What is a Chador?

Mary McMahon

A chador is a loose robe which is worn like a cloak by some Muslimas. Many people associate the chador specifically with Iran, but it is also worn in other parts of the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia. Muslimas typically wear their chadors with the hijab, a headscarf which covers the hair, throat, and neck, to ensure that their appearance conforms with Islamic laws about modesty and comportment.

The chador is worn in many parts of the Middle East.
The chador is worn in many parts of the Middle East.

The roots of veiling and covering up appear to be ancient; Muslim society was hardly the first to cover its women. However, veiling certainly reached new heights during the flowering of Islamic culture in the Middle East, and the chador appears to be an invention of the Muslim world.

Women sometimes wear bright clothing under drab chadors.
Women sometimes wear bright clothing under drab chadors.

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A typical chador is cut in the shape of an open half-circle. To wear the garment, women pull it over their heads, clasping it shut in front, swathing their bodies in the fabric. When the chador is well-worn and is the right size, it covers everything but the hands, feet, and face, with the hijab acting as extra security to ensure that nothing indiscreet will be revealed.

Traditional chadors come in a wide range of colors, which may surprise people who are familiar with images of black-draped Muslim women in the streets of the Middle East. The trend of using black chadors emerged in 20th century Iran, when black was viewed as more modest and appropriate for women of good breeding. In rural areas, more colorful chadors can be seen, and even in areas where the black chador is most common, it is not uncommon to see a bright hijab peeping out from underneath.

Some very traditional women wear the chador with a ruband, a white apron which starts below the eyes and runs down the front of the body. This is not, however, required, and it is growing increasingly uncommon.

What is worn underneath the chador is a matter of personal taste. In revolutionary Iran, for example, many women chafed against the requirement of the chador, wearing daring outfits underneath, where no one could see them. Others like to wear modest clothing under their chadors as an expression of piety and as a matter of taste and personal comfort.

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