Rarely has a piece of headgear been as “political” as the tarbouche. This little brimless hat, most often red, in molded felt, soft or rigid, adorned with a tassel attached to a black silk cord, was long ago assimilated into the Middle East and North Africa. However, it also represents one of the first cultural appropriations in history, since it was the Ottoman Empire that “borrowed” it from the costumes of Asia Minor, in particular, from Greek and Albanian culture. It was the Ottoman Sultan Mahmoud II who, in 1826, decided to open the Empire to Europe, abandoning the imperial turban in the process and adopting the pharion worn by Greek rebels, whose black tassel then reached the bottom of the neck.
A symbol of dignity
But the tarbouche’s roots extend further than the Ottoman Empire, since its name, deformed, comes from two Persian words: sar (head) and pus (to cover). A top-of-the-range tarbouche was made with the best loden from Austria and its red dye was entrusted to the master dyers of Fez, who created it from a variety of berries. Hence its popularity in Morocco which, while not under Ottoman domination, adopted it as a complement to the costume of the kingdom’s dignitaries. In Turkey, it was not until the reforms of Atatürk, and in Egypt those of Nasser, that the wearing of the tarbouche was abandoned, relegated to become a retrograde accessory which hindered assimilation with the rest of the world and the entry into modernity.
Morocco, for its part, has preserved it as a symbol of resistance to French colonial ambitions. The countries of the Levant have retained a certain fondness for it: it has embodied masculine dignity for too long. The gradual disappearance of this hat, which was a powerful social marker for so long, carried away at the same time a whole approach to living made up of nonchalance and good nature.