Audrey Hepburn famously bounced around a Montmarte café in razor-slim slacks for her 1957 film Funny Face. Ingénues Clémence Poésy and Caroline de Maigret have since been spotted in similarly hip Parisian districts in trousers. But according to one antiquated French law, all of this pants-wearing has been illegal – until now.
A 214-year-old law that banned women from wearing any form of menswear in Paris was finally revoked last Thursday—the result of decades’ worth of outcry from feminist lobby groups.
Though long unenforced, women have been legally forbidden from wearing pants in the French capital since 1799 – a law that came out of the French Revolution, when female renegades would wear long trousers in opposition of the wealth’s fashionable knee-length culottes—instigating a political movement named, ‘sans-culottes.’ Government-obtained permission was required for a woman to wear any form of menswear in public, with a translated excerpt of the law reading: “Any woman who wants to dress as a man must come to police headquarters to get permission.” And the haughty excitement over pants didn’t die so fast—to put things in geographical perspective, not so long after this Amelia Bloomer began to cause a stir stateside with her version of trousers, making waves with her signature style in rural New York.
In the century after the Revolution, France only has only amended its menswear law twice, to accommodate horseback riding and bicycles, the 19th century’s more fashionable forms of exercise. In this iteration, women could wear “pantalons” only if they were “holding the handlebars of a bicycle or the reigns of a horse,” reports French national news outlet France 24.
But last week, the law was finally declared “null and void,” with French officials calling the piece of legislature a “museum piece.” France’s minister for women’s rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, announced that the law was “incompatible with the principles of equality between men and women that are written into the constitution, as well as in France’s European engagements. It has absolutely no legal effect.”