close button
Switch to Iranwire Light?
It looks like you’re having trouble loading the content on this page. Switch to Iranwire Light instead.
Society & Culture

Shameless Mannequins: Off With Their Heads!

February 25, 2014
Nafiseh Parastesh
5 min read
Shameless Mannequins: Off With Their Heads!
Shameless Mannequins: Off With Their Heads!
Shameless Mannequins: Off With Their Heads!

Mannequins are displayed in the window, just like in so many display windows around the world. But there is something different about this boutique at Tirazheh, a large shopping center in Tehran: many of the mannequins are headless.

“A couple of years ago, the police issued a circular to all dress shops that said that female mannequins must go on display with only half a head or no head all,” explains Farzad, the young sales assistant, who looks bored and leans against the doorway of the boutique. “We didn’t want any trouble, so we exchanged the female ones for these headless ones.” Male mannequins, however, have not met the same fate.

The first mannequin factory in Iran, Mannequin Yaran, was established in 1990, 11 years after the Islamic Revolution. Since then, the number of factories has grown and mannequins in various shapes and sizes are regularly manufactured in the country.

At Tirazheh, whenever a mannequin is used in a women’s fashion display, it is headless. Shoppers can spot a female mannequin from the clothes it wears, the fact that it has breasts and the shape of the body. It’s as if the missing heads and half-heads have their own story to tell.

In Iran, Islamic dress code applies not only to live people, but also to inanimate mannequins standing in for humans. So dress shops must be careful about what mannequins wear and how much curve they show.

Tools of Western Culture

When asked in January 2014 about his views on the use of mannequins to “attract customers”, prominent fundamentalist cleric Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi declared them to be against sharia law. “It is forbidden,” the sharia authority replied, “and the income from it is polluted as well”. This constituted the harshest statement from a religious authority in Iran regarding the use of mannequins.

Shirazi is also known for being a Holocaust denier and for his condemnation of the practice of keeping dogs as pets, stating that it is an undue imitation of the West that will produce “evil outcomes”.

The grand ayatollah is not alone in his opposition to display-window dummies. Some of the most powerful political and religious figures in Iran equate the display of mannequins with promoting “Western” or “alien” culture, “inappropriate clothing and nudity” and “sexual arousal”.

Of course, not everyone has followed police orders. In some dress shops in Tehran and other cities, one still can see mannequins complete with female faces, curves and long hair. But if a shop chooses to display unaltered mannequins, there are potential hassles involved. Once in a while, religious hardliner media raise their voices and demand that the police remove these mannequins from shop windows.

Even before the ayatollah’s verdict, police had repeatedly taken action against shops that displayed mannequins in their windows in an “inappropriate” way. The hardliner media have been vociferous in their complaints and have asked for more “decisive” action to be taken against the shop dummies.

In September 2009, the Tehran Intelligence and Security Police acted in what could be described as a “decisive” way, issuing a directive against dress shops that use “inappropriate and repulsive” mannequins to attract customers. “In addition to malicious consequences, this has resulted in the dissatisfaction of cultural authorities and citizens,” the literature stated.

This 10-point directive drew clear lines about what was unacceptable: mannequins with unveiled heads and “notable” curves are not allowed, regardless of whether the mannequin was in the shape of a head, a bust or a full body. Also impermissible were “mannequins wearing inappropriate dresses, outfits that go against Islamic culture and norms, garments that are arousing or have vulgar prints”; “mannequins wearing make-up” and “mannequins displaying hairstyles”. As in the boutique at Tehran’s Tirazheh shopping center, the directive also barred dress shops from displaying female mannequins with complete heads and threatened them with legal action based on already-existing laws and regulations.

Prior to this, 20 days earlier, a website associated with the Revolutionary Guards published a report entitled “Mannequins Are Becoming More Shameless Day by Day”. It called for police action against the practice.

“The gestures, the postures and the looks of some of these mannequins are so offending and ugly,” the report said, “that you can’t look at them on your own, let alone when your family is with you!”

Behavioral Abnormalities

The report went on to quote a social pathologist who, echoing some of the most powerful religious and political figures in the country, described the mannequins as being tools for promoting Western culture and representing a diminished respect for Islamic dress codes.

 “One of the results of the increased display of mannequins in shop windows has been premature puberty and the sexual arousal of boys and girls who see them,” said Dr Majid Abhari, who also mentioned that it adversely affects people who visit big cities from outlying areas, creating behavioral abnormalities among them.

For a few months after the directive and the website commentary, mannequin heads in many shop windows were covered with cloth or scarves. Security agents attacked some shops and cut off the breasts of mannequins that were considered to be arousing.

“Before the summer of 2009, they did not give us much trouble,” says Alireza, a middle-aged salesman at a dress shop in Tehran’s Ferdowsi Avenue, “but suddenly agents began issuing stern warnings about the shape of female mannequins and the dresses that they were displaying. Many of my colleagues had to replace their mannequins or send them back to the manufacturers to be fixed.”

The “fix” Alireza referred to involved reducing breast sizes or cutting breasts off completely. According to some sales staff in Tehran dress shops, however, enforcement is no longer as strict as it had been in 2009 and 2010. It is now possible to see well-dressed and curvy female mannequins that appear to gaze at passersby.

It seems that, because the police and parts of the media have not been able to achieve what religious hardliners wanted them to, it was necessary to appeal to a grand ayatollah. Will Shirazi’s verdict mean that shapely and well-dressed mannequins will disappear from shop windows? It has been a month since the ruling, yet a short tour of Tehran’s streets and biggest shopping centers suggests that, so far, he has not been taken very seriously among shopkeepers. Yet the boutiques of Tirazheh show that, for some, these messages do have impact.

visit the accountability section

In this section of Iran Wire, you can contact the officials and launch your campaign for various problems

accountability page


Speaking of Iran

In Vienna, U.S. and Iran Shave Down the Mistrust

February 24, 2014
Speaking of Iran
In Vienna, U.S. and Iran Shave Down the Mistrust