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It’s easy to disregard Iranians as a fashion-conscious or a style-oriented people. But chic and trendy have transformed the traditional ‘Islamic’ country’s clothing styles, particularly in Tehran. Fashion is vital in a country where the government seems to actively resist change.

For example, Iran has the highest rate of nose surgery in the world, particularly among youth. Plaster that structures noses post surgery has become an unusual fashion statement.

A common garment associated with Iranian fashion is the black chador that covers a woman from head to toe and exposes only her face. It is commonly believed to be the primary dress of Iranian women, but this is false. Very religious or traditional families only wear these garments.

The majority of women in Iran are greatly influenced by Western styles and brands, which is evident in the short “mantos” they wear publicly. These knee-length coats are paired with belts, skinny jeans, and stylish shoes and bags. Some Tehrani girls push boundaries by wearing shorter and tighter clothing.

Although women are expected to cover their heads, hair is important. There’s a “hair craze” in Iran. Women dye their hair in many shades: blonde, red and brown, to name a few hues. Head scarves are worn loosely so that the colored fringe is visible. Showing more hair is an assertion of individuality and a subtle statement that counters traditionalism.

However, the obsession with stylish hair is not confined to women. Young men in Iran are very creative with their hairstyles: mohawks, spikes, curls, and shag — most anything is acceptable on Tehran’s streets.

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Mona Emadi is a second-year Ph.D. student at the University of Missouri’s Department of Textile and Apparel Management. Originally from Tehran, Iran, she graduated from Isfahan University of Technology in 2007 with a bachelor’s in textile chemistry and fiber science engineering. She also obtained a master’s in textile management from Amirkabir University of Technology.

Global Journalist spoke with Emadi about fashion in Iran and how Persians make statements by what they wear, often at the risk of being arrested.

Global Journalist: What is fashionable in Iran?

Mona Emadi: People in Iran follow two fashion trends. One is based on Western fashion, especially European brands because American brands do not exist in Iran, even though people may buy them outside of the country. And the other is based on rules and regulations set by the government. Three years ago women would wear a “manto” — a short, tight coat that highlights the curves of the body — but the government quickly prohibited it. So women wore long and loose mantos instead and they were required to cover their heads.

Fashion in Iran changes with the times just like other countries.

GJ: What determines the fashion trends that Iranians follow?

Emadi: Most of the time fashion in Iran starts in Tehran or in other big cities like Shiraz or Isfahan. People from other cities follow the trend. In Iran, living in Tehran is seen as a big advantage, and everybody tries to live there or show a tie to Tehran. And a high percentage of most wealthy people are living in Tehran.

GJ: What is the significance of hairstyles in Iran?

Emadi: It is very important to women, especially those who do not cover their hair completely. Fashions for hair are as diverse as those for clothes. Some women prefer their natural color — mostly black or dark brown — and very simple haircuts. Others prefer dying their hair blonde and opt for more unusual styles. The first option is more accepted in Iran.

GJ: How would you compare fashion trends in Iran and America?

Emadi: In public, trends are completely different. But in private situations, people wear clothing similar to American people. Those who are wealthier purchase trendy garments; people with lower income usually buy fake brands.

GJ: Can fashion be used to differentiate between social groups in Iran?

Emadi: From my own experience, there are no groups in Iran defined by what they wear like here in the United States. I think the Iranian police would definitely arrest them if they wanted to show something different than other people.

GJ: How are political views reflected in fashion?

Emadi: Iranian women with more conservative political views are more inclined to conform to the government’s rules. They wear the chador, which completely covers their body and only exposes the face. But not every religious woman wears it, and it is difficult to judge their religious beliefs based on their clothing.

Iranian men wear beards, never use ties and rarely wear jeans and T-shirts. They also usually choose light colors, as Iranian diplomats tend to wear.

By Zahra Rasool and Kevin Dubouis.

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