Iran: fashion through a revolution, a photo essay

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A few years ago I traveled to Iran; it was just one those places that were taboo for women to visit which made me want to go even more. I had been thinking about traveling there for a while, especially being a woman coming from a conservative country myself (Bahrain). I was intrigued to see how the women in Iran were handling life under strict Islamic laws.  I was aware that the women in Iran faced many restrictions during the early years of the Islamic revolution and were denied their essential rights and treated as second-class citizens. For example, women had to wear a veil on their head whenever in public, they were not allowed to enter stadiums as well as having gender barriers in the market. And if you think that’s bad, they have no control over their bodies. Women cannot travel outside the country without permission from their father or husband. I must add Saudi Arabia also follows the law.

However, over the years Iran has had some significant developments. An overwhelming majority of women had voted for the reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami in May 1997 based on his promise of more political freedom. During his tenure, women blossomed, became bold in expressing their ideas, demands, and criticisms. That spirit remains intact I found. Today’s leading women’s rights movements in Iran are: “My Stealthy Freedom Campaign,” “One Million Signatures” campaign, and Zanan magazine.

Contrary to what many people may think, Iranians are unlike their neighboring Arab countries. I especially noticed this while on my trip when speaking to the locals. Their culture and traditions are far more similar to those of Europeans. It almost felt like the ‘Islamic’ lifestyle has been imposed on them. It seemed to me that they had changed their whole way of life to fit into the new society created by the Islamic revolution. Pre-revolution Iran was very different from what it has become today. Many people who visited it during that period referred to it as the “Paris” of the Middle East. Here are some examples of women from that time.

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via http://www.parstimes.com/fashion/pre_revolution/

During the Islamic revolution, the laws were harsh: all women’s hair had to be covered thoroughly. Iranian fashion world paused for about 20 years. However, as time went by the laws became more lenient, and women found more ways to express their great sense of style while following the country’s dress code laws.

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By 2008, the veil laws became more lenient, and women had to cover only part of the hair. This gave them a chance to express their unique sense of style once again.

I started my trip in Tehran in 2010. While sightseeing, I ran into a few local girls and asked them: do you feel treated as second-class citizens? Each answered with an absolute no. They had a sense of empowerment and self-worth. They all appeared to be strong women who could achieve what they set their mind to from having a great career to traveling the world. I couldn’t help myself and cheekily asked them, “what about co-ed parties?” Every one of them grinned and answered EVERYTHING is allowed behind closed doors here.

Tehran is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains. Its cuisine is famous, and tons of fantastic restaurants with great food are spread across the city. Among the offerings, my favorite dish was Chelo kebab (slow cooked meat that MELTS in your mouth with buttery rice.) Yuuuuuuum!

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However, it has the most controversial street art I have ever seen!

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Another thing that I noticed was that women were everywhere, and not dressed as conservatively as I had expected.

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Next, we headed to Mount Damavand – the highest point in the Middle East. The scenery all the way up was spectacular. We spent one night a quaint little mountain village with a very friendly family. They prepared us a traditional chicken dish with rice a pomegranate sauce. In the morning we went for a short trek to base camp. The place was breathtaking!

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Our next destination was Noshar, a small village overlooking the Caspian Sea. Full of lush trees, the places environment was a complete change from Tehran. Full of lush green trees. We stayed with a friend and spent most of our days exploring the neighboring villages and hills.

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On the way back from Noshar I decided to spend a few days shopping in Tehran, I was extremely impressed with the sense of style all the girls had. They had very individual looks and somehow managed to make the scarf look stylish. I have since been keeping an eye on the trends in Iran, and I must say I’m overwhelmed with the level of creativity they have reached. Here are some stunning looks from 2016 that I picked up from @tehran.fashion and @Persian_streetstyle2 on Instagram.

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Amal B
Written by

Amal B is a wanderlust-hit full grown kid with roots in Bahrain. By day, she teaches children with special needs. By night, she's a total freak. She's an artist and photographer, and when she can be bothered, she posts on her Instagram @budahash

1 Comment

  • J

    Great article! Very nicely put together

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