No-pants rule

Paris and the pol­i­tics of pants.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIFESTYLE - By ANA MARIA ECHEVERRIA

WOMEN, wear pants in Paris at your risk and peril! You are break­ing the law, ac­cord­ing to a 200-yearold po­lice rul­ing that has never been struck from the books.

“In 1800, a de­cree by the po­lice pre­fec­ture banned women from wear­ing trousers un­less they had spe­cific au­tho­ri­sa­tion,” says the his­to­rian Chris­tine Bard, author of a new book on women’s “con­quest” of the right to wear pants.

“The rule was never re­pealed – it still stands,” said the author, whose new­ly­pub­lished Po­lit­i­cal His­tory Of Trousers re­traces the his­tory of the gar­ment from the French Revo­lu­tion to the mod­ern-day.

How gen­er­a­tions of women over­came sex­ist ta­boos and con­ven­tions to co-opt trousers “was a long process, a strug­gle that re­flected – and con­trib­uted to – a shift in re­la­tions be­tween the sexes,” says Bard.

“Trousers were not only a sym­bol of male power, but of the sep­a­ra­tion of the sexes. A woman who wore trousers was ac­cused of cross-dress­ing. She was seen as a threat to the nat­u­ral or­der of things, to the so­cial, moral and po­lit­i­cal or­der.”

Free­dom to move, to act, to com­pete with men – the sim­ple gar­ment was so loaded with val­ues that it was not un­til the 1970s that so­ci­ety was ready to let women fully adopt it as their own.

Pants be­came “an in­di­ca­tor of the progress of women’s fight for equal­ity,” she says.

Bard pays trib­ute to pi­o­neers like the French 19th-cen­tury writer Ge­orge Sand, who dressed like a man with trousers, jacket and tie, for their part in the strug­gle for equal cloth­ing rights.

Ac­tresses like Mar­lene Di­et­rich, who sported pants in Hollywood in 1933, con­trib­uted to “eroti­cis­ing the gar­ment” as a femme fatale’s tool.

Women’s work in World War II-era fac­to­ries – where the prac­ti­cal gar­ment was the norm – was key in spread­ing ac­cep­tance of fe­male trousers.

By the war’s end, the gar­ment was seen as an at­tribute of the “free­dom camp”.

First seen on the cat­walks in the 1960s, their use “spread mas­sively in the 1970s, thanks to the strug­gle for women’s rights, to sportswear from the United States and es­sen­tially to blue jeans,” says Bard.

“And also thanks to the in­flu­ence of Yves Saint Lau­rent, who dreamt of cre­at­ing for women the equiv­a­lent of a man’s wardrobe,” she says, defin­ing the genre with a women’s din­ner suit cre­ated in 1966.

But now the strug­gle is over, the right not to wear trousers is just as im­por­tant.

“What mat­ters is the free­dom to choose,” she says, hint­ing that the next fron­tier in the West might be the right for men to wear skirts. – AFP

Pant­ing: Peo­ple danc­ing dur­ing the an­nual Paris Technopa­rade last Satur­day. If the no-pants rule for women had been en­forced, these women would have been booked.

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