For those who thought that the typical French woman was a liberated one, think again...
As of the 31st of January of this year, the women of Paris have, once again, the right to wear the trousers… literally.
It is only now that a public health law passed in the white heat of the French Revolution was finally repealed, making it fully legal for Parisiennes to wear trousers.
The original order for Parisian women to desist from putting on clothing that ill befitted them was given on the 26th of Brumaire, Year VIII (That’s the 17th of November 1799, for those of you unfamiliar with the French Revolutionary Calendar) by the Prefect of Police in Paris.
“Revolutionaries,” reads the order, “the Amazons of 1789 attempted the wearing of the culotte as a symbol of equality, but barely none followed their example. Théroigne and Méricourt were stripped and lashed. Olympe de Gouge (an important feminist at the time) ended up being guillotined in 1793 for her ideas and her clothing. Faced with these counter-revolutionary acts which are not merely of symbolic quality, the Prefect of Paris, Dubois, decrees in 1800 to effect measures to put women back on the correct path (16th Brumaire, Year IX).”
The prefect justifies his decision as a reaction to the fact that “many women dress up as men” and orders that…
2. Any woman desirous of dressing as a man must present herself to the Prefecture of Police in order obtain permission thereof.
3. Such authorisation may only be given upon production of a certificate from a health officer… ”
The strange law somehow survived the heady years of the Reign of Terror. Even as late as 1892 et 1909, two notices were issued by the Prefecture of Police, allowing ladies to enclothe their legs only under specific conditions: “if a woman is holding in her hand either the handlebar of a bicycle or the reigns of a horse.”
The demand for the repeal of the “trousers” law was submitted by a UMP deputy from the Côte-d’Or department Mr Alain Houpert. Six months later, the relevant Ministry set down the repeal in black and white, ending two centuries of countless millions of Parisian women wearing clothing that left them open to risk of imprisonment:
“This order is incompatible with the principles of equality between women and men which are inscribed in the Constitution and in the European treaties signed by France… From this incompatibility is derived the repeal implicit in the order of the 7th of November which is therefore void of any judicial effect and which constitutes no more than archival material, conserved as such by the Prefecture of Police of Paris.”
So there you have it: For any fans of Les Misérables out there, this is surely the real story of the sans-culottes of Paris.