Tami Khramtchenko of Travel The Unknown discusses her experience with the Iranian dress code for females.
Getting ready to travel to Iran for the first time in October 2016, I was worried about what to wear. I knew the basics – headscarf, long sleeves, long tops, long pants and nothing too tight. Wearing the full-length chadors or burkas is not required, although that is a common misconception. I had Googled ‘Iranian women’ plenty of times and therefore had a good visual understanding of the dress code, but I was still puzzled where to actually find appropriate clothes. And once I’d found them, would I feel comfortable? Would I stand out too much? Or what if I wasn’t wearing the right things after all? These questions may sound funny to some, but I know firsthand that a lot of ladies have similar worries prior to their visit to Iran.
I started off by looking through the selection of tunics and kaftans at several online shops, as I wasn’t sure whether high street retailers would have what I needed. As it turned out, I was able to get the majority of my clothes at H&M and even found a few tops at Primark. I stopped looking after that, as I’m not a big shopper and didn’t want to buy too many clothes that I would only wear for a short while. Raiding the closets at home, I found some nice cardigans, a pair of trousers and a long skirt that went past my ankles. I already had plenty of lightweight scarves, so it was relatively easy to make a selection of 2 or 3 that I wanted to bring along.
During the time I spent in Iran, I found that I actually enjoyed dressing the way that I had to. I didn’t have to worry about how I looked and could enjoy simply ‘being’ and taking in the sights around me. I still wear all the clothes I bought for my trip – they turned out to be very comfortable and as a bonus, they bring back some very good memories.
There are some tips that I picked up along the way that I want to share with you:
- Wear lighter-coloured trousers or skirts on the days you go to Yazd, Persepolis, Pasargadae or any archaeological sites outside of the bigger cities. It can get pretty windy in the drier, more desert-y areas and darker-coloured fabrics will get stained by the sand quite quickly. I had to use a laundry service at a hotel in Yazd because my dark blue and black trousers stopped looking presentable after only a day of wearing them.
- The above tip applies to shoes as well. You can wipe off the dust from leather or faux-leather shoes easily and sandals don’t get dirty anyway. However, if you like fabric or canvas shoes like I do, be careful – they lose their darker colouring after just a few days in the sandy terrain.
- It is fine to wear jeans, even skinny jeans if you so wish. Perhaps not in the more rural and therefore more religious villages, but they are absolutely fine in cities like Shiraz, Isfahan or Tehran.
- You can wear long-sleeved kaftan tops with tank tops. I wouldn’t have thought the slightly sheer fabric to be appropriate, but it is completely fine if the shirt underneath is thick enough and isn’t revealing.
- Your headscarf doesn’t need to be tight around your head, it just needs to be on there. However, I did find that having it more securely pinned to or wrapped around my head worked best for me, as I did not have to keep re-arranging it very often. And yes, you need to wear your headscarf throughout the day from the moment you leave your hotel room in the morning to the time you return in the evening, even while you are on the bus.
Other things worth mentioning are:
- Don’t bring a large purse on the sightseeing tours. Instead, bring something light that holds your camera, a bottle of water and some money. You can leave a larger bag on the bus with other travel essentials like guide books or earphones or anything else you may need outside of the hotel.
- Some of our travelers have worried about the size of their luggage, given that our group trips last 14 to 26 days. From my experience of the 16-day group trip I can say that most everyone brings a large suitcase, and by large, I mean the biggest bag out of the typical 3-piece sets. This gives people plenty of room for souvenirs and makes it easier to re-pack when moving between hotels.
There are no real restrictions on makeup from what I have seen, and many Iranian women wear a good amount of it, including red lips and bold lashes in the bigger cities. This is not to say that I am recommending bothering with makeup if you don’t usually wear it, but those that do wear makeup on a daily basis do not need to feel like they should cut back.
I hope these tips help and that I can help can calm some pre-trip nerves for any of you going out to Iran. All in all, you will be fine as long as you are respectful of the local customs.
Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions and I will be happy to answer in detail. If you have already been to Iran, I would love to hear of your experiences with the dress code and if you have any additional reminders that you could share with us.
Thanks for reading!