What to wear in Iran is something that runs through our heads just before we are about to arrive. The words chador, hijab, and manteau sound all too daunting and suppressive. But actually it should be exciting, alluring and empowering. I promise you will grow to love its power and the perk of being a woman in Iran entitles you. Plus, not only do you get to experience Iran for its touristy attractions but you get a unique inside view of the culture from a woman’s point of view. However daunting it sounds, it’s actually really easy, just follow these few simple rules and no matter what you do you will not offend anyone and confirm to the Islamic dress requirements.
- Cover your hair in public
- Ensure your legs are fully covered
- Make sure your arms are mostly covered to your elbows
- Cover your bottom and at least down to mid-thigh
With this in mind, what does hijab, chador and manteau mean? Well, below is an outline of the different ways you can cover up and fit in seamlessly with the local women and not feel like an alien in a potato sack.
A hijab is just a scarf, folded or wrapped to cover most of your hair and can be tied under your neck or tucked in place. You can wear any colour, pattern and style you desire and it can be tied up in many different styles. However, if you want to travel into some remote or highly religious areas or towns such as Qom then you need to make sure you stick to subtle, muted, dark colours or preferably step it up a notch and look into using a chador or a manteau.
Tying a hijab was also a concern of mine, googling instructions online and trying to practice the technique in a hotel mirror was fruitless and dated. I ended up sticking to the style on the front of the guide book to see me through the first few days before I realised there are many different options more appealing. Over the next few pages, I have given a few basic but beautiful styles for you to try.
A chador is a full body length semicircle of fabric that is open at the front and worn over your clothes. It’s a bit tricky to wear as you place it over your head, and gather it around you and hold it close with your hands or tuck it under your arm. This may require some practice, especially when you are trying to hold your handbag, purchase some oranges and hand over the correct amount of change! For a standard traveller, this islamic dress is going a step beyond what you need to get by but it could be a nice to give it a try.
A lot of the women wear an overcoat called a manteau, which is a black or brown knee-level coat. These coats are available everywhere, from the market or from women’s clothing stores. A Manteau can actually be a stylish and comfortable option as you can wear anything underneath from skinny jeans to tights. You will be shocked by the trendy women of Tehran, who normally wear a Manteau over a pair of tights, massive hot high heels and an amazing amount of makeup! But don’t forget you still need to combine this with a hijab to make it the perfectly acceptable islamic dress.
Tip: If you’re visiting Iran during summertime, you could wear nothing but a bra and/or singlet under your manteau. Just make sure you bring a t-shirt to put on encase your invited into someone’s home.
Coming From Pakistan
If you’re coming from Pakistan, you might have already brought a Shalwar Kameez (baggy pants and long, loose fitting over shirt). The Kameez is perfect substitute to a chador or a manteau. You can continue on wearing the Kameez over the Shalwar or your favourite pair of pants or tights.
While on the motorcycle
You’re probably wondering, ok, that’s great I know what to wear while I’m off the motorcycle but what do I wear while riding? Before I arrived in Iran, I had the beautiful picture in my head – I am on my motorcycle riding through the amazing white deserts with the wind whipping through my black burqa creating a beautiful contrasting image. The truth is, you don’t actually need to go this far!
While on the motorcycle it is good practice to ensure your stick to the above rules. However, while you’re riding your motorcycle they all think you’re a man anyway. There is actually a law against women riding motorcycles! But there seems to be a grey area when it comes to foreigners, hence you’re able to get away with the more few things.
What I wore
I wore what I normally wear just plain old motorcycle gear (even a fitted amour jacket most of the time). The only change I ended up making is turning my Buff (r) into a head scarf, which I wore under my helmet at all times. I didn’t have any problems, only when coming the border check point when I forgot to cover my head! On the bike, you are treated like a male hero, away from the bike you’re treated as a normal tourist. After spending 6 months in Pakistan, I had quite a few Shalwar Kameez, so I opted for this option and sent the shalwar’s home as a souvenir and just wore normal pants under the Kameez along with a hijab.
So now you have the basic islamic dress options available to you, and have figured out what the best method is for you. Make sure you take into account what season you will be travelling in. If it happens to be summer, and you’re dressed in a million layers you will feel hot and sticky. Keep the fabrics light weight and use a silk hijab (since silk is super slippery just use a safety pin to hold it in place!)
Just remember, the only time you can peel off the layers of clothing and fully relax in your bikini is in the privacy of your tent or hotel room. If you have been lucky enough to be invited into someone’s home, they might invite you to take off your headscarf, but still avoid exposing your legs and arms if possible.