Chances are that if you are a woman and have visited Paris in your lifetime, you—and millions of other women like you—most certainly broke the law without even realizing it.
It has only taken 214 years, but recently France’s Minister of Women’s Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, repealed a 1799 Parisian decree that, until 2013, forbid women from wearing pants. According to the original decree, if a woman wanted to “dress like a man,” she had to seek special permission from the police, often having to cite a medical reason to warrant such atrociously un-ladylike exposure. The origin of the decree could be traced to the time of the French Revolution, when female rebels who sought to join the effort to overthrow the monarchy also wanted to wear the “uniform” of their rebel countrymen—trousers. The idea of banning women from wearing trousers may have originated with these early efforts to identify rebels and thwart the movement.
Despite the end of the Revolution a decade earlier, the 1799 decree not only stood as law, but lasted for over 200 more years. The original decree was amended about 100 years after its inception, once in 1893 and again in 1909, to make it legal for a woman to wear pantaloons (baggy trousers gathered at the ankles) so that she could ride a bicycle or a horse without putting herself in a compromising position. This was apparently considered as sufficiently keeping up with the times, as the law remained unchanged for over the past century (despite the decline in pantaloons sales to those under the age of 85).
Even when a 1946 article was added to the French Constitution memorializing the equal rights of men and women, the ‘no pants’ law remained on the books, even if not enforced. It was not until 2010 that a bill was introduced to the National Assembly in an attempt to remove this archaic law. However, the Paris Prefecture, the lawmaking body who originally enacted the decree, felt it wasn’t worth the legislative effort to remove it. Fortunately, Minister Vallaud-Belkacem, felt that the ‘no pants’ law was injurious to the principles of equality and repealed it.
It only took a couple of world wars and a number of moon landings to get there, but now pants of all kinds are permitted on Parisian men and women, alike. And, of course in France, there is still always have the option to remain pants-less! Ooh la la!
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