I had carefully researched the safety and logistics of my trip. The U.S. State Department travel warning re Iran describes specific areas of the country as dangerous (I would not be in those areas); warns missionaries that their activities are illegal and may be prosecuted (does not apply to me); and warns U.S. citizens of Iranian origin about returning to their native land (does not apply to me). Then, there were numerous blogs, Flickr sites, and other records from travelers from the U.S. who had visited Iran and found a warm welcome. All the worries of my family and friends were clearly unjustified, I thought.
Clothing was the toughest. In Iran, women are legally required to "observe Islamic dress code," including covering their hair and wearing loose clothing that obscures the shape of their bodies. Failure to comply can result in arrest and/or a fine, although this is enforced much more leniently now than in the years right after the revolution.
I had looked at countless photos of women in Iran, trying to guess how to be most comfortable and least ridiculous within the legal constraints on women's clothing.
Many of the photos I saw on Flickr showed stylish, elegant women with scarves barely perched on the backs of their heads (click on any of the pix below to see more from the Iranian photographers).
My hair has never cooperated with anything I've asked it to do. Never. So, I knew could never pull off anything like that glamorous look.
I also looked at instructions about how to pin a scarf on so that it won't fall off; this looked very difficult, and hot as well.
In the process of all this research, I read a lot of fascinating material about wearing hijab; for example, check out this article by a convert to Islam who exhorts and encourages her sisters.
Anyway, I finally bought a bunch of cotton al-amira hijabs online from "Hijabgirl.com." These are essentially a tube that is pulled over the head; I eventually took to calling them "my t-shirt sleeve hijabs." (See photo at right, which of course is much, much prettier than I ever looked in those things!) I hoped these would be easy to use and also cooler than the various polyester concoctions.
In the final days, almost as an afterthought, I bought two long summer dresses (linen and cotton) with long-sleeved jackets (for once, my short stature was a blessingnormally I'm annoyed that "mid-calf" length dresses reach the floor!) I ended up wearing these two dresses about 2/3 of the time I was there.
Toss in a bunch of kleenex packets (people in Iran use water instead of toilet paper) and some anti-bacterial wipes (hardly needed, it turned out - I have never been anywhere where the soap dispensers in public restrooms were so consistently functional and full of soap!), and I was packed.
As I picked up my suitcase to head for the airport, the handle ripped off, leaving a good-sized hole. I ended up re-packing in the car on the way!