Would Tommy have been funnier in his original headgear?
Tommy's famous red fez was introduced rather luckily during a NAAFI concert in the Second World War. The concert took place in a Y.M.C.A. in Cairo. Tommy was going to wear his pith helmet but he had somehow mislaid it. Quick as a flash he borrowed an Egyptian waiter's hat instead - and the rest, as they say, is history.
For Muslims, the fez became an alternative to the turban because it was more practical when the time came to pray - it could not be knocked off when the worshipper lowered his head to the ground. In 1826, the fez was made part of official Turkish dress by the Sultan, Mahmoul II.
The conical fez replaced the sturdy turban as the hat of Turkish identity and, despite a few quibbles, the Turks grew rather attached to it. Soon it was considered to be the badge of a Turkish subject and everyone, even if non-Muslim, was obliged to wear it. This even included women, who usually wore a smaller fez without tassels. But 100 years later, Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern nation of Turkey, banned the fez. In attempting to forge a European rather than a Middle Eastern nation, he made everybody wera bowlers and fedoras. He also outlawed the veil as a move towards emancipation for women. Many people rioted against this and some were even executed. In 1947, more than 20 years after Ataturk's edict, 600 Turks were arrested for fez-wearing. Old habits die hard.
Photo © Polygram/Pictorial Press
The red fez with the black tassel has been handed down through the ages. It was named after the city of Fez, in Morocco, which had numerous schools, libraries and a famous university. After 1095 AD, when pilgrimages to Mecca started to be interupted by the Crusades, Muslims living west of the Nile made trips to Fez as the Holy City. At that time, a scarlet tarboosh
(a cylindrical tasselled cap) was part of the uniform of the great schools. Pilgrims, who often wore similar headgear, brought back what became known as the fez. It soon became popular all along the Mediterranean shore of North Africa, and its use gradually extended east of the Nile. The fez was worn either with or without a turban by everyone, whether Muslim, Christian or Jew.