Ponytails, Hollywood hairstyle imitations, gelled hair spiked into a style known locally as the “Khorusi” (“Rooster”)... for some, the untamed haircuts of Teheran youth was getting out of control.
Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance decided to do something about it, releasing on Monday the “Journal of Iranian Hairstyles Approved by the Ministry” to assist discerning Iranian men in appropriate Islamic grooming.
The Islamic fashion guide, released by ministry officials as part of the press launch for the upcoming “Modesty and Veil Festival,” contains a photo catalog of men with conservative, short haircuts.
The government, with the assistance of the Barbers Association, is set to widely distribute the catalog throughout the country as a guide to appropriate Islamic appearance, lest social upheaval through fashion swell across the land.
“We are happy that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s government has backed us in designing these hairstyles,” festival director Jaleh Khodayar told the local media. “The proposed styles are inspired by the Iranians’ complexion, culture and religion, and Islamic law.”
Enforcement of the hijab
– or Islamic modesty laws – is done by religious police. They are known to raid barber shops prone to giving young Iranians haircuts deemed too Western. The police have also instructed barbers not to pluck the eyebrows of their male customers.
Beyond aberrant hairstyles, men sporting low-slung jeans and women wearing flimsy head scarves or tight cloths are also stopped by the police.
A dress-code crackdown often accompanies the onset of summer, as the heat leads Iranians to shed layers and wear lighter clothing. Last month, Iran’s morality police tried a coordinated assault on un-Islamic dress, arresting women they believed were wearing too much lipstick and even those with suntans.
The initiative drew so much media attention that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized the crackdown. That led to a backlash against the president by conservative Islamic clerics.
“The crackdown is real. It’s constant, widespread and broadening,” said Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi, an expert on Iran and senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “It’s hardly surprising that this would be so because a regime that is under siege and vulnerable from outside and inside pressure cannot afford the risk of allowing dissent on any issue.
“As they get more paranoid and/or vulnerable they will repress more and more. If it wasn’t tragic and painful for the people it would be funny, because it’s just grotesque some of the things they are doing.”
Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran adopted a strict dress code in accordance with Sharia, or Islamic law, calling on all Iranians to conform to the hijab.
Hijab rules require men to have well groomed, conservative haircuts and forbid shorts and ties. Women must cover their entire body except the face and hands with loose-fitting clothing. Some Iranian women completely cover their hair, but most do not.
Officially, makeup is forbidden in Iranian government offices and the Islamic Republic’s religious establishment considers wearing makeup to be contrary to hijab.
Yet Iran’s urban centers are full of elaborately made-up women and teenage girls. Furthermore, products like face masks, anti-wrinkle creams and high-quality shaving creams are increasingly popular among men.
Tose’e Mohandesi Bazaargostaran Ati (Future Development of Market Engineering) recently found that 14 million Iranians collectively spend upwards of $2 billion annually on various beauty products, accounting for 29 percent of the $7.2-billion cosmetics market in the Middle East, second only to Saudi Arabia. This makes Iran the world’s seventh-largest consumer of cosmetics.
Iran has also been named among the leading “nose-job capitals” in the world and cosmetic surgery is a popular and growing industry in the country.
“Teenagers in Iran have become very accustomed to rebelling and confronting the dress code,” said Niusha Boghrati, an Iranian journalist who focuses on social rights.
“For two generations people have become accustomed to playing this game with the police and security forces, so teenagers who are fashionistas in bigger cities, especially in Teheran, have produced this relatively Islamic dress code for themselves, which according to the authorities is not Islamic at all.”
“We have to remember that this is not the first time that the Iranian government or police are taking these measures,” he said. “But in big cities more and more women are defying wearing the veil, and just putting on these stylish, colorful gowns, so it’s not really easy for the police to implement such restrictions on people.”
Dr. Eldad Pardo, an expert in Iranian gender history at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, argued that the crackdown must be seen in the context of broadening social change in Iran.
“It’s not political, but it’s also not unrelated to politics,” he said.
“The entire reformist or post-Islamist movement in Iran is not a
manifestation of a particularly political movement but more a larger
social movement based on social change, not just political change, so
if he wears clothing or a hairstyle that puts him at risk of being
beaten or thrown in jail, it’s a symbol of ‘let us live.’”
“Generally speaking, there are tensions and cleavages within the regime
and between the regime and the public,” Pardo continued. “There is
still a lot of cultural tension and the entire system is very uptight,
so the regime picks at things like haircuts and the hijab to enforcing
Islamic culture on the population.”
“But the population is not receptive, as the lower and middle classes
are basically unhappy and alienated and there is less and less
legitimacy for the regime,” he concluded.
“Even among lower-class Iranians who like Ahmadinejad’s populism, they
like the non-didactic nature of Western television and soap operas from
all over the world, so as time goes by there is less connection between
the government and the masses.”The Media Line