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Iranian Fashion Police

Reports last week that a proposed Iranian law would require religious minorities to wear identifying badges reminiscent of the yellow stars worn by Jews under the Nazi regime were apparently false.

The actual draft legislation, however, is not exactly a cause for celebration.  Conservative members of parliament, seeking to halt the influence of Western fashion on urban Iranian women, have turned to cultural protectionism.  According to an Associated Press translation:

"In order to preserve and strengthen Iranian-Islamic culture and identity, consolidate and promote national clothing designs and guide the manufacturing and marketing of clothes, on the basis of domestic forms and designs, as well as to encourage the public to refrain from choosing and spending on foreign designs not appropriate to the Iranian culture and identity," the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry will form a committee made up of representatives from various ministries, the state media and the parliament culture committee to follow through this law.

In other words, no more headscarves slipping back to reveal -- gasp! -- hair; no more ankle-baring trousers, let alone jeans; no more coats tailored to suggest that somewhere underneath all that fabric might be an actual human form. 

Promoting local culture is a good thing, as is encouraging local industry.  In light of the existing restrictive dress code for women, however, these paeans to traditional culture and to emerging designers seem disingenuous.  Iranian consumers aren't buying the story, either:

In the modern metropolis of Tehran, many women were also on the defensive.

"They sugar-coat it at first, but they could move on to make everyone wear a certain outfit," said Manijeh Afzali, a 47-year-old resident of the city spotted while out shopping for clothes.

Her 20-year-old daughter was equally cynical: "I'm not sure about the patterns they are going to put out. They will probably be tacky and like villagers' clothes," she said.

There are plenty of Western trends that, as an aesthetic matter, probably shouldn't be copied.  (Legwarmers outside of a dance studio, etc.?  Why exactly would anyone pursue the illusion of having calves wider than her thighs?)  On the other hand, there are some appealing Middle Eastern uses of color and pattern.

But in this case, Iran's proposed deployment of the fashion police sounds more like an effort to silence women's freedom of expression -- a right that should always be in style.