Crop tops or 'republican' dress? France debates schoolwear

FILE - In this March 24, 2013 file photo, anti gay marriage activists dressed as Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic since the 1789 revolution, demonstrate in Paris. French women enjoy a universal reputation for their instinctive knack for spot-on chic attire. Ministers, already working overtime to tamp down the coronavirus spread and ramp up the economy, have gotten side-tracked in a debate about whether crop tops or other skimpy clothing on girls in classrooms is acceptable or a grave affront to the French Republic. (AP Photo/Michel Euler; File)
FILE - In this March 24, 2013 file photo, anti gay marriage activists dressed as Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic since the 1789 revolution, demonstrate in Paris. French women enjoy a universal reputation for their instinctive knack for spot-on chic attire. Ministers, already working overtime to tamp down the coronavirus spread and ramp up the economy, have gotten side-tracked in a debate about whether crop tops or other skimpy clothing on girls in classrooms is acceptable or a grave affront to the French Republic. (AP Photo/Michel Euler; File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

PARIS – French women enjoy a reputation for their instinctive knack for spot-on chic attire. But now they may well be confused.

Ministers, already working overtime to tamp down the coronavirus spread and ramp up the economy, have gotten side-tracked in a debate about whether crop tops or other skimpy clothing on adolescent girls in classrooms is a grave affront to the French Republic.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has said that girls should go to school dressed in “a republican manner.” That apparently means prim and modest, but no one is quite sure.

Meanwhile, fueling the feeling that women in France just can’t win, some have come under fire recently for covering up too much — by wearing a Muslim headscarf.

Blanquer was responding to an initiative started on social media, dubbed the Monday, Sept. 14 Movement, encouraging students to come to school in their best “provocative” or “indecent” clothes. The idea was to claim freedom from what is seen as an implicit dress code in public schools, which have no written rules about attire.

In a land where portraits and statues of the bare-breasted symbol of France, Marianne, are omnipresent, Blanquer's remark drew mockery on social media. Some posts portrayed women of the French Revolution in their traditional “Phrygian” bonnets, and dresses with deep decolletés exposing cleavage.

The word “republicain," referring to the French Republic, has in recent years been increasingly thrown about by government officials to describe the values of the democratic system on which France has been built for more than 200 years. But many, even among his government colleagues, think Blanquer went too far.

“In France, everyone is free to dress as they like,” the minister in charge of equality between women and men, Elisabeth Moreno, said Tuesday in the daily Parisien. “Women took centuries to be able to free themselves of dress codes. This freedom (that has been won) has no price.”