What the Iranian Morality Police taught me about fashion

I was five years old as I held my mother‘s hand as we walked down the streets of Teheran, on our way to Niavaran Park. One element of our daily walks were the routine checks of ‘the angry veiled women in black’, who operated with vans parked on crowded street corners. My mother was often ordered (grabbed by the arm) in to these vans, in which case she would squeeze my hand and tell me to be on my best behavior. Inside, I remember how my mother would remove her lipstick and ‘correct’ her head scarf- tucking her hair in, under aggressive badgering from the morality police. There were usually several women in the van, all subjected to aggressive humiliation- ordered to cover up their ‘indecent dress’, fined for every single polished nail.

Even as a toddler I was painfully aware of the fear and tension present in the van. My mother was very stylish and had a hard time adjusting to the Islamic laws bestowed upon her. It was therefore no surprise that we would soon land in one of these vans again. My mother was staring at the ground as Mrs. Morality confiscated her makeup and toiletries- makeup was ‘American’, an invention of Satan, much like their opinion on bright colours. I was seated behind the interrogator. Upset, I did what every toddler would do; I followed my wild impulses and threw a fit. I reached out to the woman and pinched her as hard as I could. What happened next, for some reason, I don’t remember. Perhaps for the best.

My mother’s trauma from living under the Islamic Republic of Iran and its restrictions, taught me what fashion really stands for. I learnt early on that fashion is linked to freedom: A concept that dictatorial governments and institutions don’t appreciate and are afraid of. Where there is oppression, there is always a fashion police present- forcing its restrictions and views of beauty upon people. Morality, is a dictator’s weapon of choice against beauty, creativity and color.

The west is not excluded from this trend, just because the morality police isn’t parked outside, doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. We have our own version of the morality police that is getting more pervasive everyday. Beauty, freedom of expression and freedom of artistic expression are heavily under attack, driven by the media and an increasing influence of god’s misinterpreted will. There’s an Anti-Fashion, a thought-police, offended- and armed against beauty, dictating how we should live our lives, what is right and wrong- how we should dress and behave.

I have come to see fashion as symbol of freedom, a fundamental form of silent communication. The only way to fight any morality police is by claiming your independence and celebrating your individuality to the fullest. Demand beauty, in a world that is increasingly moving towards grey uniformity.