Global Mode: Paris in Pants

You have probably heard by now that French women are finally legally allowed to wear pants. Anyone who has been to Paris (or seen Funny Face, pictures of sixties pinups, The Sartorialist, etc) can tell you that trousers on French women are an inspiring and common sight. However, the 214-year-old law was still on the books until a few days ago, theoretically requiring women to ask local police for permission to wear trousers.

New York Times Paris correspondent Elaine Sciolino told NPR that the law, which was amended in 1892 and 1909 to allow for women riding horses or bicycles to wear pants, was finally eliminated by the new Socialist government led by François Hollande.

Significantly, Sciolino notes that wearing pants can improve French women’s chances of avoiding sexual assault, as they are apparently susceptible to more unwanted advances than, say, we American females. It also takes gender equality one step further, if only symbolically, and hopefully will ease the minds of women’s rights groups that have been lobbying to change the law for decades.

Is this news? The tone of many news organizations has been a sort of smirking incredulity that it “took so long” and reassurances that female tourists no longer have to “fear arrest.” The idea of women’s pants as a marker of gender equality (although a flawed association) is apparently so widespread as to make a ban on them comical. But even in 1972 women were being turned away from certain establishments for wearing trousers.

Is the symbolic lifting of this ban meaningful to you? Would you feel differently if a woman had been arrested for wearing pants recently? How are European attitudes toward gendered dressing different from those in America?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, leave comments below!

2 Comments »

  1. BPM said,

    February 7th, 2013 at 7:48 am

    Actually, the law was apparently not valid anymore, because 1/ it was not applied for a long time (so became invalid by usage) 2/ More recent laws said differently, making the first one automatically obsolete. So eliminating it was a completely symbolic gesture.

    In addition, I’m not sure whether it’s a sign of more gender equality. Now feminists are organizing “Skirt days” to protest because, in certain districts, wearing a skirt, even knee-length, is often deemed “asking for it” and the woman wearing it is, at best, pestered all day long. So in the end, it’s still society that decides which clothes are acceptable for women (because obviously those foolish temptresses can not decide themselves), and judging them because of it.

  2. Arianna said,

    February 7th, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    Thanks for your comments BPM!

    I think the invalidity of the law was passed over by so many media because it certainly makes a “better” story. Do you think such symbolic gestures have any merit? Does the Hollande administration deserve any….I don’t know, credit? Admiration?

    It seems like the general reaction has been that this was frivolous and meaningless, are there any redeeming factors?

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