Pants or skirt? Millions of women contemplate the question each morning. In France, however, the choice shouldn't even be an issue--a woman who wears pants breaks French law.
On April 29, several radical leftist deputies filed a proposal at the National Assemblyto repeal the law banning French women from wearing pants.
The law dates from 26 Brumaire year VIII. For those of us who didn't follow the Republican calendar created after the French Revolution, that's November 17, 1799. The Paris police chief got word that "many women were dressing up as men" and felt sure that "none of them abandoned the clothes of their sex for health reasons."
Unbelievable as it seems today, women had to suffer from a health problem and request a police authorization to justify wearing pants.
For Mathilde Dubesset, women's historian at the University of Grenoble, the masculine nature of pants has always held strong. "From the Gauls and their noble shorts to the breeches of the artistocracy, men have always worn the pants. In the 19th century, with the hygiene and health trend, doctors created bermuda-type shorts and underwear for women. Before then,women wore nothing under their skirts."
A few pioneers dared stepping into a pair of pants. Even the avant-gard writer George Sand had to demand official permission trade in her skirt, as Dubesset explains, "She was a bold woman. She didn't just want to wear pants because they were more practical though. She actually tried to pass herself off as a man." That explains the pen name George replacing the writer's real name, Amandine.
Christine Bard, another specialist of women's history notes that "The women who first wore pants either defied the law or didn't know about it: factory workers and peasants, but also travelers, adventurers, writers, artists, fighters, and revolutionaries."
So what happened between Brumaire 26, VIII and the 20th century? Part 2 of There's a place in France... will soon let you know.