Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ahmadinejad on Fashion

Alireza Doostdar, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology and Middle Eastern studies at Harvard, says at Juan Cole's Informed Comment:
'Thank you for debunking the lies about Iran requiring religious minorities to be “color-coded.” I just wanted to make a small comment about the actual national dress law being debated in parliament, which is supposed to regulate fashion. True, the law is in large part motivated by the “un-Islamic” slipping of headscarves and tightening of manteaus on the streets, but there is also a large element of cultural nationalism at work here, which might be comparable to Gandhi’s national dress plans. The law calls for slapping tariffs on imports of clothing from abroad to give indigenous producers competitive advantage, and banning imports of “second-hand clothes” from neighboring countries. It also calls for supporting Iranian designers and producers who come up with innovative “modern” forms of dress based on Islamic and Iranian materials and motifs. They want to encourage designers to go out and study ethnic dress styles for example to come up with more “authentic” modern styles for urban people (by which they mean, I believe, primarily women).

All this could be critiqued on many levels, but it is important I think to place it on a nationalistic plane rather than merely on one of religious zealotry. I see many parallels between this move and the U.S. Senate’s decision to make English the official language of the U.S. They’re both based on strong ideas of some sort of “national” culture--which they believe is being diluted by outside influences (in the US case, Mexican immigrants; in the Iranian, Western fashions of dress).

The other thing I wanted to point out was that Ahmadinejad himself, often to the chagrin of people in his own party and other right-wing groups, has been an outspoken critic of moves to regulate hijab, including the recent police moves to station policewomen in Tehran to instruct women with “bad” hijab to fix their scarves. Both before and after his election, he has said repeatedly that he thinks it is misguided to point at women whenever the issue of “corruption” comes up, and additionally that hijab is no where nearly as important an issue in this country as economic corruption and social injustice (I have both video and text references if you’re interested). I am very critical of Ahmadinejad on many issues, but his stance on hijab and regulating dress is not one of them.' ("Doostdar on Iranian Dress Code," 21 May 2006)
Excellent. Our man in Iran has the right idea for fashion as well: import substitution. And he's winning the right friends -- or at least fellow travelers -- even in the Iranian diaspora communities in the West, which is a difficult but essential task.

A note on fashion in Iran:

I actually like the 70s look that Ahmadinejad has not let go: an open-collar white shirt, no tie, a grey or brown suit or a tan wind-breaker, and kaffieh. That becomes him. I'd call that style "Islamic modern," essentially a style imported from the West remade and given a new revolutionary meaning in the Iranian context.

("Islamic modern" is generally a term that can be applied to the whole existence of the nation of Iran.)

I also like the look adopted by many sophisticated urban Iranian women. The way they wear their scarves and sunglasses makes them look as if they just stepped out of old films from the golden years of Hollywood.

I'd suggest to the President of Iran that he look into the hats worn by women in the 20s. Many of them keep hair out face, and very chic, very adaptable to the "Islamic modern" style.

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