[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 January 2007, 09:59 GMT
Iran police move into fashion business
By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Tehran

Women in high-heeled shoes and plenty of make-up strut down the catwalk amid clouds of artificial smoke.

It is the first time live models have been allowed to appear in a fashion show in post-revolutionary Iran.

Iran fashion show

The only unusual aspect is that they are all wearing Islamic dress; including some draped from head to toe in the all enveloping chador.

It's part of a new drive to give women more attractive choices of Islamic dress that allow them to express their individuality, while remaining within the letter of the law.

Not everyone in the all female audience was happy.

"I don't think ordinary people will like this show because everything comes from Arab culture," complains Faranak who says she wants something more Iranian and indigenous.

Her friend agrees: "Here we didn't see anything interesting - in terms of colours and designs we have much better stuff; just look on the streets of Tehran they're wearing much better clothes".

'Western dolls'

Many of the women on the streets of Tehran do indeed look more like Western fashion models than the models on the catwalk.

Sardar Ansari
We want to guide designers to meet the needs of society, not to get ideas about fashion from satellite television
Sardar Ansari, Iranian police force

In skimpy tight overcoats and high heeled shoes and token headscarves perched on the back of their dyed hair, they are what the authorities call "western dolls".

Many young women born after the revolution do not seem to have accepted the official idea of Islamic dress.

Conservative MP Rafat Bayat, who always wears a black chador, believes the problem is the state never educated young people properly.

"The generation born after the revolution has grown up in families that do not believe in these principles and they are estranged from these laws," she says.

"We thought there would be no problem because we had an Islamic Republic and we thought everyone knew the constitution," says Mrs Bayat with regret.

According to the law, a woman who does not cover her hair and body in public can be fined or imprisoned for up to two months.

But there are hundreds of shops throughout North Tehran selling glamorous strapless dresses and low-cut, beaded tops for women to wear at parties.


During the reformist period, restrictions were relaxed to allow women to wear bright colours for the first time since the revolution.

But right-wing conservatives are outraged by what they see as western permissiveness now creeping into Islamic dress.

Women's dress styles on an Iranian street
Rules apply to all mature females, but interpretations differ sharply

There is also a growing awareness that heavy-handed police action like raids, arrests and closure of fashion boutiques simply do not work.

And interestingly, though he is an ultra conservative, President Ahmadinejad did not bring about the crackdown on un-Islamic dress that many feared.

"Observance of hijab has got worse since the new government because Mr Ahmadinejad is not that strict on this issue," complains Mrs Bayat.

"Mr Ahmadinejad thinks we should not use force when acting on this issue so as a result hijab has become weaker" she says.

New models

Aware that imposing Islamic dress by force hasn't worked, Iran's police decided to hold their own fashion exhibition recently to educate women about what they should be wearing - though there were no live models.

"We want to guide our designers to meet the needs of our society," explained Sardar Ansari of the Iranian police force. "We don't want them to get their ideas about fashion from satellite television."

Police display of unsuitable clothing and behaviour
What not to wear - according to Iran's police authorities

The police exhibition included displays about what is considered un-Islamic dress and an attempt to convert young women to wearing the chador.

For many older women it's a symbol of their commitment to the revolution. But young women are increasingly turning away from the chador - it's expensive, hot and difficult to wear.

So chador designers have come up with new models to make them more stylish and practical, for example a chador with sleeves.

"The traditional chador is a semi circle of cloth, and keeping it on your head is really hard and you absolutely have to wear something underneath - an overcoat and headscarf - to complete your Islamic dress.

"But by wearing this new type of chador it's not necessary to wear an overcoat underneath," says designer Fahimeh Mahoutchi

Increasingly there is a recognition that women - rather than men - should be the ones who decide what kind of Islamic dress they wear.

"Clothing is not something you can impose from outside; it is something you should accept willingly and instinctively," says Mrs Ghandforoush from the provincial governor's office.

"Each person has his own particular background and attitude to dress."

In other words, the establishment realises that the children of the revolution are rebelling against drab, uniform-style clothing, and it wants to keep them in line by offering a little glamour.

Are you a woman living in Iran? What do you wear and how important is fashion to you?

Your comments:

Look at the children of the ministers and government employees' families, then you realise if they could make this wearing-forces to happen, they would do it for their families. but you can see their children are wearing so-called western fashion..
Jami, Masjed Soleiman, Iran

Here is another negative report about what is happening in Iran from the BBC's reporter Frances Harrison. Why can't she report on something more positive in Iran? We certainly do not question what is worn by the average person on the streets of London, Paris or Berlin? So why is there such a great interest in Iran? The Iranian revolution is now some 27 years old and Iranian women have no issues in Iran on what they wear. In my opinion there is more styles and fashion and less personal restrictions on what can and can't be worn in Iran than what is worn in the West.
Farzaneh, Isfahan

What's the point of being 'fashionable'? At the end of the day you've got to enjoy the life. I know many people who wear clothes that they are not comfortable in, but they still wear it to be 'fashionable'. And I think some of the so-called fashion dresses (both for men and women) are foolish and it doesn't look any good, and yet some people pay a lot money on them while they could get better looking cloth at a cheaper price, to be fashionable???
Ali, Mazandaran

I really do believe that because we are moslems, we should obey Islamic rules in its real way. You cannot claim you are christian while you are breaking christian rules. Anyway, the veil is an Islamic rule to be obeyed by all real moslems. It's good to have a look at other Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, ... to see what is the real Islamic wear.
Solmaz, Tehran

Iranian women have always had a great sense of fashion, after the revolution there were many restrictions on what to wear and the women worked around it. Later with the reforms during Katami's era we had more freedoms and developed a fashion style that is unique to iran, it is not necessarily western not arabic or islamic, it is a mix of many styles. If we work on these instead of trying to make us look like arabs, Iranian women can develop their own sense of style and maybe in the future western and arab women will look to iran for their fashion inspirations.
Haydeh, Tehran, Iran

Why do the goverment and police need to tell people what to wear, doesn't Iran have enough problems or is there no crime in the street that they need to worry about womens clothing? Why shouldn't Iranian women follow the fashion, why should they cover their hair, why should they be dectated what to wear? This is another scheme by the failing goverment.
Reza, Shiraz

The issue of hejab occupies the minds of women and men alike since the Islamic revolution in 1979. A woman convinced of the necessity of hejab feels that she does not wish to attract the stares of strange men by exposing her body and hair and stressing the beauty of her face. She wants to be valued as a person, not as a beauty. In many Islamic countries, women wear hejab, but with much more variety. While I like to cover up, I think that the authorities, when imposing hejab shortly after the revolution, went too far and were too restrictive. Thereby, they created sensivities in men that it is now difficult to get rid of.
Madleine, Tehran, Iran

Here in iran every kind of clothes that are formal in humanitarian values can be worn. But many women do follow western mode (unfortunately) and it's the biggest problem in Iran about women.
Fatima, Iran - Tehran - Pasdaran Avenue

Our goverment's offering a little glamour is like their giving us freedom of speech or giving us our right to have peaceful nuclear energy. I have to wear headscarf and coat in summer while my husband wears T shirt and jeans, although I do not believe in Islamic code of dressing (Hijab). Like any other women around the world, some Iranian women love fashion - they do everything and spend time and money and energy to be fashionable - some like it and some simply pay no attention to it. What really bothers me is that we don't have freedom to choose our own style of dressing.
Faranak, Tehran/ Iran

I wear uniform and scarf, fashion is not something that matters to me. I wear clothes that look good on me.
Somayeh Bakhtiary, Tehran-Iran

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific