For a few weeks before we entered Iran I surfed the net looking for advice on appropriate dress for women while there, and whilst there are a few blogs on this (of which the best is probably the Journeywoman (She Dresses Smart in Iran) – http://www.journeywoman.com/traveltales/dresses_smart.html – although not particularly recent) – none are particularly recent, so I thought I would post my experiences and thoughts on what to take. I am not generally commenting on the issues around a country having a dress code for women.
Day 1: Going in from the Azerbeijan border at Astara, I noticed a lot of Azerbeijani women in the crowd, dressed in their usual clothes (fairly conservative – mostly dresses or skirts, trousers or jeans on younger women, usually long or elbow length sleeves, all wore tights or socks with shoes or sandals). Few wore headscarves until they actually got to the Iranian border, and many skirts were calf or knee length, but always with dark tights. I had chosen stretch black trousers under a knee length dress and a trench coat over the top, with one of my usual scarves as a head covering. I was wearing shoes without socks initially but put some socks on when I didn’t see anyone without socks or tights – I needn’t have worried and went without socks later in the trip – many women do.
In fact, the only real “rule” I was told to adhere to as a foreign woman was to wear something over my hair – and even then it is fine to drape it and show hair at the front particularly.
Other than that, all you really need is trousers or a long skirt (most Iranian women wear trousers), a few long sleeve tunic tops (again, most Iranian women wear their tops tunic length), and a scarf or two. Alas, I had not packed any tunic length tops, so had to be creative!
We had cool, rainy weather in the north and I just used my rain coat as a my tunic length item; on the second day I wore my black trousers with only a light summer top and the rain coat on top.
I didn’t take the coat off except when back in the hotel room. I was less conservatively dressed than some local women (e.g. those wearing the chador) and more than others (e.g. a young woman wearing skinny jeans and a hip length leather jacket with a lightly draped headscarf, and this was in a small country town). So I was being more cautious than perhaps I needed to be.
On day 3 we drove into Tehran and the weather changed to a desert climate – I had planned for this by borrowing one of Simon’s shirts and wearing it “granddad” style with my black trousers and a light scarf – in the cool morning I wore the trench coat but ditched it as the day warmed up. I was actually quite glad to have the head scarf on that day as a dust storm blew in – although mostly I found it a bit hot around the neck. I wore the granddad shirt outfit a lot when relaxing around the hotel in Tehran as well – at breakfast, or popping out for an evening cuppa or bite to eat as well over the next few days.
On day 4 we were touring Tehran, in 30 degree temps. I had followed the Journeywoman’s advice and popped to a womens clothing shop to buy an inexpensive lightweight cotton tunic length jacket – mine is teal green – and wore just that, no top under it, with my black trousers and usual scarf.
I was relatively cool in this, and wore the same outfit with different scarves the rest of my time in Iran. An added bonus to this outfit was when we crossed the border out of Iran into Turkmenistan and arrived at our much posher than anticipated hotel in Ashgabat, I felt quite smart in my tunic and trousers, even with a rucksack on my back! I did ditch the headscarf pretty quickly though. However, I needn’t have bought anything – our guide’s wife kindly offered to lend me some things, and I could have got by with Simon’s shirts and the dress-over-trousers combination with a cardigan or light jacket again quite easily.
I did have to wear a chador – once – to enter a mosque and was lent one – it was a large piece off brightly patterned fabric, a far cry from the black ones, and many women in the countryside wore these bright patterned chadors in fact. It was extremely difficult to hold it closed, keep it in place on my head, carry my handbag and focus on our guide’s explanations all at once! It fell off quite a few times.
The next day I saw an Iranian woman wearing a chador, carrying a sleeping infant, supervising a toddler and holding a smart handbag all at once and wondered how she did it.
So in summary if you are visiting Iran and wondering what to take – a couple of pairs of trousers (they don’t have to be baggy, and jeans/tight fitting is fine – Iran is quite hot though so bring light ones if visiting in late spring/summer/early autumn), maybe a long skirt, a few long sleeved high necked tunic tops, and a lightweight trench coat with a few light scarves would be fine. Make up is fine, sandals with no tights/socks is fine, but most people seem to stick to crew or high necklines, elbow length or longer sleeves, tunic length tops and ankle length bottoms whether trousers or skirts.