Females planning a trip to Iran should consider an important questions: What should I wear? How should I behave?
What Should I Wear?
Since the revolution of 1979 all women in Iran, including foreigners, have been required by law to wear loose-fitting clothes to disguise their figures.
They must also cover their hair. This form of dressing is known as hejab, a term that refers in general to modest dress, and is also used to refer specifically to the hair-covering.
Fortunately, foreign women are not usually judged as harshly as Iranian women when it comes to hejab, and few Iranians will bat an eyelid if you have your fringe or a bit of neck or hair showing.
It pays to look at what women around you are wearing; for example, you’ll want to dress more conservatively in Qom than you would in Tehran.
The biggest challenge that you’ll encounter is keeping your scarf on. Silk scarves aren’t much use, as they tend to slip off; the only way to make them work is to tie them under the chin babushka-style.
Wool can work, but not if it’s too fine and slippery. Your best bet is textured cotton, which tends to adhere to hair more effectively and slips less.
Make sure that your scarf is wide enough to cover all of your hair, and long enough to be able to throw over your shoulders as an anchoring device. Practice before you leave home.
Some travellers wear a thick elasticised headband and fasten their scarves to it with safety or bobby pins, ensuring that their scarf doesn’t slip – this can work well with silk and fine cotton, so is worth considering if you are travelling here over summer and want to wear something light.
Loose-fitting cardigans going down to the mid-thigh are a comfortable, alternative form of outerwear. These can be worn over T-shirts or jumpers (sweaters) but bring them from home – they’re hard to source in Iran.
How Should I Behave?
Half-truths and stereotypes about women exist on both sides of the cultural divide: some Westerners assume that all Iranian women are black-cloaked, repressed victims, while some Iranians, influenced by foreign movies and media, see Western women as ‘easy’ and immoral.
When in Iran, be aware that sex before marriage is uncommon (well, that’s the official line) and that there may be some males who – influenced by the aforementioned stereotype – will try it on with you, particularly if you are travelling solo.
The best way to prevent this happening is to be polite but not overly friendly in your dealings with local males. If you need advice or directions, approach women first. Younger ones are more likely to speak English.