the fez. This headpiece is one of the most distinctive folkloric regalia of numerous Arab societies. But what is the lore behind it ?

If the name “Fez” sounds too familiar, rest assured that it is no fluke. The hat’s name is derived from the northern Moroccan city of Fez, where the headdress is said to have originated.

The city of Fez was a major settlement point for the Andalusians who moved there from the Iberian peninsula. But the waves of Andalusian migration did not stop there. The fez was popularized with the eastward migrations of the Moriscos from Morocco, bringing their know-how and craftsmanship of the making of this hat. The Andalusians settled en masse in Tunisia. As the country fell under the sway of the Ottomans and consequently increased its exchanges with Istanbul and other areas under the latter’s influence, the popularity of the hat proliferated throughout the entire region of North Africa and the Middle East, making the fez a prosperous industry in its own right which made it affordable to the general public throughout the region.

More than just a headpiece

Although hats resembling the fez were not entirely unheard of in the Balkans, the fez from North Africa grew to become very popular in the territories of the Ottoman Empire. It was sported not only by Muslims but also by the Jewish subjects of the empire. It quickly evolved into a symbol of modernity and prestige worn by civilians and military personnel. Nevertheless, as time went by, particularly by the end of the 19th century, it also became a mark of traditionalism, leading to its temporary prohibition during the 20th century in countries such as Turkey and Egypt after the proclamation of the republican regime in these two states.



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A persistent tradition

Nevertheless, the fez has endured to this day. In many Arab societies, it is an integral part of the folk costume and is still worn on special occasions, particularly by seniors. As a matter of fact, the King of Morocco still wears it at ceremonies and diplomatic events. The headwear has even spread to other parts of the world, including Indonesia, where it is customary for all heads of state to wear it.



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Une publication partagée par Marco Scarani (@marcoscarani)

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Published on 1 February 2023

#north africa