In this post, we’ll walk you through what to wear in Iran as a female, give ideas for outfits and clear up in which situations you can avoid the dress code.
Trying to find an outfit for backpacking in Iran doesn’t need to be difficult. Heck, you probably have what you need in your wardrobe already. The rules might seem a bit daunting, but in reality, it’s all pretty straightforward.
By law, all women in Iran are required to cover their hair, arms, legs and body shape when in public.
Although the dress code for tourists is slightly more flexible, there’s no way around covering up. The rules apply literally from the moment you step foot on Iranian soil to the moment you leave.
Get ready to meet your new best friend the hijab!
How Iranian Women Dress
Iranian women themselves follow the official dress code in very different ways. The more conservative women wear black chadors and sometimes even gloves, but we personally never saw anyone wearing burkas.
Hijab: headscarf that covers neck and shoulders
Chador: long robe that covers the entire body but leaves the face exposed
Burka: long robe that covers the entire body and face, only leaving a slit to see through
On the other end of the scale, there’s plenty of Iranian women that just wear a hijab and a loose shirt or jacket. Their outfits are like anything you’d see in Western cities, except they have a little Iranian twist.
How Female Tourists Should Dress In Iran
The difficulty level for tourists is pretty manageable, so there’s no need to start looking for your nearest chador store. All you have to do as a female tourist in Iran is cover your hair and body shape.
Covering Your Hair
The most common way to cover your hair is to wear a hijab, but don’t worry, it doesn’t need to stick to your head like a swimming cap. It’s okay to pull it back so it reveals 5-ish centimetres of your hair, just make sure it doesn’t slide off.
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Choosing A Hijab
Here are a few factors to keep in mind for your first venture into the world of hijabs:
Fabric: light fabrics are better because they let in more air and look less clumsy than fluffy winter scarves. I can say from personal experience that it’s a fine line between looking like a local and looking like a Russian babushka all tucked in for the winter.
Top tip: use a few pins to keep your scarf in place
Print: it goes without saying that you should steer clear of prints that involve nudity or blasphemy. Profanity and religious symbols are probably not the best choice either.
Colour: go nuts! You’ve got free rein when it comes to colour, but you might want to factor in the time of year you’re going. Dark colours can turn that fancy outfit into a sweaty death trap under the summer sun.
Covering Your Body Shape
This means not showing cleavage, avoiding tight shirts and covering the shape of your bum. Tight pants and even leggings are actually fine, but they can’t go higher than your ankle. Showing your feet in open sandals is fine, too.
Best Way To Cover Your Body Shape
Here, the main challenge is to find a garment that will be comfortable in both hot and cold weather. The easiest option is to wear something thin and then add layers on top when necessary.
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The garment itself should be loose, long-sleeved and without cleavage. As long as you’ve got that covered, anything will basically do. Most women wear tunics or plain dresses, but your boyfriend’s oversized lumberjack shirt will also do the trick.
Before our trip to Iran, I dropped by H&M and got myself a simple, black €20 tunic. I wore it everyday on top of my normal clothes and it worked like a charm. On hot days, I even just wore a bra underneath. Obviously, the key to success is to make sure the fabric isn’t transparent in the slightest.
Where Can You Take Off Your Iranian Outfit?
You can unleash your inner L’Oreal commercial and take off your hijab in three kinds of places.
At home, Iranian women take off their outfit when all the men present are close friends or relatives. If you’re the only woman in the house, you should always check with your host if it’s okay to remove your hijab. If there are local women, you should just follow their example.
ATMs don’t work for foreigners in Iran. Make sure you know how much to budget.
Remote Areas With No Locals Around
As long as you’re sure you won’t be bumping into any locals, it’s okay to get comfortable while hiking. It’s a good idea to have your outfit handy just in case, though.
Hostels And Guesthouses
The last place, and the one you’ll probably be spending the most time in is hostels and guesthouses. Feel free to take off your hijab and tunic as long as there’s only foreigners or relaxed locals around (apart from the staff of course).
What I Felt About Wearing The Hijab
Honestly, most of the time I didn’t even realise that I was wearing a hijab. I guess there was also a novelty factor to it, which made it fun for the first few days. As an added bonus, there’s no such thing as a bad hair day when you’re wearing a headscarf. Pretty nice!
Towards the end of our trip, though, I was getting a bit over having to deal with the hijab. It would come off when I bent down and it was in the way when I was wearing a backpack. I’d say this is a common feeling as other Western women were celebrating as they took off their hijabs in the queue for our flight out of Iran.