I'm not sure this is what Richard Engel had in mind when he advised reading up on Iran for 2012, but my non-Hormuz Iran reading so far has been "Ahmadinejad steps into Iran's dress-code debate" followed by a bit of a trip down the rabbit hole of Iranian urban fashion.
In a nutshell, hard-line Muslims in Iran want women to dress a certain way (and they have the power to arrest women they deem in violation of the legal standard), but some Iranian women, particularly young, urban women, don't appreciate being told how to dress and have their own interpretation of the legal standard. So the Iranian government sponsored a sort of fashion show contest to establish an accepted norm for women's fashion.
So maybe you read that and shake your head, but it sounds about right based on our general sense of what life is like in Iran, right?
But then there's this:
On any given day, women in the streets of Tehran can be seen wearing combinations of wide-open coats, heavy makeup and towering platinum blond hairdos held in place by large hair clips and minimally covered by brightly colored scarves. Technically, they are not violating the dress code, but they can still be arrested.
And also this:
To many of those attending the government exhibition, the middle road between the chador and some of the Lady Gaga-like creations that some women make of their obligatory coats and scarves seemed to offer a solution to their fashion dilemmas.
What? Towering platinum blond hairdos? Lady Gaga-like creations? How have I never seen a picture of an Iranian woman with a towering platinum blond Lady Gaga-like creation? And so... to the Google!
The closest I find is the "Miss Hybrid" photo exhibit by Iranian artist Shirin Aliabadi. My first thought in seeing the images was that the models were in some kind of costume, specifically for the exhibit, but as I read more, it turns out that's what some Iranian women look like, on purpose, right down to the fake nose-job tape on the bridge of the nose.
And from the Independent, covering the Miss Hybrid show in Tehran, describing a scene in the airport:
There was so much hair on show that the scarves not only constituted "bad hijab", in other words, contravene Islamic standards, but they defied gravity. They were there, you had to conclude, not out of any conviction in the ideals of the Islamic revolution, but purely for legal reasons. From under the scarves loomed big hair, dyed (or maybe bleached) blond, but so groomed and sprayed and backcombed and beehived that they could have been wearing wigs.
But I did run into another unexpected trend. See the guy holding the sign in the larger photo in this post?
Or at least, it was. The protests over the 2009 election are part of what convinced authorities that fashion crackdowns were necessary, including a no decadent-western-spikey men's haircuts crackdown.
As ever, if you know even the smallest thing about Iranian fashion and pop culture, you know more than I. Your insights in the comments are appreciated.