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In Turkey today, the issue of what to wear or not to wear is once more on top of the political agenda. On June 5, 2008, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Turkish Parliament had violated the constitutional principle of secularism by lifting the headscarf ban in universities.
This article, however, is concerned with an earlier chapter in the biography of headgear. Considered an important tool by Mustafa Kemal in his attempts to modernize Turkish society, a new dress code was enacted in 1925 that required traditional headgear be replaced by the western hat. In subsequent days, 808 people were arrested for violating the law, 57 of whom were executed.
By this legislation of sartorial westernization the individual head became a political site, fusing social and political history in terms of identity construction. The motivations behind, reactions to, and consequences of the Hat Law were recorded in a variety of contemporary sources generated in different social areas. By integrating these images, it is possible to analyze and map the main tendencies of identity formation, a process that went beyond and above a dichotomous Orientalist discourse of East vs. West, revealing lines of conflict that continue to scar the face of modern Turkey.