This summer, when the Iranian regime once again declared a hunt for women unwilling to follow its strict and obscure dress codes, a surprise awaited. Women wearing full hijabs and chadors have also come to the defense of less conservatively dressed compatriots.
The internet is teeming with new statements of solidarity, partly in reaction to the government’s renewed crackdown on women’s freedom of expression. In an Instagram post, a Tehran resident named Nastaran wrote, “I wear hijab but am opposed to forced hijab. I never support online campaigns, but this time I felt I had to draw a line between myself and those who humiliate women for their choices. The treatment of women over hijab, which is purely a personal choice, is really insulting and has led some people to judge me on the type of hijab I wear. They think I’m on the side of the Morality Patrol and I think the same way they do. I participate to say that I am not one of them.
Faced with a growing outcry against everything from the first “Hijab and Chastity Day” in July (which eventually was renamed “No Hijab Day” by activists) to individuals monitoring women’s clothing on public transport, the media State-aligned outlets sought an acceptable explanation.
On July 9, the Fars news agency caught one. The IRGC-owned outlet published a series of complaints from women about the high price of the Islamic Republic’s favorite black chador. The proposition was that this item of clothing was not hated by many, but simply too expensive.
Then, on July 16, at the height of the grassroots campaign against forced hijab, Fars published a report titled “Why the black chador is not sold at government prices”, which again asserted that some women who would like to wear the black chador could not afford it.
In fact, in doing so, the Fars News Agency was resurrecting a old excuse; the one who surfaces in state-controlled media from one summer to the next, around the time that morality patrol violence against Iranian women reaches its zenith.
“Under a government that rules in the name of Islam”, writes the newspaper Resalat on July 22, “The Islamic hijab is the most expensive cover-up, the hardest to find and to afford. Not only have we failed to manage consumer behavior patterns in society and lay the proper foundations, but our adversaries have planned how to exploit them and steered the apparel industry and market towards their own goals.
Not only are Iranian women prevented from wearing the shapeless, monochromatic expanse of fabric that they would all otherwise want, but it is the fault of “the West”. In reality, however, is the black chador out of reach for ordinary women in Iran? And does it matter if it does?
How much does a black chador cost?
An Iranian small business owner who makes his own black chadors at home to sell spoke to IranWire about the different qualities available and how much they cost. “High quality black chador fabric starts at 80,000 tomans [$2.50] per meter when undecorated, and goes up to 130,000 [$4] per meter when this is the case. Even better quality costs 300,000 tomans [$9.50] per meter. An average height person needs six meters, so one roll is about 1.8 million tomans [$57].”
There are many cheaper options, they added: “Ready-made Arabic chador costs 400,000 tomans [$12.60]. A corduroy chador, mostly worn by women in the provinces and mainly imported from Indonesia and Malaysia, starts at 800,000 tomans and goes up to a million [$25.50 to $31.50]. Since a chador lasts on average three times longer than a coat, the cost of these is competitive with the cheapest coats on the market.
M., a designer of dresses and coats, said the same thing; chadors are much cheaper than the next most “modest” option, the coat: “You can buy a chador from 220,000 tomans [$7] to more than two million tomans [$63] but you can’t find a good coat at such prices.
Another source, a textile merchant in Tehran, said the price of extremely expensive chador fabric could reach up to one million tomans ($31.50) per meter, but it had to be specially ordered and was not Standard. Two fabric brands, Elegant and Mitsubishi, both based in Japan, are among the most popular in Iran.
A business journalist based in the country told IranWire that the main buyers of the chador are women in public sector sectors where it is mandatory: in the justice system, for example, the police, the IRGC or seminaries.
But they usually receive discount coupons for their clothes, and in any case, he said, the price was not unreasonable: “Barbershops charge about three million tomans. [$94.50] for cutting and coloring. A regular black chador costs less than a million [$31.50]. Thus, any change in the behavior of women is not a question of price.
Every year Iran consumes 60-70 million square meters of black chador, about 10-12 million rolls. In 2019, a board member of the Iranian Textile Experts Association reported that Iran imports $100-120 million worth of black chadors every year, making the country the largest consumer of garments in the world. . Meanwhile, he said, “at a cost of $20-25 million, we could build a production line to make 10 million square meters of black chador ourselves a year.”
Currently, only one Iranian company – in Shahrekord, the capital of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province – produces its own black chador fabric. It started operating in 2019 and has the capacity to produce 10 million square meters of this textile per year.
Most of the black chador market is supplied by importers with China as the main source. Businesses that import typically make a profit of 400-500%, according to industry bosses.
The business reporter told IranWire that those who sell hijabs and chadors have become “experts in turning government obsessions into business opportunities”.
Although the private sector is allowed to import black chador, customs only allow a select group to do so. So, he said, the fuss over women’s loss of interest in the chador “was caused by people seeking low-interest loans on the pretext that they wanted to build textile factories or may wish to obtain import permits”.
Is the cost the problem?
Would Iranian women even choose the black chador if it became cheaper overnight? After 43 years of public messages from the Islamic Republic claiming that “the chador is the best hijab”, the number of wearers seems rather to be decreasing.
“History has shown that the time for governments to dictate what people can and cannot wear is over,” said Nayereh Tohidi, a professor of gender and women’s studies at California State University. “Even in communist China, where for years people were pressured into wearing a certain ‘uniform’, they gave up. It goes against human nature and only results in hatred, anger and discontent.
“Naturally, the government and many clergy describe the black chador as ‘better’, but in reality their goal has always been to lock women up and drive them out of the public sphere. As a result, women gradually lost interest; even many who wore the black chador before have now thrown it away.
According to Tohidi, the hardline clergy in Iran, potentially out of fear of the alternative, want to limit the role of women to childbirth, childrearing and serving men. “These people never worry about the state of Islam if they see women starving and rummaging through garbage cans for food. They worry about Islam if they encounter opposition to the hijab.
“Fortunately, there are now many differences of opinion on this – both between clergy and among believers. The more people are realistic about it and the less are sexually obsessed. The dream that more women would wear the hijab if textiles became cheaper is a sign of mental lethargy.
“This power play in Iran is coming to its last days. Even those who choose the hijab freely see the government’s treatment of other women as an insult to their own choice.
This article was written by a citizen journalist from Tehran under a pseudonym.