Dressing for Iran

One of the key considerations when heading to Iran is the strictly enforced dress code in place there.   By law (not just for religious reasons), men must wear long pants, women must wear long pants/skirts/dresses that cover the ankles, long sleeves (at least ¾ length) and a headscarf that covers their hair.  In addition, if a woman is wearing a long-sleeved shirt with either pants or a skirt, their top must be long enough to cover their arse completely.  If you do not adhere to these rules, then it is actually possible to be arrested!

Having traveled through Yemen (another extremely conservative muslim country) for a month back in 2008, I figured that the clothing I wore there would be suitable for Iran.  However, I was advised by our Iranian guide, Mr Ali, that my shirt was probably too short – so one of the first things I did in Iran was try to buy something longer.  

Our first stop was the small village of Masuleh, which is super-popular with Iranian tourists. Possibly for this reason, it turned out to be incredibly difficult to find normal clothes!  I eventually found a man’s shirt that I figured would do – but the young girls who were tending the shop burst into uncontrollable fits of giggles over this and essentially refused to sell it to me because it wasn’t for women.  Giving up on them, I eventually managed to find one stall selling non-touristy clothing, and a fellow traveler and I enlisted the assistance of a very fashionable Iranian woman who spoke great English to help us with what was appropriate.

What ensued was much hilarity!  The longest item of clothing he had was – I swear to God – a 1950s vintage granny dress, complete with gaudy and elaborate lace detail in the neckline.  I took one look and said “you have to be kidding” – but they insisted that I put it on – and then laughed their heads off at me.   They were almost rolling around on the ground they were laughing that hard.  There was no mirror, so I couldn’t see how bad it looked, but I got them to take a photo of me.

Iranian outfit - Iran
I actually think the sunnies look worse than the dress! But this is what I had to resort to when my good pair flew out the window in Uzbekistan

I actually don’t think it looked that bad – and I would have bought it if I had to.   But fortunately, we found this much nicer number – which I wore and rinsed on each of the days I spent in Iran.

Iranian outfit - Iran
I’m actually wearing another shirt (which I’d borrowed) under the shirt I bought, given I had to try this all on out in the open

It will convert nicely into an “over swimmers” shirt back in Australia 😊 I also learned through this experience that it is quite difficult to try on clothes when you have to keep a headscarf on at the same time!

So, I managed to avoid getting arrested and, I have to admit, at some level, got used to wearing the headscarf during my stay.   However, the following are my thoughts after wearing the infernal thing for 10 days during an Iranian summer:

  • headscarves are bloody hot – even the lightweight ones
  • they never stay put, particularly if it is windy – the Iranian women must have a secret…
  • they restrict your field of view, which makes crossing the street in Iran challenging (traffic is chaotic as it is and traffic lights often do not seem to work or are optionally obeyed)
  • they get in the way when:
    • you are eating
    • you are drinking
    • you are cleaning your teeth
    • you are going to the toilet (most are squat toilets)
    • you are cooking
    • you are cleaning
    • you are digging out a truck…

Pretty much all the time really…

And by the way, yes – James managed to get the truck stuck again 🙂  Fortunately, this time, only for about an hour, but there were tense moments!

Stuck again - this time in Iran

In the home, of course, Iranian women can take their headscarf off – it is only when they are out in public or there are men who are not part of their family around that they have to wear it.  However, because we camped for 3 of our nights in Iran, we were always out in public.   By the 3rd night, all of us were so hot and had gotten so sick of it getting in the way when we were trying to set up camp, we all converted them into turbans instead to ensure our hair was covered but to keep them out of the way.

Camping in headscarves - not fun - Iran
This was us trying to deal with our headscarves on our first camp in Iran

Here are all the girls done up in our Iranian gear after our last camp in Iran.

The girls in our Iranian gear - Iran

When I got on the plane from Tehran to Abu Dhabi, I have to admit it felt very, very liberating to be able to take off the long sleeves and headscarf.  Perhaps if it wasn’t obligatory and done solely for religious reasons it wouldn’t have been such a big deal.  But I certainly felt the weight was lifted when I no longer had to follow such a strict dress code.  

And all the women I talked to (and many of the men) my age or younger – they all hate it.  This sign on one of the platforms of the Tehran metro pretty much sums it up.

Sign - Tehran metro - Iran
If you look closely you can see that someone has drawn a “sad face” on the woman.

There is definitely a hope amongst the under-45s at least, that when the old guard “move on”, Iran can revert back to the progressive country it was a few decades ago and leave all this behind.


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