- By Sylvie SteinSylvie Stein is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
Is it that time of year for a haircut? If you’re in Iran, take a walk to your nearest barbershop, plop in a swively chair, and peruse through the catalogue of hairstyles on the counter. But make sure to survey the clean-shaven coifs and gel-infused buzzcuts in the catalogue carefully — you now must select one of them for yourself, at your government’s behest.
These sartorial sanctions are the latest crackdown on what the government percieves to be a more modern, Western aesthetic proliferating in Iran’s popular culture. State-imposed restrictions have been growing steadily more stringent to combat "bad hijab" — the improper veiling of men and women alike — and clothes and makeup that, the government claims, contradict Islamic principles. But the multicolored mohawks, rockstar-inspired ponytails, and unkempt mullets popping up around Tehran recently seem to have been the final straw: the Culture Ministry has now banned a number of "decadent Western cuts" and issued a catalogue of permissible hairdos from which male salon-goers must choose.
Take a look at the pictures of the epic style summit where the catalogue was created: barbers, clerics, and government officials came together, visualizing proportions of beard to hair on mannequin faces and taking painstaking care to engineer the proper haircuts. While shaggy bangs have fallen victim to the blacklist, styles resembling the 1950’s flattop — a widespread fashion faux pas from the era of Elvis — are deemed perfectly fine.
Though these constraints may seem superficial, be on the lookout for some serious backlash from the country’s constituents. In the thirty-one years since the Iranian Republic was established, the power struggle between young Iranians — fighting to maintain their freedom of expression — and the government — fighting to crush it — has only escalated. The suppressed one-year anniversary of Iran’s 2009 elections has already begun to amass a repository of unleashed defiance; not to mention some Iranians just won’t be happy flipping through their barber’s catalogue and asking, "Can I have the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?"