The Chador primer 


(picture from Flickr)

This is an article of traditional Iranian clothing is a point of much contention both inside or Iran and outside of Iran.

I can both understand the contention yet I also think it’s overrated!
As someone who wears Chador when IN Iran I wanted to comment on this first, (because dang, I get sick and tired of constantly reiterating what I am about to write below!)

What is a Chador? 

In a nutshell (yeah right!)…They are the traditional “outter” garment of Persian women in Iran. Iran is a multi-ethnic country comprised of ethnic Persians (majority), Turks (Azeri and Turkoman), Arabs (Bandari ‘Arabs), nomadic groups of Turkish and Persian ethnicity and other small groups like Afghans, Armenians, Balochi’s, etc. Each has their own traditional garments, and some groups still wear them others do not!

The Chador is normally used by ethnic Persian women, although it is not exclusive to them and they are also used by other non-Persian Iranian women inside of Iran such as Turks or Bandari Arabs (they also use the Gulf style Abayahs called “Chador-e ‘Arabi” or in Arabic “Abayah ra’as“), Many of the nomadic or Balochi women will put on a chador when visiting a city. But, generally it is considered a Persian garment.Basically a Iranian chador is a very large semi-circular piece of fabric. Contrary to a extremely popular yet incorrect belief a chador does not have hand openings or any sort of closures. It is *not* a overhead abayah! It is not an Afghani Burqa, it is also not a face veil or a large duppatta shawl. When a chador is worn it goes from head to toe and the wearer holds it shut in some manner. Like most other types of garments that consist of large swaths of fabric, there is a method of wearing it and a variety of ways to hold it.

Who wears a chador?
Contrary to popular belief in the West, it’s not just women who are considered  “strict”  or “conservative” in their faith who wear chador. The chador is a traditional garment and has always been worn by Persian women (at least for several hundred years or more under various incarnations) As an example, during the Qajari dynasty and previous dynasties, rural women and urban women both wore chador but they wore different styles of chador-rural women wore chadors made of a huge rectangle of homespun fabric whereas urban women wore chadors which were semi-circular of silk, urban women also wore a face cover called a “ruband” in Farsi. Rural women did not for obvious practical reasons. In the early to mid-1900’s before the Revolution urban women abandoned the Chador while rural women continued to wear it! (this is a fact that is frequently overlooked by those who say the Chador suddenly came into existance around 1980!!!).

(picture from Flickr)

Rural women wore it differently than women wear it today, for them it was always a part of their clothing, they always had their chador on 24/7 and this is still usually the case today! They were worn and are worn like any essential item of clothing, around the house, outside and around them while sleeping. They were not black or fancy but made of simple colored and printed cotton materials. The only time a rural woman wore a black chador was for a funeral! These black chadors used then were always very heavy and made of expensive silk material. Most women owned only 1 “mourning” chador. This is why even to this day, older rural women in central Iran really loath the color black, they still say it’s a color for funerals! I remember once I was around the house and had on a black maghneh and some older women from the village popped by to visit and have tea and they chided me for wearing a black scarf, saying it would bring us bad luck and they compelled me to go and change it! I’m serious. Hence when I’m in the familial village I try to not wear a black scarf.

In modern Iran, chadors also worn by urban women with no rural background. But their wearing tends to have a slightly different connontation, particularly in Tehran. They are worn for their connontations of religiousity and conservativism. Anytime I am in Tehran I can usually tell what a womens personal political slant or religious leanings are based on how she wears her chador. In “provincial” cities like Esfahan where the chador is much more traditional due to the large amount of villages around the city this is not the case as a women who wears a chador might be religious, or she might not be. It really varies and depends on the person.

And an interesting side note- traditional Persian Iranians tend to consider the chador extremely feminine and so many girls in chador-wearing families grow up liking the chador because it shows that they are beautiful and feminine and things like that. I one asked my niece in law whether she liked wearing the chador and she said, ofcourse…she would never stop (even if she married into a family where the women didnt usually wear chador) because it was a “symbol” of her femininity. Many little girls thrill at the chance to have a play chador and many have fun playing with a chador around them, throwing it off when the play gets hot or intense. This is normal, it’s not considered weird or strange. Children also grow up having a special affinity for their moms chador, because outside they cling to the fabric as they walk down a street, at home they play with it or swish around their moms legs under the chador, a chador is also mighty handy for tidying up dirty little faces, snotty noses and wiping hands clean. My husband to this day will sometimes attempt to tidy himself up using one of my chadors! My son tries too but I try to disourage it!


And just for fun…a picture of some women wearing house or prayer chadors at a shrine who obviously do not wear the chador on a daily basis…because no one holds their chador like that!


2 thoughts on “The Chador primer 

  1. Salam alaikum!

    This was a great post Umm Ibrahim!
    Very informative : ) I’ve been to Iran several times and though I do not wear the chador outside the home, it’s great in quickly covering yourself head to toe when you need to. I also use it for praying!
    But I always wondered how women who wear it outside the home manage with limited use of their hands! I’ve seen many who hold their chadors across their faces with one hand, giving themselves even less options!
    I then came across the melli-chador post and I think that’s a great idea, I’m surprised they hadn’t come up with something like that much earlier!

    Loved your posts! Will be back for more inshAllah : )

    Khoda negahdar : )


  2. As-Salaamu-Alaikum Sister,
    Your blog is very interesting and informative. I didn’t know what a chaor was before reading this. I was cracking upi remembering the non-stylin’ days of my muhajabah 1990’s. Great blog!
    Fi Iman Ilah,

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