ČĀDOR, a loose female garment covering the body, sometimes also the face (Figure 1). The etymology of the word is unknown; connection with Indian chattra “parasol” is uncertain (cf. ČATR).
At least as early as Achaemenid times Persian queens were hidden from the people. Plutarch, discussing the reign of Artaxerxes (r. 404-359), writes that Queen Stateira was beloved by the common folk because the curtains of her carriage were always up, and thus the women of the people were permitted to see and greet her (“Artaxerxes,” 5; cf. Xenophon, Cyropaedia 6.4.11). The fact that women of royalty were carried in curtained carriages gave rise to a motif in Persian narrative literature, the most celebrated example of which we find in the epic of Vīs o Rāmīn, with material dating from the Parthian era. There (p. 93), Vīs is not only sitting behind curtains (parda) but also wearing a veil (neqāb) on her face (cf. Baḵtīār-nāma, ed. Ṣafā, pp. 5-6).
In the Pahlavi texts čādor is mentioned in at least two cases: in the Rivāyat ī Hēmīd i Ašawahištān, a 4th/10th-century Zoroastrian legal text (ed. Safa-Isfehani, p. 33.9), čādor is mentioned, together with the sarband and wāšmag, as a female head dress worn by Zoroastrian women; in the Mādayān ī Yōišt ī Friyān, a Pahlavi text (6th century?) based on (lost) Avestan texts (cf. Yt. 5.81-83), we read (3.56) that Hufriyā, the sister of Yōišt, a Turanian Zoroastrian, and the wife of Axt, an opponent of the new, Zoroastrian, faith, put on a veil (čādur) when she was requested to answer the question whether the pleasure of women is from dress and housewifery rather than being with their husbands.
Persian classical texts provide us with a wealth of passages in which we find women of different periods and different classes covered with either čādor or other forms of head dresses. For instance, when Šīrīn’s conversation with the new king and her stepson Šīrūya is over, she removes her čādor to show him that it was her beauty—unseen by others—that worked like magic upon the dead king, Ḵosrow Parvēz, and nothing else (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, IX, pp. 2940 v. 534).
Veiling was not limited to women but was practiced also by the Persian kings. Ebn Esḥāq (d. ca. 150/767) relates in his Sīra (I, p. 42) that Ḵosrow Anōšīravān (r. 531-79) came into the audience hall to receive Zuyazan of Yaman covered, and only when he was seated on the throne under the hanging crown was his veil removed. Ḵosrow Parvīz’s head was veiled when he was brought to the house where he was to be confined during his last days (Dīnavarī, ed. Guirgass, p. 112; Ṭabarī, I, p. 1046).
Baḵtīār-nāma, ed. Ḏ. Ṣafā, Tehran, 1347 Š./1968.
Moḥammad b. Esḥāq, Sīrat Rasūl Allāh, ed. F. Wüstenfeld, Das Leben Muhammeds nach Muhammed b. Ishaq bearbeitet von ʿAbd-al-Malik b. Hisham, 2 vols., Göttingen, 1858-60.
Faḵr-al-Dīn Asʿad Gorgānī, Vīs o Rāmīn, ed. M. A. Todua et al., Tehran, 1349 Š./1970.
Mādayān ī Yōišt ī Friyān, ed. E. W. West, in M. Haug and E. W. West, The Book of Arda Viraf. Pahlavi Text Prepared by Destur Hoshangii Jamaspji Asa . . ., Bombay and London, 1872 (repr. Amsterdam, 1971), appendix I: The Tale of Gôsht-i Fryânô. N. Safa-Isfehani, ed. and tr., Rivāyat-i Hēmīt-i Ašawahistān [sic]. A Study in Zoroastrian Law, Harvard, 1980.
There does not seem to be any evidence of veils, either covering the body or just the mouth or head from the Achaemenian period. Instead covering the mouth with the fingers, apparently as a gesture of deference to avoid offending the monarch with the smell of one’s breath, is seen for example in a relief from Persepolis where a Median official, separated from Darius by two beehive-shaped incense-burners on chest-high stands, holds the tips of the fingers of his right hand over his lips (Hinz, pl. 19 opposite p. 64).
In Iranian painting of the Parthian and Sasanian periods, however, especially from Sīstān and Sogdia, servants are shown wearing the mouth-veil, Pahlavi padān or padām (Av. paiti.dāna-, borrowed in Armenian as pʿandam; see Russell, pp. 482, 486), which Zoroastrian priests still employ ritually to prevent the breath from polluting the sacred fire (see Kawami, p. 48).
First-century women wearing veils completely covering their heads and faces are seen in a marble relief from Palmyra (Ghirshman, 1962, pl. 96); in 2nd-century Palmyrene sculpture veils covering the head but leaving the face exposed are common (ibid.; pls. 93-95). Women in Sasanian art, other than royal figures, appear most often in cheerful settings as musicians or dancers. In the latter case they often twirl long scarves or veils of a diaphanous material (see, e.g., Harper, pp. 77-78, and cf. clothing), but their heads are rarely covered. Silk was also sometimes used for the ritual mouth veils (Persian Rivayats, p. 296), but Dhabhar points out that this usage should properly be condemned as the silk worm was traditionally regarded as an Ahrimanic creature (ibid., n. 1).
Parsi women today do not cover their faces, but the sari is traditionally draped over the head, especially on solemn occasions. An imported Persian woolen cloth of the Achaemenian period found at Pazyryk in Siberia depicts women before an incense burner on a stand with veils draped over their crowned heads and unveiled serving-women standing behind them (Rudenko, pp. 296-97 and pl. 139). To this day, Parsi women carry an incense burner about the house at dusk, and this scene may represent an ancient form of the same domestic observance, since women have never taken a formal role in Zoroastrian public rituals.
Zoroastrian village women of the Yazd area wear a čādor wrapped around their necks and heads (Boyce, Stronghold, p. 12, and pls. VIa-b), but all the face and some hair is allowed to show, a tradition maintained in the face of Muslim opposition.
R. Ghirshman, Persian Art, 249 B.C.-651 A.D., New York, 1962.
P. Harper, The Royal Hunter, New York, 1978.
W. Hinz, Altiranischen Funde und Forschungen, Berlin, 1969.
T. Kawami, “Kuh-e Khwaja, Iran, and Its Wall Paintings. The Records of Ernst Herzfeld,” Metropolitan Museum Journal 22, 1987, pp. 13-52.
S. I. Rudenko, Frozen Tombs of Siberia, Berkeley, Calif., 1970.
J. R. Russell, Zoroastrianism in Armenia, Cambridge, Mass., 1987.
(James R. Russell)
In the Islamic period čādor, or čādar (lw. in Ar. šāder), designates the loose, enveloping, sleeveless outer garment worn by women in Iran in compliance with Islamic regulations on dress (for dialect variations see Doerfer, III, pp. 17-18), called in Arabic melḥaf or melḥafa. The veiling of women was common in pre-Islamic Iran (see above), and it may be that some of the rigors imposed on them in the early Islamic period—as in 4th/10th century Daylam, where women were allowed to go out only at night, wearing black clothes (Spuler, p. 382)—represented a continuation of pre-Islamic custom.
Islamic requirements that have led to the wearing of the čādor derive primarily from Koran 24:31 and 33:59. The first of these two verses stipulates that believing women should not display their ornaments (zīnatahonna) to persons other than their husbands, those standing within the forbidden degrees of marriage, and certain other categories, “except what appears thereof” (ellā mā ẓahara menhā). Sunni and Shiʿite commentators uniformly list three interpretations for this exception: women’s outer garments; adornments of the face and the hands—kohl, henna, and rings; and the face and the hands themselves. The first interpretation is dismissed as illogical, and the second, supported in Shiʿite feqh by numerous sayings of the imams (quoted in Moṭahharī, pp. 132-36), has effectively the same force as the third, in that display of the ornaments of the face and the hands necessarily involves display of the face and the hands themselves. A minority holds that these, too, must be covered in public but considerations of social utility and necessity (such as the identifiability of a woman participating in legal transactions) are generally held to negate this view (Moṭahharī, pp. 163ff.). Koran 24:31 also calls on women to draw their headcoverings (ḵomor, sing. ḵemār) over their bosoms (joyūb).
Koran 33:59 contains the injunction that women, when venturing outside the home, should draw their outer garments (jalābīb, sing, jelbāb) around them. The jelbāb appears to have been an ample outer garment, covering the head and the torso; it is sometimes defined as synonymous with melḥafa, and may therefore be regarded as the ancestor of the present-day čādor (Dozy, pp. 122-24).
Basing themselves on Hadith, all schools of feqh stipulate that free women who have attained the age of puberty cover their entire bodies while in prayer with the exception of the hands and the face; as a measure of caution, the part of the hands immediately adjoining the wrists and the edge of the face should also be covered (see, for example, Ḵomeynī, Taḥrīr al-wasīla I, pp. 142-43). Prepubescent girls and slaves may pray with their heads, hair, and necks uncovered, and there is even a tradition from Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq forbidding slavewomen to cover their heads while in prayer (Wasāʾel al-Šīʿa II/1, p. 299). According to a comment of Imam ʿAlī al-Reżā on Koran 24:61, old women (mosennāt)—no age is specified—are not obliged to cover their heads when outside the family circle, but this exception does not apply to prayer (Moṭahharī, p. 158).
As only one of a number of garments assuring conformity with Islamic criteria, the čādor has not always had the same form. Literary evidence suggests it may originally have been a face veil or a garment covering the whole body including the face (see the verses from Ferdowsī and Asadī quoted in Dehḵodā, s.v. čādor). It appears, too, that the čādor may once have been composed of two parts, an upper and a lower, and that it was commonly made of wool (Maẓāherī, p. 94).
Definite information is available about the čādor in the Qajar period. It was then that the čādor, probably adapted from the covering worn in prayer, as a single, all-enveloping garment for street wear, became uniform garb for Iranian women. One reason for this development was that other items of traditional female dress—notably the arḵāleq (a tunic worn as an outer garment) and the čāqčūr (long, wide trousers; q.v.)—were gradually abandoned under the influence of European fashions popularized by the court. Fashionable ladies would cut their čādor to be tapered slightly at the waist, but more generally the line of the čādor fell straight to the ground, revealing nothing of the body’s contours. The čādor would sometimes be held together at the waist with a clasp or a tape, a feature that later became lost (Najmī, p. 263). The 13th/19th-century čādor was commonly made out of either satin or wool, dyed indigo-blue (Polak, I, p. 161).
This form of čādor remained standard outdoor wear for women until prohibited by Reżā Shah on 17 Dey 1315 S./7 January 1936. Government officials whose wives were known to be wearing the čādor were dismissed, and women who refused to bare their heads were denied entrance to public places (Wilber, p. 174) and often harassed by the police. This measure led to many women cloistering themselves at home for years and to expressions of concern by the religious scholars over what they saw as an attack on the nation’s morality (see, for example, Ḵomeynī, Kašf al-asrār, pp. 223-24). After the removal of Reżā Shah in 1320 Š./1941, large numbers of traditionally-minded women resumed wearing the čādor.
Women of means from the traditional classes have tended to use two separate čādors: one for outdoor wear, usually dark in color and often made from crêpe de Chine, and another for prayer, lighter in color and kept folded inside a prayer mat or cloth (jānamāz). The čādor reserved for prayer sometimes has tabs that enable it to be fastened beneath the chin. Poorer women have generally had only one čādor, dark in color and fashioned out of heavy material.
With the growth of Islamic activism in the 1340s Š./1960s and 1350s Š./1970s, the čādor and the Islamic criteria of dress that underlay it were increasingly extolled as a safeguard both for the dignity and modesty of woman and for the cultural authenticity of society as a whole. As part of the spreading rejection of Western cultural norms, numerous women from non-traditional backgrounds took to wearing the čādor, and massive contingents of čādor-clad women participated in all the major demonstrations of the Islamic Revolution of 1357 Š./1978-79.
After the victory of the revolution, the covering of the head was gradually made compulsory for all women. A proclamation in the first week of March 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini that women employees in government ministries ought to observe Islamic criteria of dress marked the first stage of this process. Protest demonstrations by middle- and upper-class women on March 11 and 12 were met with counterdemonstrations by women favoring the čādor as well as attacks by government supporters. Later, shopkeepers were called on to refuse service to women not covering their head, and finally, in the spring and summer of 1982, a vigorous campaign to enforce the covering of the head was launched in each locality by the Revolutionary Committees. Roving patrols with discretionary punitive powers were set up to ensure compliance.
It is to be noted, however, that new forms of dress and head-covering seem gradually to be displacing the čādor, an inconvenient garment to wear and inefficient in its primary purpose, given its tendency to open unless clasped shut with the hands or clamped with the teeth. Ample headscarves combined with long, loose coats are now very frequently to be seen, as is the meqnaʿa, a garment that, falling loosely to the shoulders, encloses the head and the neck while leaving the face open. The čādor is, however, still used universally for prayer.
See also HEJĀB
Ḥorr ʿĀmelī, Wasāʾel al-Šīʿa, ed. ʿA.-R. Rabbānī Šīrāzī, Tehran, 1384/1964, II/1, pp. 293-99; XIV, pp. 168-69.
J. Chelhod, “Ḥidjāb,” in EI2. R. P. A. Dozy, Dictionnaire détailé des noms des vêtements chez les arabes, Amsterdam, 1845. Doerfer, III, pp. 16-22.
Ayatollah Rūḥ-Allāh Ḵomeynī, Kašf al-asrār, n.p., n.d. Idem, Taḥrīr al-wasīla, 2nd ed., Najaf, 1390/1970.
Idem, Resāla-ye aḥkām, ed. Ayatollah Reżwānī, Tehran, 1359 Š./1980, p. 89.
ʿA. Maẓāherī, Zendagī-e mosalmānān dar qorūn-e wosṭā, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969, pp. 94-95.
M. Moṭahharī, Masʾala-ye ḥejāb, Tehran, 1347 Š./1968.
Nahżat-e Zanān-e Mosalmān, Ḥejāb wa enqelāb, Tehran, 1359 Š./1980.
N. Najmī, Ṭehrān-e ʿahd-e nāṣerī, Tehran, 1364 Š./1985, pp. 462-64.
J. E. Polak, Persien. Das Land und seine Bewohner, Leipzig, 1865.
Spuler, Iran. D. L. Wilber, Riza Shah Pahlavi, Hicksville, N.Y., 1975.
(Bijan Gheiby, James R. Russell, Hamid Algar)
Originally Published: December 15, 1990
Last Updated: December 15, 1990
This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 6, pp. 609-611