After a long day at school, I sat back on the couch to watch the daily Aljazeera English news blurb about recent events this week when news literally dawned on me regarding the revocation of a 214 year old French law that banned women from wearing pants. This story was ironically embedded within stories of tragedies overseas and updates on tsunami warnings in Australia. Funny that such a highly disregarded, unenforced law–a law which many neglected as women dismantled the male-dominated working world–would be associated among reports of natural disasters and deaths, but that’s besides the point.
Finally, after 200 years of restricted clothing options, Parisian women can enjoy wearing pants! Imagine that! France’s Minister of Women’s Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem discussed the history of this news further and what led to its overturn.
The law, she explains, was “incompatible with French values and laws.” Imposed on November 17th, 1800, this law had initially banned women from wearing trousers and stated that women must obtain the permission of local police to “dress like a man.”
“Yes, police officer, I’m here so you can grant me permission to wear pants.” How ludicrous would that sound?
Turns out this legislation was ordered to repress and discourage women from seeking certain offices or occupations. It was soon modified accordingly in 1892 and 1909 to grant women the right to wear trousers if they were “holding a bicycle handlebar or the reins of a horse”.
“Alright, ladies, so you can’t wear trousers unless the police department has granted you permission, if you’re riding a bicycle, or directing a horse.”
What concerns me regarding this law is the idea that women must seek permission to wear certain clothing. So much of the issues regarding “gendered-clothing” is still “compatible” within our society. Women seeking advice on what to wear, being criticized for wearing too much, being blamed if, in the occasion of rape, she was “asking for it” because of the amount of clothes she was wearing. Guys wearing clothing that’s “too tight”, too feminine, and with colors that are too bright. And you might add, “Only real men wear Pink.” Funny how we can easily accept that phrase in defense of men wearing certain colors, but society at one point in history, could not seem to fathom the idea of women wearing pants, let alone, dare I say it, showing their ankles?? GASP!
And what we wear, in the vernacular of the 1800s, is designated for certain genders. Pants are designated for men, skirts for women, skinny jeans for women, blue for men, pink for women, etc, etc. And if anyone happens to cross the border between “male clothes” and “female clothes”, they are relegated as an outcast, a weirdo, a freak. So…about the idea that “clothes are a form of self-expression.” If you’re abiding by the invisible rules where “women wear this” and “men wear that” (bearing in mind that it’s not just what they wear, but the color they wear as well), are you really a unique individual? Just a thought…