It's been a while since I've posted on Retro Thing. I've been working on a number of projects behind the scenes here at RT Chicago, but I'd rather have been relaxing in a hammock with some cool exotic drink and crowned with a fez.
When we see a fez today, we automatically think of leopard print smoking jackets and the pipe and snifter crowd. Yet the history of the fez is a lot less fun. It's been everything from a military headpiece to an important Islamic symbol. Religious comic book artist Jack Chick even maintains that the fez was originally dyed red from the blood of murdered Christians. Eww.
So how did the fez become so closely identified with the 50's leisure class? It may perhaps come from the late 19th century English custom of relaxing in the evening in a smoking jacket and a knit cap resembling a fez. You can still see fezzes in use around the world, but today the most common place an American might see a fez is atop a frolicking Shriner.
Shriners are a fraternal organization tied to the Masons, most famous for their fezzes and children's hospitals (and their motorized cars that look like flying carpets, but that's another post). The Shriners formed in the 1870's, taking on an abstracted Arabic look including the traditional headgear. Shriners have always known know how to toss back their tassel and have fun at their frequent meetings, so it's no wonder that the fez would come to symbolize fun and relaxation even to those of us who are not members of quasi-secret organizations.
This particular fez is blinged out with precious gems spelling out "Zuhrah" (whatever that means), atop a sabre/sphinx logo, and declares the wearer the 1971 president of the band. I found the wearer's name in the hatband ("fezband"?) and his Minneapolis Shriner's group. I shouldn't be surprised that this fez ended up here in Chicago given the long strange trip that the fez has made through history.