Last updated on November 19th, 2023
Having just returned from two weeks in Iran, I would like to offer some comments about appropriate attire for women. Iranian law requires that heads and necks be covered and female bodies must be modestly covered to at least mid-thigh. All the women on our tour purchased a manteau (resembles a lab coat and comes in different fabrics and colours) and hijab (or scarf) on arrival. We found that we could wear anything – or nothing – on our upper bodies under the manteau. Loose pants or ankle-length skirts with no bare skin showing meant no critical looks from passersby. Bobby pins or safety pins ensured that scarves would stay draped. It was interesting to note that local women, especially the young ones, often showed a lot of hair and had their headscarves artfully wrapped around their heads. Their coats were often quite form-fitting. Their liberal use of makeup made us foreigners all look like frumps.
Pam, Toronto, Canada
When visiting Iran, women must wear the hijab (headscarf and modest dress) in public at all times. At a hotel in Tehran a sign in the lobby of the Homa hotel reads as follows: “In the name of God, respectful ladies are asked to observe the Islamic hijab and not to use cosmetics in public. Please use a scarf to cover your hair and neck. A long loose dress and dark stockings (or trousers). We wish you a nice trip.”
The hijab warning shouldn’t come as a surprise to visitors. To obtain a tourist visa from the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, Canadian women must first submit two photographs showing them wearing a headscarf. And they must be wearing it when the plane touches down in Tehran.
Martin Regg Cohn, chief of the Toronto Star’s Middle East bureau
When travelling within Iran women should wear loose fitting cotton trousers and loose fitting long sleeved shirts with a headscarf at hand. This clothing is very cool and comfortable and does not cause offence.
Gina, Wellington, New Zealand
I bought a black coverall that women wear over their clothes and a black scarf when I got to Tehran: that way, I did not stand out in the crowd and it helped me a great deal. Usually tourists wear a raincoat or a long shirt but it makes you stand out in the crowd like a sore thumb! Buying clothes in the country you are visiting is usually a good thing. In Iran, it is better to wear black. Never wear bright colors, or white, other women seldom do and you will attract unwanted attention.
Maryan, Paris, France
I am an Iranian woman who read your Journeywoman article about how to wear [dress] in Iran. That was amazing to find this article on [the] net. Now, everything changes in our country. You do not need to wear socks, and coats are not so long, they can be printed in designs and short but with long sleeves to reach your wrists. Coats can be fitted now but not tight. You still should wear a scarf but not as before. Now they are long rectangular pieces of cloth that are used to cover your hair but not completely.
Sibora, Iran (2007)
I found this Reuters news item about culturally correct clothing and behaviour in Iran in our local paper (October 12, 2007). I thought it would be helpful for women travelling to Iran to understand this. ‘ Iranian police have warned 122,000 people, mostly women, about flouting strict Islamic dress codes since April and nearly 7,000 of those attended classes on respecting the rules. Such crackdowns … are an annual event and usually last a few weeks. But this year’s measures have been longer and more severe than in recent years… In addition to the dress crackdown, the newspaper quoted a Tehran police commander as saying 482 people were arrested for taking part in mixed parties. Men and women are not allowed to mix at close quarters in Iran, unless they are family members.’
Beverly, Winnipeg, Canada (2007)
Tehran, Iran is enforcing a stricter Islamic dress code for universities, including a ban on female students wearing long nails, bright clothes and tattoos. The new 2011 rules ban women from wearing caps or hats without scarves, tight and short jeans, and body piercing, except earrings. Tattoos, long nails, tooth gems, tight overcoats, and bright clothes are also forbidden.
If you’re a guy, male students are banned from dying their hair, plucking eyebrows, wearing tight clothes, shirts with very tight sleeves and jewellery. Iran has been waging a country-wide campaign against Western cultural influences since 1979.
National Post, 2010, Canada