"Things are starting to feel like the old days again," said a cautiously dressed woman in her early 30's doing some grocery shopping on Valiasr Street, Tehran's main thoroughfare. "I am very careful about what I wear these days. The police are arresting woman all over the city for what they think is immoral clothing."
"I don't like to wear the heavy clothing I have on now, especially as it's almost summer. I hope this doesn't last," she added.
Under the previous leadership of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, women started to enjoy some freedom about how they could dress. "Moral codes" loosened - allowing woman to show more hair under their headscarves and some flexibility in the style of the "montos" or gowns they wore.
Over time women began sporting outlandish hairstyles under their headscarves, putting on heavy make-up and wearing shorter and tighter montos.
An Iranian woman shows off a bit of her own personal style in Tehran. NBC News/ Ali Arouzi.
But when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005, there were warnings that strict Islamic codes would be reinforced. Nothing really came of the warnings and commentators predicted that Ahmadinejad's rhetoric was just hot air. Many believed it was too late to roll back social reforms – especially in Tehran.
But the mood on the streets has changed dramatically in recent days. Thousands of Iranian women have been cautioned about their dress and many more have been arrested in the capital in the fiercest crackdown on what's known as "bad hijab" since the mid-1990's.
Morality police at the mall
The morality police, who enforce dress codes, are stationed outside shopping malls and crowded streets, warning pedestrians and drivers if they are showing too much hair or wearing clothes that are too tight. If people argue with them, they are shown to a police van and taken to the police station. And shops showcasing what are deemed racy window displays also have been shuttered.
"The police came to my shop, took a look at the clothes we sell and warned me not sell anything that was tight or revealing," said the owner of an upscale boutique in the north of Tehran. "Imagine that? Telling people what they can and can't wear? This is going to hurt business, everyone will be dressed the same again."
Adding to concerns, enforcement of the dress codes has now been assigned to the Basij, a hard-line government-backed militia.
Iranian women don't let government restrictions on their dress curb their fun. NBC News/ Ali Arouzi.
Men targeted, too
The young and trendy men of Tehran - who have embraced a wild, heavily gelled, spiky hairstyle known as the "Rooster" – also have been targeted in the recent clampdown. Police have warned barber shops not to give men Western-style haircuts or pluck customers eyebrows.
"It's so difficult living like this," said Milad, a young man in his early 20's, as he walked out of a barber shop, sporting the "Rooster" hairstyle.
"I remember when my brother was a teenager and I was still a young boy, he came home one day wearing a t-shirt and his forearms had been painted black. My mother asked him what happened and he explained that the morality police had detained him because he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt. As punishment, the section of his arms that were exposed were painted," said Milad. "That was over 10 years ago and he still wears t-shirts and I will still wear my hair like this."
Some say the recent crackdown is simply a ruse by the government to deflect attention from more pressing issues – like the heightened cost of living in Iran, rising gas prices, and tensions with the international community over the nuclear issue.
If that is indeed the government's strategy, it risks widening the ever-increasing gulf between themselves and ordinary Iranians in the process.