There are a few official and unofficial rules about what to wear in Iran for both men and women. However, the hijab is the most important part of their mandatory dressing custom. It may trigger many travellers who aren’t used to it – Trust me, breaking your barrier and visiting Iran is worth it! So here is your complete guide to What to wear and what to pack for your Iran trip.
- Initial irritation before going to Iran – I don’t like to wear a hijab.
- How to Wear a Hijab
- How do local women dress up – Super stylish.
- Dress code for men
- Packing tips for Iran
Initial irritation before going to Iran – I don’t like to wear a hijab.
I clearly remember the day when I got to know that Gulab Jamoon isn’t an Indian origin dish, but Persian origin. When I told this to Ashrith, along with his favourite Biryani origin, we both were intrigued. Of course, an architectural educator can’t be knowing about Persepolis. Being born and raised in Karnataka, I knew about the Indo-Persian culture of Bijapur.
When I began reading in-depth, those extravagantly painted tiles of floral patterns on the walls, historic houses, deserts and mountains totally inspired us to travel to Iran. While researching, my aim was to list down the architectural marvels, while Ashrith looked for religious customs and other codes of conduct for tourists. After he found out hijab is compulsory for women, he asked me, “Are you fine with wearing hijab all the time.? You shouldn’t feel that someone has snatched your right to dress up the way you want to. If you are okay with it, then let us go. Else we will go somewhere else.”
As an Indian woman, I wore conservative clothing, but I always wore what I wanted without any official compulsion on the dress code. – I wore shorts and sleeveless T-Shirts on the beach. I wore medium length skirts in Bangalore when I went shopping. I always wore Salwar Kameez while visiting a temple and sarees whenever I felt like wearing them. There was no strict compulsion, though I personally prefer to dress up according to the particular place. I was not comfortable with Iran’s compulsion- Why should tourists wear a Hijab was the only thought. Keeping aside listing down beautiful Persian architecture, I began to read about hijab more to clear the uncertainty.
A book that I read said, during king Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s time (the 1940s – 1970s) the skirts of Tehran women were shorter than the ones in Paris of that time! After the Islamic revolution in the 1980s, Iran enforced strict Muslim laws and enforced modestly dressing as a compulsory rule to be followed by women. Most part of the world thinks it is disrespect or snatching of women’s freedom. But Islam’s perspective, modesty is respectful. . Women body isn’t meant to be a vehicle of advertisements – So very likely you won’t see sexy women pictures on any magazines or newspapers. So women are supposed to cover their hair and not flaunt the curves in Iran – And must wear a Hijab all the time in public.
I had no clue how the hijab is different from Burqa or Niqab back then. But then, I came across a nice article showing the differences between Hijab, Niqab Burqa & many more on the BBC post that cleared all my doubts.
The hijab is a head covering, generally a veil or a scarf, worn in public or in the presence of non-family adult males by some Muslim women. It has religious significance since it is mentioned in Kuran.
As I began to read beyond Hijab, Iran seemed to be a place worth letting go of my Ego and blending with local culture. So I asked myself – Travelling means expanding the horizon and becoming non-judgemental by every travel experience. Stories of Persian hospitality and all the other wonderful things made me let go of my doubt, and we booked tickets to Iran. Meanwhile, I went shopping for the nicest scarves in my town – But you don’t do that. Shop for scarves in Iran – they are beyond beautiful.
How to Wear a Hijab
Once you accept and let go of your reluctance, it is easy to wear a Hijab. Have a nice stole/scarf preferable of a metre long so that you can wrap it around your neck or make a different style. The easiest style of putting a Hijab is to wrap it around the neck. Put it on your head so that the scarf touches your hairline and covers your hair on the backside. Next, wrap the scarf around your neck. If you feel you cannot always manage it to remain on your head, use Bobby pins or tic-tac clips. I found the latter one to be useful than the first.
By mistake, if it falls down off your head, do not think Moral police will shoot you right there. Instead, one of the other Persian will politely smilingly point at it & request you to put it back.
Make sure to keep a scarf in your cabin bag, because it is MANDATORY TO WEAR HIJAB IMMEDIATELY AFTER LANDING in Iran.
Iranian women are fashion conscious. Some wear it like a true Hijabi; others go stylish with it.
How do local women dress up – Super stylish.
Hearing the conservative dress code of Iran, if you carry BuRqa or Chador, it will get wasted. Or, if you land in Iran wearing loose baggy pants and some oversized top because you are afraid of wearing tight fit clothes, you will be an odd woman out among the stylish young girls rocking their look in skinny jeans and stylish long tops. Modesty is enforced, but vanity isn’t out of bounds. You will see some elderly women in black Buqa, while the younger crowd keeps it to jeans and butt-length tops. Since we went in winters, all women wore nice jackets. Their favourite ones are the long length jackets.
If you are wondering if you should have your makeup kit or not, Iranian women love to wear makeup and rock at it. From lipsticks to eye makeup, contouring to nail colours, they know how best to use cosmetics – They expertly utilise their face with elegant makeup.
While visiting a religious place, you might be given a chador to wear. YOU NEED NOT CARRY YOUR OWN CHADOR; they will give you one before you enter the main place of the mosque. The one I wore in Kashan Agha Bozorg mosque smelled good and was clean. Hopefully, you will get the clean ones too!
Body Piercing & Tattoo- We did not see anyone with their tattoo exposed. So I am not sure if it is allowed to flaunt your tattoos. I had a nose pin, which caused no trouble.
Rhinoplasty (Nose Job) – It was very common to see women ( and few women) with a bandage on the nose! Honestly, it got us curious, and we asked a lady caretaker in Golestan palace who had a bandage on her nose. She smilingly said, ” Haha. This is a beauty operation” Later when we read about it more, we learned that Iranians are among the top 10 nations to get Rhinoplasty! Some even come to Iran for the same in medical tourism!
Well, in smaller villages, you see more Burqas. Plus, Iran is home to multiple ethnicities like Kurds, Arabs, Baluchs, Turkmen, Azeri, etc. So each community’s dressing style varies, but ladies covering heads remain everywhere.
In Abyaneh, one of the oldest places in the country, the ageing population continue to dress traditionally. Women in Abyaneh village follow a totally different tradition when it comes to dressing up. They wear a dress, a long pleated colourful skirt (Shaliteh), socks, handwoven footwear (sometimes regular shoes), and a square scarf folded into a triangle to make it a hijab.
Dress code for men
The differences between dress code in Iran and outside Iran for men isn’t considerable. Common men wear casual western wear, while religious teachers wear something different. We often see Iran’s supreme leader wearing a long loose robe with a turban on the head on news channels. Such robes are worn by religious scholars only, and they are considered “Robe of Honour.”
Though there are no strict rules for men, wearing shorts in public isn’t common in Iran. Long pants/jeans and a T-shirt or long-sleeved shirts are the best attire for men while travelling in Iran. Like pretty Iranian women, handsome Persian men are very trendy. So surely you will see many young men with long hair who wear tight short sleeves T-shirts, jeans, and a fancy jacket that looks very hip. Most older men we saw wore formals with a blazer and no tie.
As you move towards mountains and different provinces, you will see a change in attire. The nomadic tribes and other ethnic groups wear distinctive tops.
Here is a picture of a painting we found in Golestan palace – Man wearing traditional Kurdish pants. This reminded me of Baderkhan from Kurdistan- the man who has travelled to 80+countries with the world’s worst passport to prove “Iraqis are tourists, not terrorists.”
Packing tips for Iran
Women packing list
- Women top-wear – 3/4th or full sleeve non-transparent, colourful thigh-length tops.
- Shrugs / long coats – In case you want to wear a T-Shirt, layer it with a long floral shirt
- Long gowns with frills without slits– Iran’s ancient buildings are architectural marvels and an excellent backdrop for the skirt’s whirling photos.
- Scarfs for hijab – carry one or two from your home country and buy more colourful ones in Iran.
- Makeup kit – Carry it all. Iranian women are experts in elegant makeup. You can wear it to blend in well. Lipsticks, eye makeup, foundations – All are Iranian women favourites.
Common packing tips for men and women
- Footwear: Shoes/sandals without/with socks are okay.
- Bottom wear – No shorts, neither 3/4th pants. Carry only full-length pants/jeans.
- Ripped Jeans – Not banned, but uncommon
- Skin fit pants – Perfect.
- For summer – Light coloured cotton clothes. Summers is very harsh in southern Iran. So skinny jeans for summer may not be a good idea.
- Jackets aren’t needed in summer unless you are going to Northern Iran.
- Hihab was heavenly for freezing winter. But for summer, it may trouble you. So carry thinnest scarfs so that you don’t sweat below the scarf.
- For winter – Tehran remained cold even during the bright morning sun. Evenings were as cold as 8*C. So carry
- thermal wear
- woollen hand gloves
- woollen thick jackets ( Tehran bazaar sells excellent quality winter jackets for a cheap price around 10 Euros. If you haven’t gotten one, head to Bazaar and grab a super chic long jacket)
- full sleeves thick shirts
- Ear caps.
- For deserts – Lut and Isfahan deserts are cold early in the morning when you see the sunrise but get very hot water. So make sure you layer up so that you can remove the jackets/shirts whenever needed. Wear appropriate shoes for desert walking.
- SunGlasses, toiletries, undergarments, body lotion, 40SPF sunscreen.
Wearing a traditional Abyaneh scarf with the local lady’s help – I was the one who was nagging about wearing a Hijab before coming to Iran and see how I am grinning here.
Hijab or No Hijab, Iran is worth every effort you put. I won’t say the hijab is as comfortable as any other outfit I wore. It may be troublesome for women like me who aren’t used to it to always keep a scarf on the head. You may even feel you have lost your freedom to dress up well – You aren’t wrong, but not completely right. Iranian women are also constantly opposing it. Plus, you can always wear long gowns and long skirts; pair it up with nicer jackets/shrugs to make it as stylish as possible if you feel the hijab ruins your appearance. As a tourist, following local customs out of respect is the least I could do.
Are you ready to go out of your comfort zone and put on a Hijab to relish Persian hospitality? Let us know in the comment section below.