Dressing Up for Iran
The dress code issue for women in Iran has always been a hold back for many female travelers. However, Iran faces a hell lot of misrepresentation around. There is no traveler who has visited Iran and has not written about how he was surprised to see things where not as he imagined. By almost a 100% chance he will write about how Iranians were super nice and one of the most hospitable nations he has met.
The tourist is obviously not to blame. What he/she knows of Iran and Iranians is the horrible media coverage and the representation of films like Not without My Daughter and Argo. I mean if the film gets all that attention and wins an Oscar, you’d think it’s probably pretty accurate. Right? NOT!
What Should I Wear?
All women in Iran, including foreigners, have been required by law to wear loose-fitting clothes. They must also cover their hair. This form of dressing is known as hejab, a term that refers in general to ‘modest’ dress, and is also used to refer specifically to the hair-covering.
The chador, an all-encompassing, head-to-toe black garment or a manteau (shapeless coat or coat dress) and a scarf covering the hair, neck and décolletage are typical clothes Iranian women use.
In reality the dress code is more relaxed and open to interpretation. It’s not unusual to see young women in the larger cities wearing short manteaus (often tightly belted trench-coats), skinny jeans, high heels and colorful scarves that have been arranged to offer plentiful glimpses of hair and neck.
Keeping your scarf on might be a bit of a challenge. Use scarves do not easily slip off; the way to make them work better is to tie them under the chin babushka-style. However, you must have the scarf basically just on the top of the head. Your hair can get out in front.
Body should be covered with loose clothes like man shirt, coat or manteau. Arms should not be bare. The trench-coat style is the most popular version for fashion-conscious Iranian women. However, the rules are much more relaxed for foreign tourists. Loose-fitting cardigans going down to the mid-thigh are a comfortable, alternative form of outerwear. All manteaus are worn over trousers; Legs should be covered down to ankles and feet can be bare and you can wear sandals. Do not wear skirts.
The only times when foreign women must wear a chador are when visiting important shrines. In these instances, the chadors can almost always be borrowed on-site.
Tips for Guys
- Shorts are not acceptable in public places.
- Wearing ties or bows is not a problem.
- T-shirts are acceptable.
Some Clothing Tips
- Skinny jeans are allowed
You’re probably warned a dozen times that you’re clothing has to be loose fitting so that it doesn’t reveal your body shape. Hence why I see most tourists in cargo pants and slouchy trousers. While this is stated as the Islamic dress code, things are not observed that seriously. Shops in Iran are packed with skinny jeans, and Iranians girls don’t show any intimidation in wearing them. So why should you?
- Go for colors
It’s false belief that women face limitation in the color of their clothing. This is utter nonsense. There’s absolutely no restrictions in color when it comes to the dress code. While unfortunately there is a tendency for dark colored clothing in Iranian women – something I personally don’t appreciate at all – just come to Iran during summer and you will see Iranian girls rocking bright and neons all the time. So if you’re into colors, bring them along. They are probably the best idea during summer.
- The heavy make-up situation!
Unfortunately there is gravitation towards heavy make-up in Iranian women. Some see it as a protest against the compulsory hijab. The fact is you’ll see many women wearing layers of make-up on a daily basis. This is to say if you’re into make-up, you won’t be alone here!
- How old should a girl be to follow the dress code?
If you’re bringing along your daughter and you’re bit concerned and confused on what she must be wearing, I’ll make things easy for you. If you’re daughter still looks childish and doesn’t really have female features, then be easy on her. If she’s really tall, then perhaps it would be better for her to wear a loose scarf, but she can get away with short sleeve.
They are not required to wear a manto or long tops, so make sure they are comfortable in what they wear or they will not be enjoying themselves. Some of them will take the scarf as a fashion trend and probably rock it better than you in no time. But don’t be paranoid and go easy on them.