HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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Freedom to be Fashionable

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Although some view veiling as an oppressive arm of patriarchy, many young women in Iran do not let their hijabs interfere with their fashion sense. Although legally required, young women are practicing what has been termed, “bad hijab,” by wearing their scarves far back on their heads and having locks of hair flowing out underneath. Iranian artist, Saghar Daeeri, has created a series of caricature-like images documenting this sweep of modernity. Scenes feature young women in a shopping mall sporting barely-there veils, form fitting clothing, and faces full of makeup.

Despite efforts to be fashion forward, this behavior is generally frowned upon by the Iranian government. Valuable government resources are allocated to fund a morality police, responsible for identifying and documenting these inappropriately dressed individuals. University students have proven to be a particularly difficult case, and it has been proposed to force students to change into acceptable wear before being allowed on campus.

Businesses are also unsafe from the watchful eye of the morality police. Shops selling clothing that is too short or form fitting can be brought to court and fined. Owners have even been urged to keep the fashion forward out of their buildings. A storeowner in Tehran reports,

 “We were told by the moral security police to go to court and the judge will decide how much of a fine we will have to pay to reopen,” he said. “From now on we can only sell [coats] with a minimum length of 110 centimeters [about 43 inches] and we must not display them in a provocative way. Boys with spiky and fashionable hair and very short sleeves … are not allowed in our shops.”

The use of cosmetics was once a topic also falling under the morality police’s jurisdiction. After the 1979 revolution, makeup was banned from the country, and those see wearing lipstick could be arrested. The importation of cosmetic products was allowed in the 1990s, however items are sold with a hefty 50 percent tax. Even still, Iranian women have become the second-largest makeup consumers in the Middle East, spending over $2 billion on products annually  Daeeri’s women, wearing dark red lipstick, painted nails, highlighted hair, and smoky eye makeup, are surely part of that consumer base.

CBS News has reported Iran as being the nose job capital of the world, and a shopper is seen wearing a bandage indicating a recent nip. Arguments on whether plastic surgery is allowed Islamic often refer back to a Quranic passages 4:119-120, with Satan stating,

 And I will mislead them, and I will arouse in them [sinful] desires, and I will command them so they will slit the ears of cattle, and I will command them so they will change the creation of Allah .” And whoever takes Satan as an ally instead of Allah has certainly sustained a clear loss.

Satan promises them and arouses desire in them. But Satan does not promise them except delusion.

Should the dress of the youth be of such high importance to the government? Does this choice of expression pose a threat to the wellbeing of the nation? According to one prayer leader, it does, making the claim that,

“Women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes,” he said. “What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble? There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam’s moral codes.”


The Great Iranian Cover-Up

Iran: Cosmetic Queen of the Middle East

Makeup Is a Big Seller in Tehran

Iran: Morality Police Launch Crackdown on Clothing and Hairdos Deemed Un-Islamic

Iran: Nose Job Capital of the World



  1. kolson23 says:

    Very nice post. The artwork at the beginning was very interesting. The scenes definitely have a western feel to them. I knew that modesty was important in the region, but I had no idea that there was such a thing as morality police. The idea of that is just absurd to me. I feel that the government should not be so worried about the fashion of its people. Expression is very important and shouldn’t be denied. However, that I am somewhat biased and have never had to worry about my freedom of expression being deemed immoral. In a way it makes sense why some are upset with the changes, but at the same time there is no need for morality police. I think it would be tough to deal with different freedoms of expression when it comes to clothing and personal care styles when for so long you have lived in a place where it has been regulated for some time. I could see where it could in fact cause distractions and such, but overtime I feel that more and more personal freedoms will be given.

  2. akranc3 says:

    I love the picture. It is so well done, and you tied it into your blog beautifully. In regards to the westernization of fashion in Iran, I’m not sure that the Iranian government can stop it. Sure, they can set up the morality police, but as television and internet becomes more global, they will be faced with greater and greater numbers of “deviants”. I find it particularly interesting that the prayer leader was so concerned about the women tempting the men. Usually it is the other way around 😛

  3. jdowling6 says:

    I found it interesting that the prayer leader honestly believes that modernism is the cause of earthquakes. I am very touched that despite the morality police charging clothing companies, refusing entrance into schools, and banning/charging high taxes on cosmetics that the women of Iran know how to be bold in order to gain a victory for their freedom and the freedom of the future generations of their daughters. I hope that the morality police can disappear as Iran continues to move forward.

  4. flambert3 says:

    Seems like if a gender rises up to express them selves the government can do nothing about it and will be forced to adapt. Imagine if everybody choose to dress as they pleased at once all of a sudden. What could the government or fashion police do?

  5. drippykins says:

    In response to jdowling6, I think the “increase in earthquakes” is a bit of symbolism for the damage or disturbance to the moral fiber of society as a result of the freedom of expression. The “rubble” is perhaps the lust, sin, desire, etc. that can burden the morals of men. That’s how I understood it anyway.

    These “moral police” efforts in the ME never fail to blow to my mind. Governments focus on the most arbitrary and absurd things. Hey let’s spend a bunch of time and money on deciding what people can wear! The men in power and religious leaders are so scared and threatened by social change and the increase in expression by women that some folks can’t even dress for the day without worrying about being chastised. Posts like this reinforce my appreciation for separation of church and state, because religion often has an unfailing ability to promote intolerance and restrict progress.

  6. tnatoli3 says:

    I feel like the government should not be regulating the type of clothing and fashion that the women in Iran want to wear. I can see how, since the Islam religion is fundamental in the government more so than in the United States, they can validate their actions to the people. The confusion between adaptation to modern times and the fundamental approach allows for an interesting debate, but I think that most people growing up in the United States would find it ridiculous to believe that the government could regulate their fashion.

  7. kledbetter6 says:

    The integration of images into this post was particularly well-done, and the images themselves were fascinating. How did you come across them? The pictures to me seem very reminiscent of the American 1920’s, which was also an era when women were pushing boundaries, including boundaries dictating the types of clothing it was proper to wear. It’s interesting how clothing can be reflective of societal trends. It will be interesting to watch if the Iranian modesty vs. freedom debate follows the same pattern that it did in America and Western Europe.

  8. mitch7991 says:

    Yea, there’s a point where fashion goes too far. Everybody wants to look good. But there’s a difference between looking good and looking sexy. Once it gets to that point, sexual immorality increases, no doubt. What are the real motives behind dressing this way, anyway? I’m sure even the women, those of whom who are truly committed to Islam, oppose this as well. What is taught in Christianity, which is very much similar to Islam, is that your supposed to build your brother, or sister, up. I don’t know how big of a role clothing plays in doing that, but I definitely don’t think this kind of provocative dress helps. So, that means taking the focus off you and your desire for self-confidence and considering your neighbor instead. If the Middle East is going to continue to pursue Islam, then yes, they need to do something about this.

  9. nholdaway3 says:

    Mitch7991 makes a good point. Something to keep in mind is the lack separation of religion and state. Since most Middle East governments base their policies on Islam, they feel it is their responsibility to enforce these dress codes.
    This is no different than the Amish who require people to follow a strict dress code, which they do to separate themselves from the “materialistic culture” of the world.

    • jbholleman says:

      I really like your analogy to the Amish. However the problem with that analogy is that the Amish try to keep themselves separate from the rest of the world. If someone is not following their standards, they shun them or excommunicate them. In the Middle East, they are trying to force an entire countries to follow their standards in an increasingly interconnected world. With the policies they are using now, I don’t think they will win this fight.

  10. marymsherman says:

    I was pretty surprised to see that these morality police forces also enforce rules on shops as well as consumers. It makes it painfully obvious that Iran is nowhere close to a free market system, and government regulation is so prevalent. Its also interesting to hear about the makeup trend and the high tariff these products are charged. The entire industry is a good example of how sometimes you just can’t stop the public from getting what it wants no matter how much it costs.

  11. I have noticed this change in dress over the years as well with my younger cousins over in Iran. I think it would be quite hard for the government to control such displays of dress since the age we live in is too “digital”, meaning a large population of the world has access to the internet and other sources of easily accessible knowledge. I believe if the middle east wants to get out of the stone age, they need to let the people evolve.

  12. Kaitlyn Johnson says:

    I think this is just another one of those cases where the more someone tells you that you can’t do something, the more you want to do it. The banning of fashion-forward clothing and makeup by the Iranian Government seems to have made the younger generation even more determined to backlash and wear these types of clothes.

    The whole idea and situation of a country having a ‘moral police’ is also particularly interesting and maybe can be addressed today in class. I think it would be a very interesting topic, especially if you considered what if other countries had ‘moral police’ to control their citizens personal lives.

  13. nathenj65 says:

    I thought this was a very good article and one that is a little different that what has been seen recently on this blog. I agree with kaitlyn in a way that yes i agree that the more you tell the Iranian youth the more they are going to want to rebel. Especially with the morality police being so involved i think this all is just giving them more to strive for. The part that i don’t agree is i think that that is not the only reason why this is becoming such a big cause, i think due to the publicity that this is getting more and more women are realizing that things might be changing and this is there chance to help things change and once something like this starts to get bigger it is very hard to stop.

    I also agree that the fact that there is a section of the government to soley police the morals of the people. I believe that there are plenty of other outlets the government could be spending the money on. All to do what? what is the moral police succeeding in doing that is so important that you have to make a full police force to combat?

  14. Jeffrey Lester says:

    Thanks for the great post! I think it is very strange how Iran has a fashion police. I think “fashion police” would be one thing but to actually have an arm of the government regulating what people can and cannot wear and sell is pretty ridiculous. It will be interesting to see if this has adverse societal effects and lead to any amount of unrest among the youth. I wonder to what extent the fashion police actually operate. I am also curious about the social standing of those who choose to be dissident.

  15. shitianliu says:

    I personally think that we should not judge other scieoty’s stereotype if we do not fully understand their culture and tradition, especially religion in this case. Maybe many Iranian would think that the way that non-Muslims dress is not appropriate and immoral, and in that case they do not understand us. Since oppression exists in every society, I do not think that the strict dress code in Islamic world is a big issue now, as long as they follow their law.

  16. sstephenson3 says:

    This was an interesting and informative post. I think this shows fairly well how resistant to change Islamic societies are, however I also think that it is incredibly oppressive that they believe an organization called the “morality police” could have positive impacts on their societies. It also opens up avenues of abuses towards women. For instance, there have been cases in Middle East societies, particularly Saudi Arabia, where men have been acquitted of rape because a woman was “indecently dressed”, thus showing a case where the law upholds the right of men to rape “indecent” women. So, what would happen if the “morality police” were to catch these men in action. Whose morals would they uphold? In truth, I find that this aspect of Middle East society to be a sickness, where the men feel a need to keep their women oppressed and in the home in order to feel safe about their place in the world, which usually does not amount to much in the Middle East on average.

  17. jkipp3 says:

    Having read Persepolis, particularly the scenes where the author describes the Iranian revolution and the fundamentalist social reform that occurred in Iran, I am glad to read that women are revolting against these ordinances today.

  18. “Bad hijab” makes me think of the ways people stretch the rules in schools with uniforms, whether it be colorful shoelaces or maybe a ribbon on their backpack, or whatever: things that are supposed to be equalizers just end up breeding a creative, rebellious type of individuality.

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