A chādor or chādar (Persian: چادر), also known variously in English as chadah, chad(d)ar, chader, chud(d)ah, chadur and naturalized as /tʃʌdə(ɹ)/ is an outer garment or open cloak worn by many Iranian women and female teenagers in public spaces. Chador has ancient origins, at least from Achaemenid times, and today wearing this garment is one possible way in which a Muslim woman can follow the Islamic dress code known as ḥijāb. A chador is a full-body-length semicircle of fabric that is open down the front. This cloth is tossed over the woman's or girl's head, but then she holds it closed in the front. The chador has no hand openings, or any buttons, clasps, etc., but rather it is held closed by her hands or tucked under the wearer's arms.
The History of Iranian women's clothing
Fadwa El Guindi, in her book on the history of hijab, locates the origin of the Persian custom in ancient Mesopotamia, where respectable women veiled, and servants and prostitutes were forbidden to do so. The veil marked class status, and this dress code was regulated by sumptuary laws.
Achaemenid Iranian women in art were mostly veiled, and the first representation of chador is found on Ergili sculptures and the "Satrap sarcophagus" from Persian Anatolia. The earliest written record of chador can be found in Pahlavi scripts from 6th century, as a female head dress worn by Zoroastrian women.
It is likely that the custom of veiling continued through the Seleucid, Parthian, and Sassanid periods. Veiling was not limited to women but was practiced also by the Persian shahs. Upper-class Greek and Byzantine women were also secluded from the public gaze. El-Guindi believes that the Islamic hijab is a continuation of this ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern custom.
European visitors of the 18th and 19th centuries have left pictorial records of women wearing the chador and the long white veil.
The 20th century Pahlavi ruler Reza Shah banned the chador and all hijab in 1936, as incompatible with his modernizing ambitions. According to Mir-Hosseini as cited by El-Guindi, "the police were arresting women who wore the veil and forcibly removing it." This policy outraged the Shi'a clerics, and ordinary men and women, to whom "appearing in public without their cover was tantamount to nakedness." Many women refused to leave the house in fear of being assaulted by Reza Shah's police. However, she continues, "this move was welcomed by Westernized and upperclass men and women, who saw it in liberal terms as a first step in granting women their rights." However, for regular, non-activist women, it amounted to torture and desecration of their religion and themselves. A few even committed suicide.
Eventually rules of dress code were relaxed, and after Reza Shah's abdication in 1941 the compulsory element in the policy of unveiling was abandoned, though the policy remained intact throughout the Pahlavi era. According to Mir-Hosseini, 'between 1941 and 1979 wearing hejab [hijab] was no longer an offence, but it was a real hindrance to climbing the social ladder, a badge of backwardness and a marker of class. A headscarf, let alone the chador, prejudiced the chances of advancement in work and society not only of working women but also of men, who were increasingly expected to appear with their wives at social functions. Fashionable hotels and restaurants sometimes even refused to admit women with chador, schools and universities actively discouraged the chador, although the headscarf was tolerated. It was common to see girls from traditional families, who had to leave home with the chador, arriving at school without it and then putting it on again on the way home'.
Beginning in 1980, a year after the revolution, the new government of Iran began to enforce wearing of the headscarf. The code was enforced most strictly in the years immediately following the revolution. With the cooling of revolutionary enthusiasm and increasing popular disenchantment with the new government, the rules of hijab have been largely eroded, in many ways only being a technicality among some women, who wear headscarves so far back on their heads it barely covers it, and often combined with a significant amount of makeup.
The traditional wear
Traditionally a light coloured or printed chador was worn with a headscarf (rousari), a blouse (pirahan), and a long skirt (damaan); or else a blouse & skirt or dress over pants (shalvar), and these styles continue to be worn by many rural Iranian women, in particular by older women. On the other hand, in Iran the chador does not require the wearing of a veil. Inside the home, particularly for urban women, both the chador and the veil have been discarded and there women and teenagers wore cooler and lighter garments; while in modern times, rural women continue to wear a light-weight printed chador inside the home over their clothing during their daily activities. The chador is worn by some Iranian women regardless of whether they are Sunni or Shia, but is considered traditional to Persian Iranians with Iranians of other backgrounds wearing the chador or other traditional forms of attire. For example Arab Iranian women in Western and Southern Iran retain their Overhead Abaya which is similar to the overhead Abaya worn in Iraq, Kuwait and Bahrain.
Before the 1978–79 Islamic Revolution, black chadors were reserved for funerals and periods of mourning. Light, printed fabrics were the norm for everyday wear. Currently, the majority of women who wear the chador reserve the usage of light colored chadors for around the house or for prayers. The only women who still go outside in urban areas in a light colored chador are elderly women of rural backgrounds.
During the reign of the Shah of Iran, such traditional clothing was largely discarded by the wealthier urban upper-class women in favor of modernity for western clothing, although women in small towns and villages continued to wear the chador.
Iranian women are not required by law to wear chadors. Many women do so for several reasons: religious piety, cultural tradition and respectability. The overcoat is known by a French word, manteau. Some women wearing manteaux would also wear them for religious reasons.
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- Briant, Pierre, From Cyrus to Alexander, Eisenbrauns, 2002 (English translation and update of 1996 French version)
- Bruhn, Wolfgang, and Tilke, Max, Kostümwerk, Verlag Ernst Wassmuth, 1955, as translated into English as A Pictorial History of Costume and republished in 1973 by Hastings House
- El-Guindi, Fadwa, Veil: Modesty, Privacy, and Resistance, Berg, 1999
- Mir-Hosseini, Ziba (1996) "Stretching The Limits: A Feminist Reading of the Shari'a in Post-Khomeini Iran," in Mai Yamani (ed.), Feminism and Islam: Legal and Literary Perspectives, pp. 285–319. New York: New York University Press