Saturday, June 18, 2011

Wearing "the outfit"

From the moment we landed in Tehran, before we could leave the plane, all women had to be appropriately garbed. The law says that the only parts of a woman’s body that can be uncovered are her hands and face. From that moment and for the following three weeks, until I was on the plane back to Frankfurt, I wore a head scarf, covering a good part of my hair and neck, a loose long-sleeved jacket that covered my bottom or longer, and long pants or long skirt. I wore sturdy Keen ground grippers---which on this day had walked me through Persepolis. I wore the outfit all the time we were out in public and even in the hotel room if a bellman was delivering a suitcase, for example. I only walked out of my hotel room once without my scarf, took a few steps down the corridor, and quickly turned around before I saw anyone who might be shocked by my gray hair.

Little girls generally have to start wearing some kind of head covering at the age of nine. School girls may have to start wearing them when in school at an earlier age.

Three years ago on my trip to Iran with Fellowship of Reconciliation, we had a fellow traveling with us whose relationship to the group was murky. Our Iranian handler told us that the two of them were friends and that he was traveling with us at his own expense. Whatever. If a scarf slipped too far back on our head, revealing too much hair, he was the one who pulled it up and admonished us to keep covered.

This time I noticed more leniency on the street in terms of women’s dress. I regularly saw young women wearing three-quarter length sleeves, their jackets more tightly fitted, open-toed shoes, and scarves quite casually draped around their heads. Apparently after the election two summers ago, the government pulled back from so vigorously enforcing the laws and the “morality police” have not been in evidence.

You can still see women of all ages wearing black chador, the large pieces of black cloth that completely cover your head, shoulders, and body all the way to the ground. It is not required. Older women might be dressed entirely in black underneath the chador. But you can also see younger women wearing chador with jeans and tennis shoes. Within the regulations, there is a fair amount of choice, as you can see from this photo.

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