Plastic surgery is a fashion statement in Iran much like wearing a designer dress or carrying a Birkin bag. While Barbie dolls are considered a Western influence and the Islamic government invested heavily in designing and marketing domestic replacements for Barbie and Ken known as Dara and Sara, many Iranian women have the Barbie complex. Middle class and “new money” alike, devote much time and effort to getting painful surgeries so they can imitate Barbie’s high cheekbones, upturned nose, and ample bust. Oblivious to Western blonde jokes, many finish off the Barbie appearance by going blonde -- a look that is more often a miss than a hit. Bleach blondes, platinum blondes, and plain tasteless blondes are a common sight.
Perms might have gone out of fashion in most parts of the world but they are still in high demand in Iran. Hairpieces are also popular among a portion of the women here. They are used for different purposes: in the front to create the long-bangs-covering-one-eye look or in the back to create a mound of hair under a headscarf, which serves to stop the veil from falling off and to convey that the woman in question has a desirable mane of irresistible tresses concealed from view. One government official declared on state television that the tall hairdo is a sign of the end times and the coming of the Messiah. It has been foretold, he explained, that when the return of the Hidden Imam draws near, women will be seen walking around with hairdos that resemble a camel’s hump.
The police have similarly declared jihad on knee-high boots on the basis that they accentuate a woman’s calves, an example of tabaroj (religious terminology for “lady bumps”), which endangers the health of the family. Iranian women have not been deterred from walking around in such ungodly footwear. One young lady, however, who was arrested for wearing boots and given a $1,200 fine, said she has no choice but to retire her footwear for good as the judge told her she would serve six months in jail term if she was arrested a second time on a boot charge.
Iranian women are also fans of tight-fitting attire. However, in a country where a simple hairstyle can bring about judgment day and boots hugging a woman’s calves are a forbidden means of seduction, one trend at their disposal is the anorexic model look. Without feminine curves, they can get away with wearing a figure-hugging manteau and put on a show strutting around in uncomfortable stilettos.
The growing number of anorexics and bulimics in Iran may also be due to the fact that clothes are not made to fit the bodies of Iranian women. Most businesses import their women’s clothing from China and Southeast Asia, where the typical female dimensions differs from those of the curvy Persians. Hence a size 36 (U.S. size 2) Iranian girl will not fit in what is imported from the Far East and sold as a size 36 in the country. Poor body image is the consequence, which often leads to women starving themselves in order to fit in the size 36 Chinese import.
What is considered fashionable in Iran and particularly what becomes the color of the year has almost nothing to do with the rest of the world. A member of the clothing guild tells Vitrine that when he sees there is more of a certain color in the goods he has imported he floods the market and peddles it the color of the year.
A radical Islamist country such as Pakistan has models and supermodels who are even seen walking the catwalk at Milan Fashion Week. The same extremist country has Islamabad fashion week and yet in a country like Iran designers are given no platform to publicly present their creations and very few have the courage to hold underground fashion
Despite much propaganda and hours of IRIB round tables about decadent Western fashion and cultural inroads, the Islamic Republic has been unsuccessful in offering a successful Islamic alternative for women's clothing.
The recently inaugurated Islamic fashion exhibition left much to be desired. The lines presented were nothing more than unimaginative knock-offs of traditional, ethnic Iranian outfits, which in the words of one young woman, were better suited for the museum of anthropology.