The tall chef’s hat is called a toque, the shortened form of toque blanche (French for “white hat”). Tall, round, pleated, and starched, the toque’s many folds are believed to signify the many ways that an egg can be cooked. The word has been known in English since the early part of the 16th century. It derived from the Medieval French word toque; presumably by the way of the Spanish toca (“woman’s headdress”), which itself was derived from the Arabic taqa (“Opening”).
The toque most likely originated as the result of the gradual evolution of head coverings worn by cooks throughout the centuries. Their roots are sometimes traced to the casque a meche (stocking cap) worn by 18th-century French chefs. The colour of the casque a meche denoted the rank of the wearer. Boucher, the personal chef of the French statesman Talleyrand, was the first to insist on white toques for sanitary reasons. The modern toque is popularly believed to have originated with the famous French chefs Marie-Antoine Carême and Auguste Escoffier.