The intersection of religion and dress is most fascinating to me. I grew up with a mother who was far and away the most fashionable pastor’s wife I knew. And then I also had acquaintances and neighbors involved in the Christian modesty movement, which required women to wear large pieces of fabric that covered them extensively.
As I prepare to have my daughter here in the next month, I don’t know much about what my parenting style will be. But I do know that she will not be wearing track pants with the words “juicy” emblazoned on her derriere.
Now that fashion reporters win Pulitzers for their hard-hitting reporting, I would hope to see better coverage of how religious beliefs affect fashion choices. In the meantime, some nameless reporter with Agence France-Presse had a fascinating look at the fashion police in Iran. The reporter went on patrol with the women officers who enforce Islamic dress restrictions on women in Tehran:
It all starts with one simple sentence, spoken almost in a whisper, but which has a thunderous effect.
A female police officer deployed in Tehran’s latest moral crackdown tells a woman that her manto (overcoat) is too short and infringes Iranian Islamic dress rules.
“Azizam (my dear), good afternoon, if possible could we have a friendly chat, please allow us to have a small chat,” the officer, a graduate of Tehran’s police academy, tells the young woman.
“My dear there is a problem with your manto. Please do not wear this kind of manto. Please wear a longer manto from now on.”
A manto is normally knee-length and long-sleeved. The story describes how some women are let go with a warning while others are arrested and taken to a minibus with dark black tinted window panes. The reporter describes how a woman in a short white manto whose hair tumbled out the front of her headscarf was arrested. Another woman already arrested cries out that she will be better in the future before the doors slam shut. The reporter explains the approach of the police:
Tehran’s police have said they are operating a three stage process in implementing the new wave of a crackdown on dress deemed to be unIslamic, which started with some intensity on Monday afternoon.
First, women are given a verbal warning on the street. If the problem is not resolved there, they are taken to the police station for “guidance” and to sign a vow not to repeat the offence. Should this be unsuccessful, their case is handed to the judiciary.
The women are sent to a center for combating vice. One of the interesting things about the story is that not one of the women in the story — whether an offender or officer — is named. A police officer, who by law isn’t allowed to give her name, defends the actions of the fashion patrol and says they operate mostly through guidance rather than force.
“I am doing this it as it is my duty and my job is supported by the religious teachings,” another women clad in the black chador uniform of Tehran’s female police added.
A girl confronted by the female police for having overly short trousers and transparent stockings apologizes.
“I am wearing stockings but, sorry, they are too light. Sorry I will change them, definitely I will change them. Now can I go?”
We’ve seen stories about the suppression of women’s fashion choices in Muslim countries, but this one actually showed what it would be like to be a woman on the streets of Tehran. The story also includes the voices of critics who say the police have better things to do than crack down on women’s clothing.
Seems like this type of story could get some more coverage. I’m also interested in the debates in Islam over how much modesty the religion mandates. Muslims aren’t monolithic on their views about female dress, and this story didn’t really get into the theological debates at play.