Travelling to Iran was always going to be a very different cultural experience but the dress code for women in particular is something to get right before you travel. In Iran women must be covered at all times including their hair so wardrobe planning is a must.Here are some of my top tips on how to dress for a visit to Iran, particularly after suffering a few wardrobe and scarf crises.
I thought I had tied my silk headscarf perfectly on my first day in Shiraz but quickly had to beat a retreat when it slithered off my head in the breakfast room. Wearing a headscarf is obligatory and you’ll need to travel with one in your hand luggage because it has to be applied before you get off the plane. It really was a strange sight to see women silently placing veils and headscarves on as the plane landed in Shiraz. Practicing before you go is one of the best ways of looking good in Iran. There are some great videos on You Tube to get you in the holiday mood and the style right.
I’d also recommend having scarves with a bit of friction in the fabric. Shiny silk slides off as I discovered. I found lightweight cotton and the rougher silks to be the coolest and easiest to keep in place. The other invaluable item in my luggage were grips and safety pins to keep my headscarf in place. Iranian women also use clips under the scarves to keep them secure as I discovered on my journey.
I found two styles to work. One was the easy wraparound fix whilst the other was a more turban style headscarf fix- but still requires cloth to cover the neck, both for decency and for sun protection. Getting it right is very important to respect the culture of the country. It also protects you from unwanted attention from the morality police. If scarves are not worn you can also get your tour guide into trouble so do get it right.
In Iran women are very stylish with their clothing and are often horrified at how some western ladies look. The basic rules are that arms and legs must be covered. A light coat called a manteau is used along with trousers. Some women also wear the chador, but for visitors a long tunic or manteau with trousers is fine. Long skirts also work well. Don’t take sheer clothing or anything that clings to your shape. Going shapeless and being modest is the order of the day.
I packed long trousers, tunics and a maxi skirt with me. A shalwar kameez was very practical. Generally these worked well but I also found local clothes in Yazd which were cool and practical- and costed less than USD10. These I can use again on other trips and around the house.
In Iran visitors are not expected to wear the chador or burka. Just being sensible and planning ahead is generally all that is needed to dress modestly. There are, however, a couple of occasions when chadors are required at some of the holiest religious sites- and then they are handed out.
Dressing a little differently was an interesting experience and one I got used to as the tour progressed. I never did run into the morality police but I did have some fabulous conversations with other ladies who were really welcoming to their country. It was a little surreal to see my fellow traveller’s hair as the plane took off from Tehran, having been covered for the duration of the visit. Hopefully these tips will help anyone planning to visit Iran- which I would highly recommend.