Dressing in Tehran: for Men

Well, the question of how to dress in Iran comes up often. I will start with the easiest to explain; men. And I will limit my observations to Tehran, not having yet ventured beyond the very distant edges of the city.

Dress is mostly governed by social norms, which of course means they are subject to some flux, but also backed by some laws. The breach of the unwritten social rules and the laws is policed sometimes by actual police, but more often by passers-by and peers. In my nearly two weeks in Tehran, I have not seen the religious police out and about and have not witnessed any abuse for breaches of dress code. But note the article below of recent arrests for breaches of dress code at a concert (note my guess that concert-goers in Tehran are more likely to want to push dress-code boundaries than the average Farhad on the street).

Despite these noteworthy arrests, I gather that breaches more often result in serious embarrassment on the street, although instances of harassment and verbal abuse have been known. Having said that, at least by oral testimony, men don’t receive the same abuse from passers-by as women might for dressing inappropriately.

Foreigners do seem to be cut some slack (but only a little) by others, if it is clear that one is foreign (for example, by hair colour). This does not extend far, however, and egregious breaches (such as wearing shorts) could still end in harassment, or abuse. Or even arrest, one supposes, if the breach is shocking. Let me also opine that I think it is more the place of Iranians to challenge their social codes than for foreigners, and so in the natural flux that comes with defining social standards, you will find people wishing to purposely push the envelope and challenge the boundaries, and others wishing to pull it back from the edge. It is not my place to push the boundaries, so my views are simply observations.

As I have said in earlier posts, there is also a difference to be noted between downtown and uptown Tehran. Downtown, the more conservative end of the city, has more stringent demands on the wearing of modest clothes.

Pedestrians are few and far between, so it gets a bit difficult to generalise about ‘everyone on the street’. There are only the two of us. đŸ™‚ But in northern Tehran, men must wear long pants and long sleeve shirts. So far this summer, however, the wearing of short sleeved shirts certainly appears more the norm. And at 38 degrees, I thank goodness for that shift in favour of common sense. This is a change. At least anecdotally the dress code has shifted to the more liberal for men in the last 10-15 years (as an observation, any liberalisation of dress codes will first favour men over women).

While short sleeves are okay for men in the north of Tehran, and remember my view that it is better for Iranian men to challenge the social mores governing dress than foreign men, I am still trying to maintain a long sleeve shirt regime to the extent the number in my suitcase will allow. Certainly there seems to be no problem to roll up the sleeves to the elbow. And the odd times when wearing a short sleeve shirt, it does not draw a single sideways glance. Downtown, however, long sleeves are the norm, and sleeves rolled to half-way up the forearm seem okay.

Shorts are out anywhere in Tehran, except at home. There are no shorts to be seen out and about, although I am not about to test it, the wearing of shorts by men is, I think, likely to be the sort of behaviour that brings abuse from others in the street. Exercise in shorts, outdoors, is forbidden. Forget jogging in shorts in summer.

The wearing of ties with suits is a funny one. The tie is linked with Western fashion and the relationship between Iran and the West is best described as, at the least, complicated. It seems to me that the majority of Iranian men will not wear a tie. In the business context, even with a suit, the shirt will be open necked, not tied. However, some Iranian men might wear a tie as a way of demonstrating their western-leaning sentiments. This is perhaps even more true of Iranian men hoping to do business with western companies, when the tie is worn as a means of building a sense of shared identity. Westerners getting together for an official meeting or event will largely wear a tie with their suit.

As to shoes, you don’t see men wearing flip-flops or thongs. Open-footedness seems to be frowned upon even with men, and shoes that cover the toes are the norm. This could also be for practical reasons, as the footpaths are very often derelict and open-toed shoes are going to bring little more than, dirt, pain, and suffering.

For children, shorts and short-sleeve shirts seem to be fine, especially for children less than their teen years. I have not yet witnessed a teenage boy in public wearing shorts, and suspect the social norms for the male dress code start to apply from the onset of the teen years.

If I note some changes to these observations, or contradictions, I will revisit the post.

Struggling to think of any other observation that applies to dress codes for men, I hope this wasn’t too boring a read for women wondering how to dress in Tehran. That is more complicated, and will be addressed in the coming days.


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