Women Travellers planning a trip to Iran should consider four questions: What should I wear? How should I behave? Will I be safe? What should I take? This information aims to give practical advice, dispel preconceptions and reassure.
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.
Signs in public places show officially acceptable versions of hejab: the chador (literally ‘tent’ in Farsi), an all-encompassing, head-to-toe black garment held closed with hand or teeth; or a manteau (shapeless coat or coat dress) and a rusari (scarf) covering the hair, neck and décolletage. Girls must start to wear hejab when they reach puberty, but many start from a much earlier age (we’ve seen plenty of babies and toddlers sporting Islamic head coverings).
In reality the dress code is more relaxed and open to interpretation. It’s not unusual to see young women in the larger cities wearing figure-hugging manteaus (often tightly belted trench-coats), skinny jeans, high heels and colourful rusaris that have been arranged to offer plentiful glimpses of hair and neck.
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. Bring the band with you.
At the time of writing, local fashionistas in Tehran were wearing their scarves as high and as far back on their heads as possible. This is relatively easy to do if you have long hair (the scarf is draped over a high ponytail or bun, which anchors it), but it’s impossible for those with shorter hairstyles.
How Should I Behave?
If you need advice or directions, approach women first. Younger ones are more likely to speak English.
On city buses, use the women’s entrance in the middle of the bus and sit at the back with the other women.
On intercity buses you can sit in any part of the bus, but you should always try to sit next to a woman (it’s OK to sit next to a Western male you are traveling with).
Don’t shake hands with Iranian men unless they initiate this. Instead, place your hand over your heart as a greeting.
If you are by yourself or even with another female, don’t accept an invitation into a man’s house unless at least one of his female relatives will also be present.
Do not hesitage to give us a call. We are an expert team and we are happy to talk to you.