Last Thursday emancipation arrived in the wardrobes of Parisian women when a law in force since 1800 banning women in the French capital from wearing trousers (pants) was finally revoked.
The repeal of a law which had been in force since November 7, 1800 was made in the Official Journal of the French Senate, reports La Parisienne. Since January 31, women in Paris are now permitted to walk around wearing strides without fear of imprisonment. The repeal of the law dating back to the years following the French Revolution of 1789, was made by France’s Minister for Women’s Rights, Ms Vallaud-Belkacem.
In theory at least, until the end of last month, women who modestly covered their legs in Paris were breaking the law, although in practice the law against women’s trousers had not been enforced for some time.
Originally the law had been brought in by French revolutionaries as a security measure to stop women impersonating men. Revolutionaries were easily identified by their predilection for wearing trousers as opposed to the culottes — silk knee breeches — the bourgeoisie’s favoured attire. The revolutionary movement came to be known as the “sans-culottes” — without breeches. In an early echo of 20th century feminist movements, women in the revolutionary movement demanded the right to wear trousers like their menfolk but a law was passed prohibiting women from being so attired.
Exemption for women on horseback or cycling
The move to repeal Paris’s ancient women’s dress code law started with a written question from French parliamentarian, Alain Houpert, last July. Monsieur Houpert wrote to the Minister responsible for women’s rights,
Alain Houpert draws the attention of the Minister of Women's Rights...to the provisions still in force, of the Act of 17 November 1800 prohibiting women from wearing trousers. This law - the law of 26 Brumaire Year IX (Note: Calendars in France were changed after the French revolution) states that "Any woman who wants to dress as a man must come to police headquarters to get permission." The ban was partially lifted by two circulars of 1892 and 1909 allowing women wearing trousers "if the woman is steering a bicycle by the handlebars or holding the reins of a horse." If the law is no longer enforced today, its symbolic meaning may offend our modern sensibilities, so he asks her if she plans to repeal it.
In response the Minister of Women’s Rights said on January 31,
The Law of 7 November 1800 referred to in the question is ... entitled "Ordinance concerning women’s mode of dress." For the record, this order was intended primarily to limit women's access to certain functions or jobs and prevent them from impersonating men. This ordinance is inconsistent with the principles of equality between men and women which are enshrined in the Constitution and France's European commitments, including the Preamble to the Constitution of 1946, Article 1 of the Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights. The inconsistency amounts to an implied repeal of the Ordinance of 7 November, which is devoid of any legal effect and does not constitute a part of archives stored as such by the Prefecture of Police of Paris.
So there you have it, the women of Paris can now go about their business in the French capital in dungarees or drawers, in Bermudas or blue jeans, safe in the knowledge that they don't need permission from the gendarmes to do so. And what’s more, they can do so legally without sitting astride a bike or a horse.