The Turkish fez, hats & Atatürk

Get the lowdown on the Turkish fez.I’m Australian, so coming from a country with one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, wearing a hat in summer, or in my case any time the sun shines, is imperative. When I first moved to Turkey hats on heads, like umbrellas in the rain, were scarce. These days they’ve become quite fashionable and are more widely available. However the story behind their disappearance and eventual re-emergence is telling.

Prior to 1925, the Turkish fez, a conical hat made of red felt, was synonymous with Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, the factory that made them, now converted into an exhibition centre showcasing the cultures and cuisines of different regions of Turkey, can still be seen on the shores of the Golden Horn. Long associated with the dangerous wilds of the Orient, a fez is still a popular souvenir to bring home, although the only people you’re likely to see wearing them are ice cream sellers in tourist centres

The early decades of the 20th century saw major changes in Turkey, all led by one man, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Renowned military strategist and founder of the Turkish Republic, he introduced numerous policies to bring Turkey into line with Western standards and expectations. Banning the fez was one of them. The ‘Hat Law’ meant that only Western-style hats could be worn in public places and it was mandatory for all civil servants to wear one. Individuals could choose to go hatless but on no account could they wear a traditional turban or fez. Anyone daring to be seen in a fez would be punished, and could even have faced the death penalty.

Harsh as this may seem today, Atatürk was trying to unite a country shattered by the losses suffered in World War One and the subsequent Occupation of Constantinople. On the 13th of November 1918, French troops entered the city, followed by British troops the next day. Just as it seemed likely the country would be carved up by its former enemies, the Turkish nationalist movement was born, leading to the Turkish War of Independence in which Atatürk played a major role. Although he did not want Turkey to become a Western territory, he gave a speech in Inebolu on the Black Sea Coast in which he promoted the wearing of hats and other items of Western dress as essential if the country were to be considered nationalistic, civilised and universal in outlook.

Phasing out the fez was a rocky affair which saw clashes between supporters of Atatürk’s reforms and those against them. Nonetheless the law is still in place today, and was responsible for the rise to fame of Vitali Hakko, the man behind the world famous Vakko label. He started making and selling hats in his Istanbul shop in 1934 and has made his fortune many times over since then.

Although not many people still wear the felt fedoras introduced by Atatürk back in 1925, there are several styles of hat that seem to be timeless in Turkey.

Did you know Andy Capp was in Turkey?

The main style I’ve seen ever since I first came here in 1990 is the flat cap, known in Australia and the UK as an ‘Andy Capp’, after the famous cartoon character. For many years I always thought it was called a ‘handicap’, given the physical state of the old men who favour them.




The takke is coming out of the mosque!


Then there’s the shiny small white Muslim prayercap called a takke. These were once restricted to the mosque but are now being worn in public by more devout individuals.


Which hat is your favourite?Lastly, there are the faux Panamas gracing heads all over the country this summer. Even though their popularity is connected to both fashion than health, I like to think a little bit of the past is coming back to remind us how far the country has come.


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About Goreme1990

I’m Lisa Morrow, the person behind I was born in Sydney, Australia and grew up a leafy middle class North Shore suburb. After finishing high school I went to Sydney University but failed to find my niche. After working as a public servant, cleaner, sales assistant, waitress, bar maid and car counter, I went overseas. Once there I hitchhiked through the UK, travelled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Gulf War was starting. My three months stay in the small central Anatolian village of Göreme changed my life. On my return to Australia I earned a BA Honours Degree in Sociology from Macquarie University. An academic career beckoned but the call to travel was louder. After several false starts I moved to Turkey and lived there for ten years. In 2017 I moved to Lisbon, Portugal, but continue to travel regularly to Istanbul. In addition to my blog I've written a travel narrative memoir called "Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul" and two collections of essays, "Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City" and "Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries". I have a regular segment on San Francisco Turkish radio and in early 2017 I released an audio walking tour called "Stepping back through Chalcedon: Kadikoy Walk", through VoiceMap. In addition I write for various international and Australian magazines and websites, as well as for this blog. A full list of my published articles, with links, can be found on the Writing on Turkey and Writing Beyond Turkey pages.
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4 Responses to The Turkish fez, hats & Atatürk

  1. BacktoBodrum says:

    ” A Fez of the Heart” by Jeremy Seal is a great read about the demise of the fez.

  2. Genevieve says:

    Hi Lisa,
    I enjoy reading your posts. This one, however, reminded me incredibly of one I wrote a few years ago – please have a look at my Life in Camelot site and let me know what you think:

    Best wishes,

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