I divide my AAONMS fez collection into two main categories: “Older and Antique” and “Newer and Contemporary.”
My criteria for grouping in a piece in the “Older and Antique” basket are pretty vague, I’ll admit. We are still working on developing guidelines for dating based on materials and style. It is difficult, because virtually no fezzes have reliable dates objectively attached to them. Occasionally, you will come across one with some piece of information that is solid and sound for dating; but that is a rarity. Even when a fez has a year actually designed onto it, it isn’t necessarily a true date for the piece.
Say there is a Shrine fez that has “POTENTATE 1954” in rhinestones on it. You can pretty definitely state that the hat belonged to a guy that was Pote in ’54. But is the hat itself from that year? Was it given to him when he stepped down? Did he have one just like it that got covered in lime juice and whiskey in ’71, and he bought a new one? So that fez could be from around ’54, or it could be from much later.
You see the dilemma.
In general, I look at the physical details of the fez itself. No venting in the top is almost always a much older fez. Venting but no band inside, a little later. Venting and a band, a little later still. Also, has it obviously lived its life in a tube? Is it very soft, crushed and rounded? Much older. Is it more stiff, and maybe has been kept uniformly folded once inside itself? A little later. Stiff, never folded or collapsed, obviously lived its life in a fez case? Much later.
The details of the emblem decoration are markers, too. Silk embroidery with silk applique and no metal or rhinestones? OLD. Bullion with no or very few rhinestones? Earlier 20th Century. Rhinestones in clear plastic bezels? Mid-Century. Tons of rhinestones in white plastic bezels? Late 20th.
Many, many of these criteria are very loose, however, and overlap each other. Different fez makers, and there have been quite a few through the past 140 years, used different materials and styles for different lengths of time, though they more or less kept up with each other overall. There are those fezzes, though…that just make no sense.
So I just guess.
The only fezzes by organization that can be consistently given strong dating periods? DOKK fezzes. Interesting, and very true. The research continues, and there are holes, but we have been able to devise a dating scheme for DOKK pieces based on their labels. The easiest fezzes by maker to date are M.C. Lilley. Again, it’s all in the label, kids.