Iran is an Islamic country and one who decides to visit there must keep that in mind when it comes to how to dress. From the hijab headscarf and the full-body chador to the everyday wear in-between, the Iran dress code for women doesn’t have to be complex or confusing. In fact, you’ll soon see that tradition is mixed with modern fashion and it’s not as worrying as it seems.
To prepare you for dressing appropriately in Iranian cities, public spaces and places of worship, I asked my Iranian friends in Tehran who run the Come2Persia travel agency (and who get asked these questions often) for some insider tips on what to pack for Iran and what you can buy when you arrive.
Put simply, what matters most in the answer to the question of what to wear in Iran is not to stand out and be unusual.
Wearing Hijab in Iran
The hijab headscarf is the main item you need to pack for Iran since you will need to wear it when you exit the plane and enter the country. You’ll be wearing a hijab every day in all public places, and it soon becomes second nature to follow this rule. However, it should be noted that there is much misconception about the rules of hijab and how it is practised in Iran among locals and tourists.
What may come surprising to tourists is that hijab is more about social etiquette than religious law.
Many women in Iran adhere to hijab based on their personal belief and not out of extrinsic force, even though there are those who do not willingly abide by this norm.
My tip is to bring one headscarf with you and enjoy shopping for more at local markets. It’s a misconception that you have to wear black or dark-coloured hijabs, and you can have fun choosing fun colours and patterns to match your outfits.
Everyday Iran Dress Code for Women
What might come in useful is looking at the way the majority of Iranian women dress. Many Iranian women are ultra fashionable, and it pays to take notice of how local women dress according to the custom. It also means not needing to buy so many pieces of clothing before coming to Iran and to buy your clothes here after observing and choosing which way suits you the best.
In the case of wearing coloured clothing, Iranian women dress very fashionably and wear bright colours. They usually wear black to the funerals and mourning ceremonies; however, in a more conservative setting, you may see women in black.
Tips on How to Dress Like a Local in Iran
Covering the Hair
Women in Iran must cover their hair but there are a variety of head-coverings that they wear. As a tourist, a shawl or headscarf would suffice and there are different manners to put it on. You can look up different videos on the Internet on how best to wrap a headscarf, how to keep it in place and how to wear one in the most comfortable manner.
You do not need to cover your hair down to your forehead. In Iran, a lot of women and young girls cover their hair halfway and show a little bit of hair. A bun would help hold the shawl in place and you can buy clip-on headpieces in Iran that helps create a bun or elevated part of your hair from which to wear the scarf like this.
It is not compulsory to cover your neck. In fact, there is a very cute way to wear your headscarf with your neck showing, which is very much like a turban and known as the best way to wear a headscarf in Iran during the hot summers.
If your shawl falls down do not be afraid. It happens all the time and there is tolerance.
While you are in a private place, wearing the hijab does not apply. However, be sure to put it back on if you leave your hotel room and go to the lobby or reception, for example. It’s often easy to forget when you do something quickly in the confines of the hotel.
Covering the Upper Body
According to the Islamic rules, women must cover all upper body, up to the neck and wrist and down to your belly and fully covering your behind. However, there is some flexibility, such as 3/4 length sleeves on shirts. As long as you cover your upper arm and your cleavage, it is okay.
There are so many choices as to what to wear depending on the season and the weather:
In spring and summer, you can wear a long shirt extending down to your behind. However, it must not be transparent.
You must avoid wearing a tight shirt accentuating the breasts.
Another option, which is not restricted to summer, is the manteau – a long tunic made out of cotton or wool.
In fall, a cardigan and a top underneath would be a great option.
In wintertime, you need to layer up, just as it would be the same as other countries.
Covering the Lower Body
What is expected, based on the norms of the Iranian society, is to cover the lower body from the hips down to the ankle (a little bit above the ankle does not raise the eyebrows) and to wear something loose-fitting.
Skirts: You can wear a long skirt or a midi skirt with leggings. Short skirts are not acceptable.
Jeans: Tight jeans would be acceptable as long as a long shirt or cardigan covers the behind. However, it is not advised to wear them in more religious towns in Iran.
Leggings: They are very common in Iran and they come in different colours. Like tight jeans, it’s important to know the setting.
Cropped pants and capris pants: Cropped pants must cover your legs up to your ankles (or a little above them) and the capris pants must observe the same standard.
Stockings: They should be avoided because they are transparent. Generally, anything that is see-through must be avoided.
Footwear and nail polish: In Iran all forms of footwear including sandals and boots are acceptable and it is allowed to walk around with polished toenails.
In Iran, people do NOT wear flip-flops outside the bathroom. It is very unusual to see somebody wear them outside.
Wearing the Chador
The Chador is a very traditional and conservative outfit, which is an overall dress without sleeves and usually comes in black. You will see many women wearing this outfit in very religious cities and villages in Iran, such as Qom, Kashan, Mashhad and Yazd.
Tourists are not by any means expected to wear chador in Iran, except in holy shrines and some mosques, which will be given to them at the entrance.
Dress Code in Iran for Men
While men do not have as much restriction as women on Iranian dress code, what is against the norm (not religion) in Iran is for a man to wear shorts and sleeveless shirts. Men wear such apparel at home and seeing a man wearing them outside the house is very abnormal.
Therefore longer sleeved shirts and long pants, that cover the knees, are the best clothing choices for men travelling in Iran.
Want for information and tips about travelling in Iran beyond the dress code? Check out my full Travel to Iran Guide.