Figuring out my wardrobe for my trip to Iran turned out to be a very interesting part of the travel planning. How do you dress in a country where showing your hair in public is illegal? Despite the fact that I had conducted some serious research, I was still feeling insecure about the outfits bulking up my backpack. I crossed my fingers, hoping that my outfits were descent enough and figured I could always buy a more appropriate attire if it wasn’t the case.
I traveled in Iran at the end of autumn and with temperatures dropping significantly, it didn’t feel unnatural covering myself up. You may have a different experience if traveling to Iran during spring or summer.
Here’s a short summary of what to wear in Iran…
As it so often is, the dress code for men is simple as can be. You could sum it up in just a few words: everyday street wear. Leave your shorts and flip flops at home and you’re basically good to go. We found long-sleeved, cotton or linen shirts to be the perfect attire for men. You can roll up the sleeves on hot days and it makes you look relatively classy. Iranian men dress sharp and take good care of their appearances, you’ll fit right in.
Let’s move on the the more complex part of the equation:
For women it’s a bit more of an adjustment.
Or hijab. When in public, you are obliged by law to cover your hair at all times. So yes, in the hotel lobby and in the restaurant but no, not in your room or at a friend’s house. There is no restriction on how colourful your hijab can be, anything goes. Though most women wear somewhat sober colours; pastels, neutrals or dark scarves with a subtle print or none at all. As a noob, avoid silk headscarves as they tend to slide off your hair very easily. A cotton based scarf will do the trick for us “hijab amateurs”.
Note: If you look at the Iranian women in cities, you’ll see plenty wearing their scarves as far back as possible, showing off a big part of their hair. By doing so, the majority of them are making a political statement and have taken on the risk of being “scolded” by the morality police (yes, the morality police is real in Iran). Though visitors are not nearly as harshly judged as local women, I’d advise you to comply to the rules and let your hijab cover most of your hair. That being said, it’s totally fine to have a few locks peeking from your headscarf.
A manteau is a light overcoat which covers your clothing. Manteaus come in a wide variety of shapes and colours but serve the same purpose: hiding your curves. You could buy your manteau in Iran however your everyday coat from home should be could enough. Think ‘trench coat’, ‘parka’ or ‘cloak’. You can also get away with a lengthy oversized sweater. As long as it’s not figure hugging and has a minimal length of just below your ‘derrière’. It feels quite awkward to keep on your jacket while sitting at an indoor restaurant table but you get used to it. Sort of.
Underneath your manteau, you can wear whatever you want since the manteau stays on in public.
Just make sure that:
– You cover your legs down to the ankle. A loose fitting maxi dress or skirt should do the trick.
– You cover your neckline, arms and body.
Tight jeans seem to be accepted and widely worn. Cover up those thighs though!
SHOES AND ACCESSORIES
Open-toed sandals are tolerated though you might feel a little “naked” wearing them. A more comfortable choice would be a flat shoe – a ballerina or a sneaker. Consider a pair of solid flat boots during the colder seasons.
Because I had no other boots in my collection and refused to purchase a new pair solely for this trip -meet a woman who owns just 3 pairs of shoes- I ended up wearing heeled boots on cold days. I definitely stood out in them which made me feel uncomfortable. One guy even told me this was the snobby style for rich girls in the city. I couldn’t in the slightest relate to that. So maybe leave your heels at home.
In terms of accessories, wear what you usually would during any other trip. What works best for me is to keep it minimal and add some local bling along the way.
A chador is a large piece of fabric that covers your entire body head to toe. Whilst it is the dress of choice of some Iranian women, you are not required to wear a chador except when visiting certain mosques at certain times. You will be loaned a chador when necessary. Don’t worry if you’re unsure of how to wear it, the women will guide you.
You will see Iranian women made up beautifully. Make-up is an important part of their style, primarily in big cities. You could join in on the trend and show up at a fast food joint with an extreme cat eye (because there is -at least officially- no party scene in Iran so where else would you show off your face art?) I recommend leaving the heavy make up and flashy lipstick to the local girls who have limited opportunities to publicly “strut their stuff”. Besides, too much make- up can be reason enough to be stopped by the morality police.
It’s actually quite simple to dress correctly in Iran as a traveller. Wear your regular, somewhat conservative every day clothes topped off with a midi jacket. Cover your hair, double check the mirror that you’re figure is concealed et voilà, you’re ready to step outside. Iranian women are generally incredibly well dressed and pull off sophisticated, stylish looks, which you probably won’t be able to mirror, wearing your traveler’s garment. And that’s ok.
However, if you’d like to make an attempt to do so, check out these gorgeous bloggers for inspiration. Note that they are not Persian but many of their outfits would be appropriate to wear in Iran.
Have you ever scratched your head while packing, not knowing exactly which clothes bring? What destination(s) were you packing for?