The dress code issue for women in Iran has always been a hold back for many female travelers. Many believe that countries that enforce such laws on tourists or even their own civilians are to be left out of their bucket list. Others however are just confused.
Like many countries across the world, Iran has its own style and fashion. With respect to Islamic rules including “Hijab”, it is expected, tourists pick modest outfits. However such rules are not observed strictly, especially for tourists and foreigners.
Whenever You see foreign female tourists in Iran, it always seems like they’ve packed their most unpleasant piece of clothing to this part of the world. So here are some tips to make things clear and easy so that you don’t have to dress up like your grandma and also avoid any trouble.
What to wear then?
Can you travel to the Iran as a Western woman? What are the Do’s and Don’ts? How should you behave? Do you have to wear a headscarf as a Western woman in Iran?
Here are the most important rules of etiquette or better said Dos and Don’ts when it comes to the Iran dress code for women. Please remember: These are r-u-l-e-s! So in other words, you have to follow them as a female tourist. Do not let the fact confuse you that public behavior in general seems quite loose.
Hijab – The headscarf
As a western woman in Iran, you should wear a hijab everywhere: on public places, in hotels, cafés, in the metro, in buses and on airplanes. So really everywhere, where you cannot close the door behind you and just be on your own.
The good news is, you get used to wear it. It depends on the situation and the place or city, how many or how few hairs you should cover. In some regions like the capital Tehran you can wear the scarf just loose over your topknot.
This can be worn by folding the two opposite corners of a scarf to get a triangle and tying the scarf around your head.
You don’t have to worry about maintaining your hijab all the time. Normally the maximum penalty for disregarding the Hijab rule is a simple request (usually in a kind way) by police or authorities to make it correct.
As said before, in most places there is no problem to wear it loose. However, please remember that you have to wear a hijab.
Manto – The Jacket
Another part of the female dress code is a Manto, a longer jacket that reaches to the mid of your legs. Not tapered, not skinny. It is good to take a few tunika or a longer, light cardigan with you.
Just like anywhere else, nearly every younger woman in Iran is totally into fashion, so it is no wonder that you can see many very well-dressed girls on the street.
Women in Iran
The most important thing first: No legs, no arms, no skin! Leggings, jeans, linen-pants, skirts, dresses, everything is allowed. Important is to wear it in a long version, because every dress has to reach down to the ankles.
But then again the dress code can be very different from place to place. While in one city something is completely forbidden, it might be tolerated in the next. In any case, It would be recommend to try every piece of clothing at home first, just to see how long and covering it really is.
Actually there is something you can choose more loose: the upper-wear. Of course it should never be tight or transparent, but long.
So what is a chador? The chador is a form of dress, worn by some individuals in Iran, which consists of a full length semi-circle of fabric. Iranian women typically cover their bodies in full below the chador with loose fitting clothing / dress. The cover extends to a scarf or ‘Hijab’ which is worn to cover their hair.
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 onsite.
Go for colours
It’s false belief that women face limitation in the colour of their clothing. It is seen in many guides (and through the media. This is utter nonsense. There’s absolutely no restrictions in colour when it comes to the dress code. While unfortunately there is tendency for dark coloured clothing in Iranian women, just come to Iran during summer and you’d see Iranian girls rocking brights and neons all the time. So if you’re into colours, bring them along. They are probably the best idea during summer.
Note: Be mindful that on certain religious occasions namely the Ashura mourning ceremonies you should avoid wearing bright colors out of respect for the culture and customs of the country. Although you will not be faulted for doing otherwise, as you are a valued guest, your respectful approach to Iranian culture and understanding of Iranian customs will be appreciated by your hosts.
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 most tourists are seen 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 tights, and Iranians girls don’t show any intimidation in wearing them. So why should you?
Taking a break from a road trip to Chak Chak (Yazd Province).
Tip: Remember, you’re a tourist anyway. The worse that can happen is a simple request. Things are easier on you than you think, so don’t make it harder than it is.
Tunics and Cardigans are your best friends.
So you want to look appealing, follow the dress code and not have to go buy a new set of clothing for your Iran trip. right? Dig a little deeper into your closet and you’re bound to find either a long-sleeve, a 3/4 sleeve tunic or cardigan in there. Tunics are a great option for summer trips to Iran. As long as they cover up your bum you’re good to go (tourists even wear shorter ones with loose trousers too). If you don’t have a tunic, you might find a long tank top that can be layered up with a light cardigan. You might even have a dress that could fit in the criteria that can be paired with skinny jeans.
The key is to be creative with what you have. Apart from a few pieces all of the clothing worn in Iran is western designed.
Sedy rocking bright pink polka dots in front of an old wooden door in Yazd.
Shop for a Manto if you fancy one.
Iranian women either cover up with a chador (The black material worn on the head that covers the whole body) or a Manto (A trench coat type of clothing that comes in a variation of materials and styles). Since you’re likely to opt for the Manto buying one at the beginning of your trip could be a good idea. The fashion industry has been growing in Iran lately and there are a lot of designers who focus on bringing new materials and forms into the Manto.
Keep in mind that wearing a manto is not mandatory. Basically anything mid-thigh would do.
Burqas (veil) are not an Iranian thing
This is another misconception seen in the media or in films about Iran. You will see women wearing black Chadors but chances you’ll see someone with a veil is almost zero in Iran. It’s just not in the culture, no matter how much someone might be conservative.
Narin Qal’eh, a castle dating back to the Sasanid empire.
Expand your scarf collection
Scarves have been quite trendy in the past couple of years. You will probably bring the ones you have along but shopping for scarves in Iran could be a good idea. First, they are probably cheaper than most countries, they come in a huge variety and you’ll be able to wear them as a head scarf here and rock them as a neck scarf back home! It’s also a good way to help out local shops and manufacturers.
Dont judge women based on their choice of clothing
While there is a criteria for how you dress in public, you’ll find women to be dressed in many different ways. Some just wear a loose narrow scarf on their heads allowing whips of their hair to frame their face with untied hair also showing from the back, some will be with heavy make-up with their hair styled where it is shown, others might wear it tighter with hardly any hair showing and there are many women who prefer to wear the Chador.
Most common style of clothing you’re to see in Iran.
The women in the chador are usually the ones represented negatively on western media. They’re usually portrait as religion fanatics with an extremely conservative mentality. This is absolutely not true! Wearing the chador is a choice many women make and while it does show their devotion to their religion it does not necessarily mean they are close-minded or conservative. I have many friends and family who choose to dress this way and are very acceptant, unbiased and broad-minded people. So before you get to know someone don’t judge a book by its cover.
The heavy make-up situation!
There is gravitation towards heavy make-up in some Iranian women. 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!
Sandals & painted nails are just fine
Sandals and open toes are perfectly fine for both women and men. You’ll see a lot of girls wearing sandals in the summer. Whether you’ve got painted nails on your fingers or your toes, you’d be just fine.
What about cropped trousers & capris?
So let’s say you’re here for a business meeting and you’d want to wear something a bit formal with your super high heels. As long as your cropped trousers are right above your ankle, you’re good to go. Capris that come below your knees should be avoided.
Maxi dresses and skirts?
Maxi dresses or skirts in general are not common among Iranian women, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wear them. Lately they’re actually becoming a bit more popular. A light maxi dress that is not too thin to be sheer is a great alternative for the summer. If you’re dress is sleeveless, you could just layer it with a cardigan or top and you’re good. Keep in mind that if you’re going bare legs underneath, then you’d want to make sure your dress doesn’t come with slits. If the weather is a bit chilly, wearing leggings underneath could also be an option.
But for skirts that are not maxi, you’d need to have leggings or stockings to accompany. Midi skirts are great for the winter to match with leggings and boots. They are fashionable, smart and can be dressed up or down depending on your shoes.
You’d want to avoid pencil skirts, or bodycon dresses that reveal your body shape in a really obvious way.
How old should a girl be to follow the dress code?
So according to the Islamic faith some would say over the age of 9 or 12. But as said before, things in Iran have a whole different system. 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 sleeves and capris. You don’t want her running around in tank tops or shorts, but if it was winter and she was fully covered on the body, she can also ditch the scarf.
They are not required to wear a manto or long tops, so make sure they are comfortable in what they wear or they won’t 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.
High boots anyone?
High boots during the winter with leggings or skinny jeans are very popular and totally ok.
What to wear indoors?
Last but not least all of statements mentioned above are exclusively to outdoor and public appearance. If you get invited to an Iranian house, feel free to wear whatever you like.
In the end it’s up to you to decide whether you want to avoid Iran altogether or you want to be surprised. All of the countries in the world will have issues and problems we won’t necessarily like but if we insist on making a change it will only appear through your interaction with the locals and the exchange of ideas.
Let’s build bridges and not walls.
Disclaimer: The article is in no way promoting the compulsory hijab enforced in Iran. It’s just to inform those in doubts and help them make the best of their Iran trip the way it is right now.
The content of the article was gathered, digested and conflated from the following blogs: