Friday, August 6, 2010

Ottoman Headwear and the Decline of the Fez

…or Jackie Gleason meets 
...the Blue Angels.
The Fez has a rather rich genesis and an even more intriguing and tumultuous evolution. A modest but eventually iconic first step away from the age old turban, the Fez began to get traction around 1826 in an effort to cast off images of Ottoman backwardness.
Fast forward about a century and Ataturk, in his relentless drive to evolve modern Turkey had the Grand National Assembly ban the damned thing outright in 1925. Obviously the photo above is pre-ban...but dig the fuzzy fez topper that Atababy himself is sporting. That'd be the one I'd want.
And here's Ataturk replete in western hemisphereish headguise.
Vanity Fair (1869-1914) sprinkled a Fez wearing Pasha or two in their caricature lineup during the earlier years of the magazine. The image above, signed "Coide" was by Tissot. Thomas Gibson Bowles, the founder of Vanity Fair (and by the way, grandfather to those Mitford Sisters) befriended Tissot and assisted him financially as Tissot got settled in St. Johns Wood. Bowles used Tissot caricatures on about a dozen occasions.
Imagine getting Vanity Fair delivered to your home every Friday and opening the center of the magazine to see who the victim of the week was. Sir Leslie Ward..."Spy" of Vanity Fair fame captured the Pasha above.
Most weeks the caricature was a white boy. I mean come on, this was Victorian London. But occasionally, someone a bit more semitic or even downright savage would appear. I'd say the Pasha depicted therein were grandfathered discreetly into the white boy category. Carlo Pellegrini..."Ape" of Vanity Fair and by far, my favorite caricaturist drew this one.
But  Fez topped personages in history seem to pop up in disparate camps.It seems that pre-Fez-ban countries started their younguns out rather early with said head rig. I wasn't quite so lucky.
French Zouaves and other forces of North African origin wore them in various squirmishes around the world. Yes, squirmishes. Zouaves were too damned esoteric in garb and tactics to show up for mere skirmishes. Shut up.
Now this photo scares the hell out of me. Bosnian Muslims and Croats wore the Fez as members of the Waffen SS Mountain Division. 
But what about the decline of the Fez? Not from a “let’s cast aside symbols of the old Ottoman world” but from a more pedestrian, or Go-Kart point of view. In my humble opinion, the slide began on August 13, 1870. From this point on my friends, the Fez was in huge ass trouble. And Dr. Fleming, pictured above, started the slide.
Here’s the story… “In 1870, there were several thousand Masons in Manhattan, many of whom lunched at the Knickerbocker Cottage at a special table on the second floor. There, the idea of a new fraternity for Masons stressing fun and fellowship was discussed. Dr. Walter M. Fleming, M.D., and fellow Mason and stage actor William Florence (above) took the idea seriously enough to act upon it.
Florence, a world-renowned actor, while on tour in Marseilles, was invited to a party given by an Arabian diplomat. The entertainment was something in the nature of an elaborately staged musical comedy. At its conclusion, the guests became members of a secret society. Florence took copious notes and drawings at his initial viewing and on two other occasions, once in Algiers and once in Cairo. When he returned to New York in 1870, he showed his material to Fleming.
Fleming took the ideas supplied by Florence and converted them into what would become the "Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.) Fleming created the ritual, emblem and costumes. Florence and Fleming were initiated August 13, 1870, and initiated 11 other men on June 16, 1871.” And so what I call the Fez Slide began.
But before I go further, let me first mention a couple of things about Freemasonry. In order to become a Shriner, you must first be a Mason and not only a Blue Lodge initiate (of which I am a member) but also either a Scottish or York Right initiate. The Masons and Shriners are honorable and extremely charitable men who for the most part possess unimpeachable standing in their communities. 
There’s been an interesting turn in Freemasonry membership over the last thirty years or so. Not a judgement—just an observation. There was a time when in most communities, all professions were represented when the local Masonic Lodge gavel hammered the Lodge to order. Every doctor, lawyer, judge and business owner in most towns could be found on the rolls of the local Lodge. Today it seems that the Masons have become a rather working class entity. Still a great organization but one with fewer crossover members whose names synonymous with the local Country Club as well. Kinda sad actually. I love the lore, history and ritual of the Masonic Degrees and because the founders of my college fraternity were all Masons, I couldn’t wait to turn 21 and begin the mystic journey. Hell, if it was good enough for Teddy.
And the Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine….My goodness what a rich, Fez topped lineage of distinct men…
Actor Harold Lloyd
Buzz Aldrin
Ernest Borgnine
Colonel Sanders. Finger Lickin' Hiram
Douglas MacArthur
Actor Glenn Ford
Warren G. Harding. Well ok, every now and then a turkey slips through. 
And of course the failed haberdasher has already been depicted.
Air Ace Jimmy Doolittle
John Philip Sousa
Red Skelton. We need a Red Skelton these days.
And Roy...Cowboy Rogers...who looks out of sorts sans Cowboy hat.
And finally, the Duke. John Damn Wayne himself. 
And please, if you ever see the Shriners out in the streets seeking donations for their hospitals for children...give them a buck or two. I go out of my way to give them something when I see Shriners fundraising at public events. I’m on the verge of making fun of the Fezboys but before doing so, let me offer the Shriners Hospitals as a model for walking the talk on true charity.
 The Shrine's charitable arm is the Shriners Hospitals for Children, a network of twenty-two hospitals in the United States, Mexico and Canada. It was originally formed to treat young victims of polio, but as that disease was controlled, they broadened their scope. They now deal with all pediatric cases, most especially with orthopedic injuries, disease and burns. There is never any charge for treatment at a Shriners Hospital. There is no requirement for religion, race, or relationship to a Freemason. In 2008, Shriners Hospitals had a total budget of $826 million and in 2007 they approved 39,454 new patient applications, attended to the needs of 125,125 patients.”
They take care of our children. Regardless of ability to pay or what color you are or who or what you worship. Walk through a Shriners Hospital one day. You’ll be flush with gratitude.
So with their charitable accomplishments as context, I must ask the sartorial question…At what point did these boys debase the robust history of the Fez to this degree? The iconic symbol of Ottomosity now irreparably tainted with exhaust fumes from a Briggs and Stratton four-cycle Go-Kart engine.
I mean damn...these boys are off the hook with their pimp-my-ride buggies and their precision circuito-undulationaton moves on parade pavement. Michael afraid...very afraid.
Nothing short of the USAF Thunderbirds or the Blue Angels in precision and daring moves. Butcept none of these mugwumps could pass a flight physical. Do you think there’s a Go-Kart physical?
These are Oldsmobiles right? Am I the only one that howls every time I see these things?
My bet is that the brothers only retired the Fez for this, their single Christmas performance.
Watch out! These guys are pulling G's that must be equal to the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels in full tilt. I heard there was a tragedy in this band of Merry Jeepsters. Hoyt Johnson got a hemorrhoid caught in the rear transaxle of his Jeep, mid turn, and it strangled him right there. On the street. In Hahira Georgia...the state, not the country. 
These guys tried out for the Merry Jeepsters and to a man, failed. Seems that their blood pressure and BMI were too low.
I have nothing to say.
Lee Iaccoca, father of the Mustang, leveraged a stroke of genius when he built the original Mustang on the Falcon chassis. Manufacturing processes were already in place for the Falcon. These guys obviously didn't read the dry cleaning labels on their little Iaccocas.
Carroll Shelby? Wake up Carroll Shelby. There's a fat guy stealing your car.
My dad had a '54 'vette. I threw a brick at it. That's worth another post. But for now ladies, relish the pure Alpha Male testosterosity of this gang. Obviously since they are slightly diagonal to the normal parade stream, this troupe of precision thang danglers are about to whoop it into one of those undulation crazy eights things...again. The guy in front-left...Udelle Finklea...he's done this before.
And what's this guy in the back doing? What's his job? Oh right, he's driving the supply, Prep-H and whatever else these precise boys might need. Depends.
And so please…enjoy these Fez topped caricatures on wheels. Revel in their pudgy good ole boy-ness as they offer a dash of Old Bay or celery-salt to the  parade Bloody Mary. Because these bad boys are risking life and limb at seven miles an hour for your enjoyment. Fez Wearing Go-Kart boys…the swizzle stick that stirs the campy cocktail of any parade.  Chubby Fez Boys on Wheels…the sole reason why even though I’ll never stop giving them my money with all my heart, and a portion of my wallet, I will never, ever become one.



SouthernProletariat said...

Thank you. I desperately needed a laugh this week. Although I believe I would take out a second mortgage to see you in the purple getup.

Barima said...

I hope to produce a more considered answer later, but right now there is not time. I just hope I'm not the only one who thought of our new Time Lord when seeing this entry

His actor seems to be rather a fan, too

If what he did for bow ties is any indication, the fez may be due for a new silver age

Stay well,


Jeff said...

I read this post while listening to Steely Dan's "The Fez"

Paul said...

Great post sir.... hey was that you way in the background with the mini-Saab?

JMW said...

Thanks for a good laugh. I don't know what it is about Shriners and their little cars. They always trot those little vehicles out for the Pegasus Parade in Louisville each year, right before Derby. Too funny.

Sandra said...

Please come to our Christmas parade. Typical small town parade that wouldn't last 5 min. if it weren't for the Shriners and their "rides". You can see them alive and in person :-) And you are so right about the generosity of this group. Beyond compare really - Great post!

Anonymous said...

The secret to the Shriners has been revealed. Their red hats make them chick magnets! Who knew?

Pigtown*Design said...

i can understand how they get into their wee cars, but fail to understand how they get out!

(there's a fez in the back of my car if you want it)

Lisa said...

My father-in-law was a Shriner and one of the things I remember about him was his motto: "Drink up Shriner's". It's become our family motto and we haven't a clue . . .

Anonymous said...

Have you read "The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit"? It is by Lucette Lagnado and her father wore a fez. He loved fine clothes. If you haven't read the book, I think you would enjoy it.

Anonymous English Female said...

ADG - Guess we've got fez's covered with this one. Surely the most comprehensive fez post in the blogosphere - much to the gratitude of mufti clad Ottoman revivalists everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Can fezzy be fuzzy?

Scale Worm said...

Beautiful post sir! A wonderful combination of history, reality, and fun. You mentioned the Angels several times, and we of the Seattle part of Earth get to enjoy their flight skills all weekend. Thank you for such an enjoyable read, truly appreciated!

Out Of A Bandbox said...

As a person who was the recipent of the graciousness of the Scottish Rite hospital, the Shriner brotherhood holds a special place in my heart. However, I sadly agree that the quality of its membership, as well as that of the Masons, is in great decline.

NCJack said...

Drove me nuts until I remembered it: old corny comic strip called "Our Boarding House", main character was Major Amos Hoople, who always wore a red fez at home, usually in his easy chair, puffing on a stogie. Along with all the old burlesque and vaudeville troupers on Ed Sullivan, gave a little kid in the '50s a strange view of adult life.

Young Fogey said...

I can't believe it: a sartorial contrivance whose dice are too fuzzy for ADG.

What has the world come to.

Anonymous said...

1) Does anyone know the origin of the Shriner/MiniCar mash-up? Because I can remember seeing them in Fourth of July parades back in the Fifties. (And yes, they looked silly then, too.)

2) I'm not sure the core membership has changed as much as you suggest. What's most obviously different is that celebrities and politicians don't seem to belong anymore.

3) You're confusing Warren Harding with Grover Cleveland, quotewise.

ADG said...

AnonWarrenHarding...thanks! Don't know what I'd do without you fact checkers. Seriously, thanks. 'cause I don't have time for due diligence. Not sure how the mini car thing got started. And I do think the core membership has changed, as a matter of fact I know that it has. Not bad or good per se, but the change has happened.

YoungFogeyMon...Truth...I'm gonna get a fez to wear around the house.

NCJack...scary what your mind can recollect no?

Bandbox...well there you go. Your testament about the impact of the Shriner's Hospital on your life is just what this post needed. Thanks.

ScaleWorm...thanks. One of my biz partners is a former Thunderbird pilot. He calls the Blue Angels...Junior Varsity.

Death...Of course Fez is Fuzz!

AnonEngFem...leave it to you to tart up the post and comments with some about muff.

AnonSharkskin...I have not. Thanks for passing the book suggestion along.

LisaDrinkUp...yep...the difference between a Mason and a Shriner? About a Pint.

AnonRed...I'm buying all RED stuff today. I need some help. it a nice fez or a party favor fez? Damn, listen to me and my beggar/chooseyness.

Preppy101...indeed...what would a parade be without the little cars?

JMW...they should have little Kentucky Colonel Cars!

Paul...I read your "mini-Saab" comment while eating lunch in the office yesterday. Blew a Cheeto up in my sinus. Still there this morning.

Jeff...I thought about linking Steely Dan to this post.

Barima...I'll still be waiting on the Silver/Golden age of the Fez!

PrepProle...Shit, if the money's right, I'll don the purple getup and drive the little carpet ride kart thang.

Main Line Sportsman said...

One of the Attorneys who works for me is a Mason. he has been rushing me for "The Fraternity." However, I declined when I learned that there was no Bar in the Clubhouse...was that wrong? C'mon...a Fraternal crew with no bar..or even a Kegerator over in the corner...I jst don't get it...I suppose the lubrication would get in the way of all that memorization and speechifying and stuff.
There was an old Black gentleman, Mr. Earl who hung out at the jazz Club I used to own...he rocked a Fez regularly and it worked for him. I became quite close with Mr. Earl and am to this day...I take him to the racetrack so he can indulge in his passion for the ponies. We make quite a pair of rail hangers...
Great psot as usualy Sir A, Viscount DG.

Easy and Elegant Life said...

My fez usually sees the light of day once a year... .

Remember the "Bloom County" strip when Milo called last call at the party because "There's a Shriner in the punchbowl"?

According to my grandmother, my grandfather was once offered the highest Mason post on the East Coast. No fez, but he had a really cool sword... his name is inscribed somewhere in that monument not far from you.

AnonEngFem said...

Thanks, ADG. Somebody has too.

Hiram said...

well said, Bro. You are totally correct concerning the type of new Masons being less professional and more "blue collar." My lodge is about 50/50. A sign of the times.
Happy traveling, Brother.

ADG said...

Hiram...I got to thinking about what I wrote after you left your comment. I hope people don't think I'm being critical of blue collar brothers...not at all. Just observing the trend, that's all. And by the way, you oughta comment at least every month or so just so I don't think you've died. the punchbowl indeed. And yes, the Masons, other than the Shriners, have pretty cool regalia. Tons of props. got it. No booze in the Lodge. And shit, they stumble on the speech-ifying stuff when sober. It's one of the reasons I've never volunteered to do any of the speaking parts in the rituals. I've got the attention span of a gnat and would be making shit up from the get go. And about "Mr. Earl"'s little stories like that are to me, sublime. It's a topic for a later post...but I was raised by a string of "Mr. and Miz Earls".

ilovelimegreen said...

I love the word "Ottomosity" and can't wait for my first opportunity to use it. I did search high and low and could find nothing Ogden Nash wrote - or says - about a fez.
(Where's Matt Groening's be-fezzed pair from the Life in Hell comic strip, Akbar and Jeff.)

Belle (from Life of a...) said...

My dearly departed daddy's. Shriner's fez in proudly displayed on a bookshelf in our den.

Patsy said...

Our Lodge has a secret club (bar) in the basement. Or so I've heard........

Philip Terzian said...

The fez is not wholly charming. I have a photograph of my Armenian (paternal) grandfather with his wife and elderly mother, taken in Marseilles, en route to America (1907). He is wearing a fez, which Christians (Armenians) in Ottoman territories were obliged to wear under threat of severe punishment, including death. I suspect that the moment he arrived in US territorial waters my grandfather threw the fez overboard with relief. (My great-grandmother was found at Ellis Island to have conjunctivitis, rejected for entry, returned to Turkey and subsequently killed.)

ADG said...

LimeGreenie....every time you use Ottomosity, I get a quarter.

Belle...That's nice. Really.

Patsy...but the won't let you down there right?

Bemused...So sorry about your grandmother. I'd forgotten what a flogging Christians have received from the Otto-Turks. Until 60 Minutes dod a segment on the tragedy this past Sunday.

DAM said...

It wsan't until a few years ago that I associated Shriners with anything other than heralding the beginning of Mardi Gras parades.

As a kid you would start pushign our parents out the door when we heard the bands, but if you saw the shriners you knew it was time to hightail it to the curb or fear of missing the beginning all together...

Hiram said...

Bro. ADG, Sorry to be somewhat laconic lately. I do scan your blog to catch up on your latest adventures with the little Miss. My precious daughter and I share a similar relationship, which is delightful. By the way, how did the olive drab, cordovan penny loafers turn out? Happy traveling, Brother.

ADG said... worries man! You don't have to comment but I was wondering if all was ok in your realm...that's all.

DAM...YOU need to become a Shriner. And drive one of those coolers on wheels.