The Chador

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A chador is an outer garment worn by women in some parts of the Middle East, particularly Iran and Iraq. It is a semi-circle, floor-length covering that hangs from the top of the head, flowing over the clothing underneath in order to hide the shape or curve of a woman's body. In Farsi, the word chador literally means "tent."

Unlike the abaya (common in some other Middle Eastern countries), the chador does not usually have sleeves and does not close in the front. Rather it stays open, or the woman herself holds it closed by hand, under her arm, or even with her teeth. The chador is often black and is sometimes worn with a scarf underneath which covers the hair. Underneath the chador, women have usually worn long skirts and blouses, or long dresses.

Early Versions

The earliest versions of the chador were not black, but rather lightweight, light-colored, and printed. Many women still wear this style around the home for prayers, family gatherings, and neighborhood trips. The black chadors traditionally did not have embellishments such as buttons or embroidery, but some later versions have incorporated these creative elements.

The popularity of the chador has varied over the years. Since it is largely unique to Iran, some consider it to be a traditional, national dress. It dates back to at least the 7th century C.E. and is most common among Shi'a Muslims. During the rule of the Shah in the early 20th century, the chador and all head coverings were banned. Through the next decades, it was not outlawed but discouraged among the educated elite. With the revolution in 1979, the full covering was reinstated, and many women were pressured to wear a black chador in particular. These rules were relaxed over time, allowing for different colors and styles, but a chador is still required in certain schools and places of employment.

Modern Iran

In Iran today, it is required for women to be covered with an outer garment and head covering, but the chador itself is not mandatory. However, it is still strongly encouraged by clergy, and often women will wear it for religious reasons or as a matter of national pride. Others may feel pressured by family or community members to wear it in order to appear "respectable." For younger women and in urban areas, the chador is increasingly frowned upon, in favor of an outer garment that is more like a 3/4-length coat with pants, called a "manteau."

Also Known As

"Chador" is a Persian word; in some countries, a similar garment is known as an abaya or burka. See the glossary of Islamic clothing for terms relating to other items of Islamic clothing in various countries.

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Huda. "The Chador." Learn Religions, Jan. 26, 2021, Huda. (2021, January 26). The Chador. Retrieved from Huda. "The Chador." Learn Religions. (accessed June 8, 2023).