THE HISTORY OF IRANIAN FASHION
Perhaps the biggest struggle in Iranian Fashion history has been the struggle between the old and the new. Iranians have notoriously been fashion innovators trying to balance expectations of the different tastes in this vast country. Classic Qajar dress code was the last time Iranians witnessed traditional clothes, which included some form of veil, or hejab, for the woman. In the countryside, women have always worn head scarves, which are usually lively and colorful to protect hair from dust. Scarves and wraps are worn often and gathered at the waists to free up the arms. The black chador, seen on the streets even today, probably made its entry in the late 18th century as a way for women to appear in public. In early Persian, women were not allowed to appear in public without some form of veiling. Eventually, traditional Persian and local village clothes were traded in for the more fancy and respected Western outfits in the early 19th century.
As more Iranians travelled to Europe, and the Far East, more fashions and materials were brought to the cities which allowed for more contemporary and modern designs. Reza Shah Pahlavi was the first shah to challenge the chador. In 1935, while he aggressively moved to modernize the country in economic, structural, and political ways, the shah of Iran issued a decree banning the chador. He made the act an offense punishable by prison. He also banned the wearing of turbans and beards by men. To reinforce this, he invited the Queen Mother and royal princesses, unveiled, to a graduation ceremony at the Women's Teacher Training College in Tehran in 1936. The shah told his audience that all Iranian women should follow their example and "cast their veils, this symbol of injustice and shame, into the fires of oblivion." Over the years, veils, beards, and turbans have become political tools to show allegiance for or against forms of government. Duing the entirePahlavi era in Iran, the more educated or more modern Iranians wore Western clothes such as mini skirts, bellbottoms, colorful and more revealing clothes. Approximately 60 years after Reza Shah's decree, another mandate was passed requiring the hejab, with the arrival of the Islamic revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini labeled the chador, as "the flag of the revolution." Since the revolution, the many roosari-wearing (headscarf) fashionistas have found ways to satisfy their thirst for haute couture by wearing heavier make-up and the latest trends under their Islamic dress.
TRADITIONAL IRANIAN DRESS
Iran is a vast country containing many different ethnicities and languages. As a result, the traditional dress tends to vary by region, territory and sometimes even individual village. By in large, the majority of the ethnicities pertaining to the regions of Iran, dictate the traditional costumes. These include dress styles for Bakhtiaris, Baluchis, Loris, Gilanis, Kurds, Ghoochanis, Ghashghahis, and others. Some dresses come also from the different historical times, such as the Qajar dynasty. We have reviewed a few of the traditional Iranian dresses here.
The traditional Bakhtiari dress for women (right) consists of a long colorful skirt with many layers, and an additional apron-like material, which is thinner and brighter. Bakhtiari women wear long scarves and wraps which can contain ornaments and decorations sewn in from faux coins to hand-sewn designs. Separate shirts are worn at the top with matching vests or shawls. Bakhtiari clothes are versatile and protect the people from weather and extreme conditions. Another form of the Bakhtiari dress is shown here on the left on this 1974, two rial stamp. The stamp collection was issued to commemorate traditional Iranian clothes.
Following in similar suit, the Baluchi dress (right) also uses bright and colorful materials. The emphasis in this style is more on the overall garment which is similar to a loose fitting dress. Underneath the dress, which falls only below the knee, women tend to wear trousers. The trousers are generally straight and long and made from cotton or easy-fitting materials. As this is traditional Baluchi outfit is worn in the villages where manul labor is common, it is important that the dress is highly mobile and comfortable. A small headcovering may be worn with gold or silver ornaments landing gently on the forehead. The head dress is also accompanied by a larger shawl.
The Baluchi men also wear long tunics with matching color pants. Sometimes hats are worn to protect against bad weather. A sample Baluchi outfit with the traditional Baluchi hat is shown on the left. The two Baluchi musicians are wearing traditional white Baluchi outfits.
Another form of traditional dress stems from the Ghashghahi or Ghashghai region. Women from this region wear, located in the south of Iran, wear long skirts which are slightly more layered and offer much brighter colors. This can be seen on the right. The shirts are usually lighter in color and are sometimes entirely covered by the scarves worn on the head. The Ghashghai head cover tends to be tightly closed at the bottom of the chin with some sort of pin, for example a safety pin. A second headband-like cloth may be wrapped around the head of the individual. This cloth may be longer and hang from the person's head back over the shoulder. Smaller ornaments such as coins may be hung from the forehead, depending on the occasion. For men, the Ghashghahi hat is a common item. The Ghashghahi hat is famous and has a very recognizable round shape, usually made from sheep's hair. They tend to be be light brown and very soft to the touch. Another version of the Ghashgahi dress is depicted in this 1974 stamp on the left.
Another form of dress, known as the Ghoochani comes from the region of Ghoochan. This region is also spelled Quochan and lies about 150 kilometers from the city of Mashhad. In the year 1791 AD, Nader Shah was killed in " Tapeh Nader" (Nader's hill) close to the main city. With hot summers and cold winters, the clothing in this area has to be multi-functional and versatile. The traditional Ghoochani dress looks as depicted in the photo on the left. Women's skirts tend to be shorter and the shoes tend to be made for long walks, and climbs. Vests and head covers are also common and lots of bright colors and lines are used in the patterns of the garments throughout.
In contrast to the shorter skirts of the Ghoochani's, the traditional Gilani dresses tend to be floor-length. The Gilan province, with a population of nearly 2 million extends from the Caucasus in the northwest of Iran to the western edge of Mazandaran. It is bordered on the west by Ardebil province and the Zanjan province in the south. The capital of Gilan capital is the city of Rasht. This region tends to experience more humid and hot temperature given the mountains surrounding the area. A very distinct trend in the Gilani skirts are the traditional black and white stripes across the bottom of the skirt. Lighter solid shirt and vest are also worn and the head scarves tend to be airy and accompanied by fringes. Men's traditional outfits consist of loose trousers and shirts tied at the waist with a wide cotton belt. Cylindar-like hats may be worn with the outfit as shown in this 1977 photo from a stamp collection depicting the traditional Gilani outfits.
The next traditional dress comes from the city of Kashan. Kashan is located at southeast of the holy city of Qom. It borders on the dry land of Dasht-e Kavir and usually has hot, dry weather. For agricultural needs and most of other water consumption, Kashan uses the age-old Qanat system. There are 60 underground water canals, also known as Kariz, still in operation. Clothes from Kashan tend to be light and airy. The Kashani dress for women features a long solid skirt, accompanied by a long shirt, with ornaments and hand-sewn designs. In addition, long-sleeved vests with large openings are common. The scarves tend to be shorter as shown in the picture on the right. Overall, the dress is simpler and more solid in nature than other regions of the country.
The dress of the people of Khorasan (Kohrassan) is traditionally more protective. The region is situated in the East of Iran, and historically included the regions of Transoxiana and Afghanistan. It was in the 19th century, during the Qajar Dynasty, that the new frontiers were established. Both the men and women of Khorasan tend to wear trousers that are extra baggy and large. The traditional fashion calls for more solid colors. A large solid shirt with a round collar is a typical look for the male. For women, dresses are worn on top of the trousers that reach below the knee. A head dress is worn. This would be a scarf for a woman and usually a turban for the man. In addition, large shawls are draped over the head or body depending on climate and weather as shown in the image on the left.
By far the most elaborate and diverse form of traditional dress comes from the many Kurds who inhabit several regions of Iran. Since the Kurds live in different regions, their clothes also tend to vary. There are the Kurds from Sanandaj, depicted in the picture on the far right. There are also the kurds from Kermanshah. A sample outfit is shown on the near right photo. Kuridsh outfits tend to have headcoverings which are larger and more elaborate than other costumes. Both men and women commonly have belts which are very wide and tightly wrapped around the waist over the clothes to give the outfit some shape. Shirts, skirts, and trousers for both men and women tend to be very baggy and over-sized. Kurdish women tend to wear many coins and jewels which dangle on their forehead and are attached to a scarf or shawl.
The dress of the people from Lorestan is very distinct and ornamental. The Lori dress tends to have hand-sewn designs such as paisley and flowers on the sleeve ends and rims of jackets and trousers. The head gear for the Lori people is a rounded look and is achieved by wrapping a large scarf not just on the head but all around the shoulders and neck as well. There is then also an additional cloth that hangs down from the top of the head. In this sample outfit we see the distinct decorations on the edges of the clothes, including the traditional long vest, worn over the dress and trousers. The vest has shorter sleeves, allowing for the dress sleeves to come through. The trousers also have the trade mark stripe designs at the hem. Women's outfits usually use brighter, more feminine colors such as light green, blue, pink and red with flower or rainbow-like patterns. The men's clothes tend to use solid browns, and grays using very little pattern. The overcoats and vests are long and baggy. Hats may be worn as shown in the picture below which is taken from a 1981 stamp commemorating the traditional Iranian fashions.
One of the most interesting traditional dresses is theMazandarani dress. The Mazandaran region lies to the north of Iran, in the area of the Caspian Sea, north of Tehran. The region is filled with farmlands and engages in agriculture. The costume of Mazandaran consists of trousers and dress, like most regional dress. The distinguishing feature in the Mazandarani dress, for women, is the skirt. It is usually much shorter and much fuller than the usual traditional outfits. Depending on the occasion and the time of year, the skirts can get quite short, and be likened to puffy mini-skirts. For men, generally a cotton shirt that is simpe can be worn with trousers that are similar to hunting trousers. Shoes, socks or boots are often worn high below the knee. Nomadic hats, made from sheep's hair or the like is also very common among the Mazandarani village fashions. Different sample styles, including the 1978 honorary stamps are shown here to depict sample Mazandarani dress.
The Torkaman tribe in Iran, mainly coming from Turkey and having settled in Iran, also have a distinct and special dress. TheTorkaman dress in Iran for the women consists of a long dress with a long open robe. Probably the most conceiling of fashions, the Torkaman dress generally sports a face-cover. This can be in the form of a cloth that the woman ties behind the ears and hangs just under the nose. Clothes tend to favor rusty, and earthy colors, such as deep reds and dark browns. The men's outfits also consist of solid-colored tunics and trousers. The distinguishing features are the hats as depicted in this Torkaman concert photo on the right. Helmets like there were worn in battle and warm hats were worn to protect against the cold, harsh winters. Another Iranian stamp from 1974 below shows a traditional torkaman outfit.
MODERN IRANIAN DRESS
The Iranian culture is one that draws upon old and new elements of style in sometimes a paradoxical way. Modern Iranian men and women all over the world dress mostly in Western clothes. Iranians who live outside of Iran tend to blend into the crowds, wearing local fashions. Iranians as a whole can be considered very brand-conscious and fashion aware. It is true therefore that Iranians who live in LA may dress differently that those living in Paris. The older generation of women also tends to be almost painfully fashion conscious, wearing make-up and chanel at every occasion. The new generation of Iranians that has grown up outside of Iran is much more subtle and follows the trends in their respective environments. Due to the pressures of the Islamic dress code, women in Iran tend to overdress underneath their "manteaus" (overcoats). In general, you will also notice much more make-up on the women as a way of self-expression and rebellion.
ISLAMIC DRESS CODE IN IRAN
Currently in Iran, the Islamic dress code is still observed all over the country. The code calls for women to cover their hair, necks and arms. Modern women in Iran today, wear a "manteau" or overcoat, similar to a uniform (left). The overcoats have long sleeves and usually come below the knee. The length of the overcoat does change with the times. For a while, really long ones were in and a few years ago, women tried to get away with very short coats, as well. To cover the hair a scarf or shawl is accepted. This can be worn by folding the two opposite corners of a scarf to get a triangle and tying the scarf around your head. Trousers or dark stockings are worn under the overcoat.
For men, short sleeves and "Western" clothing can be a cause for concern. Generally, shorts, T-shirts and ties are not worn in public environments. You will find many Iranians who dress very Western for private functions and events. Therefore the fashions really depend upon the destination and purpose of your trip. When dealing with government agencies, schools, embassies, and the like, obeying the rules is highly recommended.
TOP IRANIAN FASHION DESIGNERS
There are many notable fashion designers making their mark on the fashion industry today. Some famous and almost famous designers include Shirin Guild, Maryam Mahdavi, Shadi Parand, Michael Soheil (left), Laya Torkaman, Behnaz Sarafpour, Jasmin Shokrian, and Hushidar “Hushi” Mortezaie.
These contemporary designers live in cities like London, New York, Paris, and Los Angeles. Check our famous Iranians section for individual biographies on these talented, young Iranian fashion designers.
TOP IRANIAN FASHION MODELS
Although the age of Supermodels is long gone, Iranian women are still playing a big role in the world of fashion and modelling. Persian women all over the world have been competing in Miss World contests and many have won over the last few years. From TV shows to realty series, we are seeing more and more Iranian women using the classic Persian features to win the hearts of judges and audiences all over the world. One of the innovators in modelling still remains Yasmin Le Bon. Leading the way is also male supermodel Cameron Alborzian. Other new comers include Shermine Sharivar (Miss Germany 2004), Nadia Bjorlin (Days of Our Lives on left), Sarah Racey-Tabrizi (America's Top Model Reality show), and Nazanin Afshin-Jam (Miss World Canada 2003). Check our famous Iranians section for individual biographies on these talented, young Iranian fashion models.
For a Photo Essay of The Most Beautiful Iranian Fashion Models, visit ourModel Photo Essay.