A 200-year-old law forbidding women to wear trousers in Paris has finally been revoked. On January 31, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s minister of women’s rights, made it officially impossible to arrest a woman for wearing trousers in the French capital.
The law required women to ask police for special permission to ‘dress as men’ in Paris, or risk being taken into custody. In 1892 and 1909 the rule was amended to allow women to wear trousers, ‘if the woman is holding a bicycle handlebar or the reins of a horse’.
The law was kept in place until now, despite repeated attempts to repeal it, in part because officials said the unenforced rule was not a priority, and part of French ‘legal archaeology’.
In July however, in a public request directed at Vallaud-Belkacem, Alain Houpert, a senator and member of the conservative UMP party, said the symbolic importance of the law “could injure our modern sensibilities,” and he asked the minister to repeal it.
Vallaud-Belkacem agreed, and in a published statement on January 31 wrote: “This ordinance is incompatible with the principles of equality between women and men, which are listed in the Constitution, and in France’s European commitments.”
The restriction focused on Paris because French revolutionaries in the capital said they wore trousers, as opposed to knee-breeches — the culottes of the bourgeoisie — in what was coined the sans-culottes movement.
Women rebels demanded the right to wear trousers as well, but were forbidden to do so.