When many people of the Western world think of the clothing that women in Iran wear, the burqa usually comes to mind. A lot of people may not know how contemporary and fashion-forward Iranian women used to dress nearly fifty years ago. In the 1930s, the old Shah banned the veil and ordered police to forcibly remove headscarves from women (“Iranian Women”). From the 1950s to the modern era, women’s fashion in Iran has modified tremendously. Through decades of events, including the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the idea of women and their attire has altered the country’s reputation. Iranian women’s clothing has ranged from modernity and modesty to traditionally religious.
Beginning in the 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Iranian women dressed contemporarily, but with restraint and decorum. Women were liberated; however, they still kept their Iranian identity. During that time, these women did not reveal too much skin and yet, remained highly fashionable. Wearing long, full skirts to cover the legs, their looks were far from offensive and improper. Women wore bold makeup including red lipstick and black eyeliner. Their makeup and hairstyle, formal and casual, resembled pin-up models. Royalty and famous figures wore similar clothing to the average person with the occasional sexier outfit for appearances, movie roles, and photo opportunities.
Department stores and boutiques kept up with the Western clothing and makeup trends to imitate its look without copying Westerner’s mindset. Magazines in Iran often featured young women posing sexually wearing provocative outfits. European and American celebrities were admired and often imitated by the Iranian women. Women were also portrayed as sex objects in the film industry, which was aired on selective television channels. Sexy women were also objectified to sell products and services in commercials and paper advertisements. A woman wearing a short miniskirt would be photographed bent over an automobile for sale to add interest to the company’s product. Women would be shown in their undergarments to promote deodorants, hand creams, and nail polish. Not only were women posing seductively alone, but many were photographed with men posing in sexual positions for the promotion of products and services including music, art, and film. All these illustrations led to the collapse of the regime in the late 1970s.
Prior to the Iranian Revolution, women’s attire was risky as it has ever been. Entertainers, like belly dancers, were wearing minimal costume-like clothing with heavy makeup and jewelry. Public figures were seen flaunting their cleavage, stomachs, and legs in undergarments and lingerie on and off the set, like brassieres, corsets, and stockings. Women were not body shamed for their size and shape. Iranian women of this time were secure and confident with their bodies, promoting their bodies by wearing shorts and miniskirts regardless if they were a size two or twelve. Curvy bodies were not hidden under clothing.
Jeans were also popular to Iranian women during the 1970s. In America, many women wore high-waisted jeans with flared pant legs. Usually, a long-sleeved, buttoned-up blouse would be worn tucked into the pants to accentuate the woman’s body. Iranian women loved this fashion trend and copied the look. These outfits were conservative, yet colorful and feminine. Denim was not only worn as bottoms, but also as vests, jackets, and overalls.
During the 1970s, women’s hairstyle in Iran mimicked the style of women in America. Actresses in America, like Farrah Fawcett, had long, feathered hair to add much volume to their mane. Makeup was a little more subtle than prior the prior decades; however, the lips were still plumped, and the eyes were accentuated to radiate sex and femininity.
Towards the late 1970s, women began to dress more boldly. The skirts became a lot shorter, shorts were being worn, jeans were worn tighter, and more bikinis were being worn. This era was overwhelming to the traditionalists and primarily Muslim areas. Men felt sexually teased and seduced by the young women who dressed provocatively, flaunting their bodies in the public. Most Iranians were not satisfied with this idea and behavior. Unfortunately, some of these young women were sexually harassed or assaulted due to their racy attire. An attractive young woman wearing a miniskirt was raped at a vegetable market in broad daylight in central Tehran (“Fashion in Pre-Revolutionary Iran”). The safety of women in Iran was not a priority to the government.
On March 6, 1979, politician and new Supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, decreed that all women had to wear the veil - regardless of religion or nationality (“Iranian Women”). A hejab refers to a scarf and long dress that covers the woman’s body entirely. The hejab was ordered to ensure that women would not sexually tempt men. Women were also to segregate themselves from men in public places and be surveyed by the “morals police.” “Khomeini called the chador (cape) the ‘flag of the revolution’” (“Women & the Iranian Revolution”).
Just two days later, a celebration, planned by groups for International Women’s Day is turned into a protest against Khomeini’s announcement about the veiling of women and banning of the Family Protection Law (Gheytanchi). If women did not wear the hejab, they risked harassment by the ethical and moral standards of policing. If women disregarded those two choices, they migrated away because they could not accept the situation. Iranian women lacked personal freedom, which resulted in an estimated five million Iranians living in the diaspora (“Fashion in Pre-Revolutionary Iran”). A diaspora is the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland (“Diaspora”).
Women’s social presence had declined as they were “…not able to appear in public in movies, in sports, and in other social activities without the veil…” (Bahramitash and Salehi, pg. 112). Masoumeh Ebtekar, an Iranian politician and spokesperson for the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, said that the, “hejab is a personal choice; a social uniform perhaps, like Chinese Dress in Mao’s time. The chador is no longer an appropriate symbol of what women are doing in Iran” (“Women & the Iranian Revolution”).
- Bahramitash, Roksana, and Hadi Salehi. Veiled Employment: Islamism and the Political Economy of Women's Employment in Iran. Syracuse Univ. Press, 2011.
- “Diaspora.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diaspora.
- “Fashion in Pre-Revolutionary Iran.” Fashion in Pre-Revolutionary Iran: Pahlavi Era 1950s-1970s. www.parstimes.com/fashion/pre_revolution/.
- Gheytanchi, Elham. “Chronology of Events Regarding Women in Iran since the Revolution.” Iran Chamber Society: Iranian Society: Chronology of Events Regarding Women in Iran since the Revolution of 1979, 2000, www.iranchamber.com/society/articles/chronology_events_women_iran.php.
- “Iranian Women - before and after the Islamic Revolution.” BBC News, BBC, 8 Feb. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-47032829.
- “Women & the Iranian Revolution.” Women & the Iranian Revolution, msu.edu/user/hillrr/161lec27.htm.