In Iran, fashion as
protest By Farangis Najibullah
Ali Mohammadi - or Ali M, as he likes to
be called - spends most of his salary on trendy
clothes, haircuts and expensive skincare products.
He is just one of many Iranians for whom fashion -
besides being fun - has become a form of protest
against the country's strict Islamic dress code.
"I just got a new haircut and had my
eyebrows shaped," Ali M says over the phone from
Tehran, jokingly but with a hint of pride in his
In recent months, Iranian
authorities have cracked down hard on Iranians who
violate the dress code, which requires women to
wear the head scarf and prohibits men from wearing
short-sleeve shirts or ties. But that hasn't
stopped legions of women and men from dressing as
stylishly as they can. In fact, the more
authorities try to enforce the code,
the more it seems Iranians want to push the
boundaries of personal fashion - even at the risk
of fines and imprisonment.
Police often detain people
with "improper clothing and haircuts", but Ali M
says he couldn't care less. And he says there are
millions like him, picking up on international
fashion trends from
television channels, glossy magazines, and foreign
travel. Ali says he and his fellow Iranian
"fashionistas", many of whom dress modestly in
public but turn on the style at private
gatherings, want to wear the latest designer
labels and hairstyles. "I usually watch Fashion
TV, World Fashion and other satellite channels,"
he says. "My favorite brand is Dolce and Gabbana
[D&G]. When I buy clothes, I try to follow the
D&G style. Sometimes I buy this brand.
Actually, yesterday I bought a pair of shoes from
D&G's limited edition. They are silver-colored
with red lines on the seams."
Ali M works
as the Tehran representative of a well-known
European company that sells skincare products and
perfumes. He says he can afford to purchase goods
in numerous chic boutiques and get his hair done
at salons where prices start from $100 per
desires Tehran is full of trendy
boutiques and shops offering Western-style
clothes, including skimpy tops and figure-hugging
trousers - even though such items are forbidden.
Ali M says many well-known firms, such as
Christian Dior or Armani, have branches in Iran
where they sell their cosmetics. However, they
don't directly sell
clothes, which instead are
often specially ordered through private shops.
Apparently, nothing can discourage
Iranians from trying to dress fashionably - not
the restrictive laws, not the morality police, not
even exorbitant prices for designer labels.
According to Ali M, those "who cannot
afford to pay $600 for a pair of designer shoes,
can easily find an exact replica of the designer
label for $60. The same goes for dresses, tops,
In interviews, some Iranian
women say they lead double lives when it comes to
clothes and fashion. One Tehran woman admits: "We
get dressed modestly for work, but privately we
follow our hearts' desires - opting, for instance,
for sleeveless tops, plunging necklines, and short
Iraj Jamsheedi, an Iranian
independent journalist, says many Iranians,
especially urbanites, are increasingly frustrated
with authorities meddling in their private lives.
"Many people ignore the rules as much as they can,
simply to protest this and other social
restrictions," Jamsheedi says.
decrees have failed to change people's dress
sense. In many instances, the dress restrictions
have had the opposite effect - people's clothes
have become more [liberal] than before. It is a
sign that people are resisting these decrees."
youth Neelofar, a 23-year-old Tehran
resident, says she was detained by the morality
police in a shopping center last summer. She was
wearing "an overly short pair of trousers and
showing too much hair under a loosely tied
colorful head scarf".
Neelofar says she
was taken to a police station along with a couple
of other dress-code offenders. The police officers
called Neelofar's parents who brought a "proper
overcoat" for their daughter and gave a written
pledge that Neelofar would never violate the law
Neelofar, however, had different
ideas. "I didn't obey [the dress code] too much
after the incident," she says. "But I wasn't
detained anymore, maybe because I don't walk in
the streets too much - I usually travel by car or
bus. Usually, [detention] happens to people who
walk in the streets."
the drive to enforce the dress code as part of a
larger effort to control society. "The situation
in Iran is not simple," the Tehran-based
journalist says. "A social uprising could break
out any minute. The authorities want to prevent
any such upheaval by tightening their grip on
Najibullah is a correspondent for
RFE/RL's Central newsroom, focusing on social
issues in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Farangis,
a former broadcaster with RFE/RL's Tajik Service,
studied journalism at Dushanbe University and
joined RFE/RL in 1995 as the Tajik Service's
reporter in London.
and Farin Assemi from Radio Farda contributed to