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The dress code issue in Iran has always been a big question for many female travelers. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been asked how it’s like to cover all my hair with a hijab that only shows my face and wearing black all the time. I always tell people that the dress code in Iran is very different from what they expect from Muslim countries. Anyone visiting Iran would be in awe of how fashionable Iranian women can be – some even say they are influencing politics with fashion by subversively working within the confines of Islamic dress code to express themselves in bold new ways. So what are the Do’s and Don’ts for female visitors in Iran? How strict is the hijab law? If you have all these questions in your mind before visiting the country, here’s some useful tips about dress code in Iran…
Tip 1: All about the length
When I first visited Iran, I thought I had everything covered: my arms and legs were covered, hijab was in place – no skin was shown except my face, hands and ankles. I was wrong. Although people are usually aware of wearing a top that is loosely fitting and long-sleeved, many forget that the top or tunic has to cover at least half the thighs. The key is to wear clothing that adequately conceals feminine curves (i.e. your bum).
Tip 2: Observation of dress code varies in different cities
In big cities such as Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz, it is more common to see Iranian women wearing a hijab loosely on their head and showing most of their hair. Some even just hang the hijab on their hair bun. ¾ sleeve tops, tunics and manto (similar to a coat) are acceptable in most cities, especially in summer. It’s important to be aware of the dress code in relatively sacred and religious cities such as Mashhad and Qom – simply observe how Iranian women dress and follow. Don’t try to be different as the hijab dress code is not a custom – it’s a law. I even wore beanies when I visited Tehran for the third time (by that time I was already very comfortable with the hijab) in December. I didn’t see any women wearing beanies in the city centre but then I saw quite a few in Mount Tochal. The rules are less strict when away from the city centre (i.e. police) but I don’t recommend first time travelers to do the same (unless you have locals with you).
Tip 3: Put on Hijab as soon as the plane lands in Iran
Some female visitors are under the impression that they only need to put on hijab when they reach the custom or leave the airport. That is not the case. To save yourself from the panic of looking for your headscarf last minute or realizing you don’t have it in your hand baggage when you’re told to wear a hijab, prepare a headscarf in your handbag and put it on the moment you’re in the country.
Tip 4: Colors!
Go for any color you want for your hijab. It’s a false belief that Iranian women face limitation in the coloring of their clothing. The only time when you see women wearing black or dark color clothing is during the month of Muharram and the holy month of Ramadan. Contrary to the common misunderstanding, chador (a black cloth that covers the entire body) is not compulsory in Iran except visiting some mosques and holy shrines, where you can borrow a chador at the gate. Iranian women love experimenting with different colors in their clothing to match with the hijab, so you can see some strikingly beautiful color combinations in their outfit.
Tip 5: Cardigans are your best friend
If you (like me) don’t own many tops that are long enough to cover the thighs, my suggestion is that you wear a regular length top layered up with a long cardigan. It works well for me as my hijab often covers the front part of my body and I’ve seen Iranian women doing the same. That way you can get creative with what’s already in your closet instead of getting a new set of clothing for your Iran trip.
Tip 6: Skinny jeans and leggings are allowed
Yes! Although it might come as a surprise to some, skinny jeans and leggings are in fact very common in most cities in Iran. Again, different cities observe the hijab law differently and I haven’t been to all cities in Iran so I can’t say this applies to all. But in Tehran, it’s definitely not an issue as long as your bum is covered.
Tip 7: How to make your hijab stay
It’s OK when your hijab falls in public. It happens to everyone (even Iranians) and mine falls at least 10 times a day. That said, there are a few tricks you can use to keep your hijab from slipping back (for most of the time):
- Tie your hair up in a ponytail or high bun
- Choose the right fabric for your headscarf. Cotton or non-slippery Indian silk are good materials for a hijab. You can easily get a headscarf in Iran and you might end up going home with a few as there are so many colors to choose from (and they are so affordable!)
- I swear by this hack and it almost never fails me (unless it’s windy). Put on the headscarf, and then wear a pair of sunglasses over it to fix the position of the headscarf on your head. Voila! Now you’re ready to rock the stylish hijab look while keeping the headscarf in place
Hope you find these tips helpful! Feel free to ask me any questions about traveling in Iran in the comment section below, or you can reach me on Facebook 🙂