Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The girl in the blue scarf – a short story about fashion

I have to admit, I have underestimated Iranian fashion and weather in all possible ways. Since we were planning to enter the country in November, I was actually worried that it was going to be quite cold. But on the other side I though it would make wearing a headscarf and all the baggy clothes a bit easier. I even had a long sweater prepared just for this occasion. So I thought I was on the safe side. At least until we got to the border.

Though we entered from the north and were traveling through a mountain region, we soon noticed, that it was much warmer than we expected. And I soon realized, that the clothes I considered baggy, were way to short and tight for Iranian standards. So (as most of you have probably noticed on the photos) I have spent the first few days going around in the biggest shirt I could find in David's closet. And it made me feel really bad, next to all the dressed up Iranian girls. Because if you imagine Iranian girls to be all covered in black from top to bottom, you could not be more mistaken. Iranian streets are a live fashion show. Only that the fashion is a bit different to what we are used to in Europe. But it's there to be sure. Most Iranian girls are very elegant and it seems that even the smallest detail of their outfit is thought through quite carefully.

One thing was certain, I was in desperate need of some new, Iran-compliant clothes. Luckily, our new friends from Fuman were more than willing to help me solve all fashion issues. And the clothes themselves were extremely cheap. Unfortunately, I had to accept one fact quite quickly, I am a bit taller than a standard Iranian girl and that put the most fashionable manteaus (light overcoats) out of the question. They were just too short to cover what is (by law) required to be covered. And they did made me look quite ridiculous. The goal was to hide my back and all the curves, that we so much like to expose in Europe and to cover as much of my arms as a standard Iranian size would allow. And that all without making me sweat too much in the Iranian sun. Trust me, it was not an easy task.

In the end I had a few pieces which would help me survive (and not get arrested) during the next few weeks. It was just enough for a tourist to avoid troubles. I was told, that if I tried to enter university in such clothes, I would be surely sent back home to change into something more appropriate. Well, I was not going to try. I was just happy to get rid of Davids old shirt and to have more than one piece of clothing to choose from in the morning. And as David put it: “in worst case you can use it as pregnancy clothes later on.”

The mandatory headscarf is a separate story. Fortunately, I bought enough of them in Uzbekistan, so that I could choose from all possible forms and materials. But it didn't really make wearing one much easier. I would have never though that it would be such a big fight to keep it on my head. It looks quite easy when you watch Iranian girls in all their colorful scarves, mostly hanging only at the very back of their heads, showing more hair than they are actually covering. But it gets a bit more complicated when you try to wear one yourself. For the first few days I kept loosing mine all the time, especially while doing any kind of physical activities. But even sitting calmly would not make the scarf stay were it was supposed to. It does take some practice! And even then it only works when the wind is not too strong. In trickier situations I had to go for a good safe “grandma style”.

Another challenge was to actually remember to wear a scarf in the first place. I was always trying to hang mine somewhere near the door, just to keep it in mind. Though leaving my room without it once was quite a funny experience too. I only got as far as the hotel lobby, but that was enough to create a small chaos. It was really interesting to see people's different reactions to the whole situation. I was totally unaware that something was missing, David and Gerrit didn't notice neither. But the hotel staff did and they were torn apart between not wanting to offend me and make me cover my hear, without drawing too much attention from other guests. The other guests were pretty cool about it though. Only one person seemed to consider my behavior outrageous, but he quickly disappeared between all the friendly smiles. For most of them I was just another poor tourist, struggling with Iranian laws and traditions, which are not easy to follow after all.

But all in all I have to say, I do not like Iranian dress code much. I was missing my normal clothes a lot and I started to hate the headscarf pretty quickly. And I was really getting angry when people tried to tell me that it was all for my own protection and that a woman could only benefit from dressing modestly. Well I don't think I really did. I also found it quite hard to feel very female in all those baggy shapeless clothes. And I simply couldn't look at all the young girls in their school uniforms, as it just made me sad. At this age they should be wearing pink dresses and Hello Kitty T-shirts, not some shapeless and colorless potato sacks. People may argue about the pros and cons of hijab (Islamic dress code), but I believe every woman should have the right to decide such things for herself. And I have no doubts about what I would choose. Especially when the temperatures reach 30 degrees in November. I don't even want to imagine how nice it has to be to travel with a public bus in August, wearing a thick black manteau and a headscarf... Especially when all the guys are walking around wearing thin, tight T-shirts...


  1. Here is my opinion: making women wear hijab, or niqab, or even a scarf is just another way to control them. It is both outrageous and sad. I do not even consider visiting countries where women's rights are restricted in any way.

  2. Hi hi hi:) I am so intrigued:)Actually it's all up to your bringing up and culture. I know lot's of women in Europe that would not wear a deep decolte or short skirt. And it's ok. Also I know Arab women that wear no hijab but regular clothes. It depends on many factors. I was the most shocked when reading one great article in the past, actually from the Arab women point of view. They said that European women think they were restricted, when they actually would say exactly the same think about us but rather being trapped in the western need of striving towards sexuality. It made me think. However, I shall stay where I am, being sexual in Europe and wear white skirts in 30 degrees, but stiIl respect other culture's tradition when there.

    I remember going to Morocco was a challenge for me but actually being faced by their laws and rules was exciting and because I knew it wasn't forever I didn't mind. And they weren't that restricted either:) I covered my arms and knees and other sticking out parts but nobody was fainting when the scarf slipped off my shoulders. They rather tend to thing European women are just easy because there is so much sex around. And this is what happened to you my love):) Let's say what everyone was thinking back then in the lobby - you are promiscuous:) (at least they didn't ask how much - I had to confront such situation. And couldn't think of a number:))hahah. Brilliant. And I think you are one of very few people I could say that about. I love the constant change of the winds in our life. The dark fashion is apparently great for the culture but not for us, used to exposing our bodies (or for some reasons hiding them). David made his point - you can wear them again when pregnant. Let's hope it's winter and the oriental patterns make their come back:) Thanks so much for this article. I am hoping to soak more into Arabic culture in the nearest future.xx

  3. I don't mind hijab, as long as it is a personal choice and not a law. In some parts of Uzbekistan I was dressing modestly too, just to adopt to the local customs. But if someone wants to control dress code by law, I believe they should at least make same rules for men too...

    I also heard this opinion, that the dress code in Europe is much worse for women then the Islamic one, which does not seem so ridiculous, if you look at the number of teenagers suffering from anorexia or similar illnesses. So the pressure is definitely there, but at least in our countries you won't be put to jail for trying to fight it.

    I am glad we have visited Iran though, as it gave us a chance to understand the people and the culture a bit better. I will follow news from this country with anticipation now, as I am sure things will change.