French MPs argue over what is appropriate parliamentary dress code

Conservative parties want ties to be standard while the far-left looks to forbid ‘expensive suits’

French MPs have clashed over dress code rules in the Assemblée Nationale with right-wing parties supporting a call for obligatory ties
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French MPs have clashed over dress code rules in the Assemblée Nationale with right-wing parties supporting a call for obligatory ties.

The left has retaliated with a demand for expensive suits to be banned.

Women MPs from La France Insoumise (LFI), a far-left member of the left-wing coalition Nupes coalition, were the latest to contribute to the unfolding drama when they all arrived at the Assemblée wearing a tie on July 26.

This move was designed to condemn a draft bill from Eric Ciotti (Les Républicains), proposing that ties be made compulsory for MPs at the Assemblée Nationale.

The bill has been met with support by the far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) in solidarity with comments made by the president of Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur region and former Les Républicains member Renaud Muselier,.

Mr Muselier ignited the controversy when he denounced the “scruffy” and “dirty” appearance of several left-wing MPs during an interview with BFMTV, saying this “schoolyard” behaviour went against MPs’ moral obligation to represent the nation.

MPs are required to dress in a “neutral” way, in “business attire”, the Assemblée nationale states.

The Connexion spoke with President Macron’s tie-supplier and a political sciences lecturer about the controversy and the use of clothing as a political tool.

‘A political and social marker’

“The controversy encompasses a difference in how representation is perceived by MPs,” said Frédérique Matonti, a professor at Panthéon-Sorbonne and writer of an article centred around clothes in politics.

Some MPs believe that they have to fit with the style of dress favoured by their voters, while others think they need to distinguish themselves from their constituents by dressing smartly to act as respectable representatives, Ms Matonti said.

Mr Ciotti’s bill fits with the clothing style of his voters, who are often professionals from the banking and law sectors where wearing a suit is the norm.

“French people associate the tie with a sense of seriousness,” said Alexandre Chapellier, founder of the Cinabre clothing brand and the tie supplier of President Emmanuel Macron.

Mr Chapellier called the debate “childish”.

Likewise, a counter argument from La France Insoumise (LFI) MP Louis Boyard calling for “expensive suits” to be banned at the Assemblée Nationale fits the party’s aim to dress in a way that iis voters, who are predominantly blue-collar workers and lower-income families, can relate to.

Mr Ciotti’s bill could also be seen as a tactic designed to discredit the views of Nupes MPs by suggesting they are not cut from the same cloth as other, more right-wing groups.

“The bill is meant as a political and social marker,” said Ms Matonti, adding that LFI’s response was “witty” and looked to reinforce the argument of ties being too often associated with men and the upper classes.

LFI MP Clémentine Autain claimed that Mr Ciotti’s bill reflected an “ingrained sexism that does not even understand that it casts out women.”

Ms Matonti recalled that women were forbidden from wearing trousers - traditionally deemed a masculine outfits - at the Assemblée nationale until very recently.

A regular controversy

Many MPs have been caught in controversies over perceived sexist remarks over France’s long political history.

Dress code debates often resurface when there is a significant reshuffle of Assemblée nationale members, said Ms Matonti, especially when new MPs are women or from a less privileged background.

Then-Secretary of State Michèle Aliot-Marie was refused entry to the Assemblée nationale for wearing a trouser suit in 1974. However, MP Cécile Duflot got whistles and sexist remarks for wearing a floral skirt in 2012.

Several MPs have used their clothing to reflect support for their voters including MP Jean Lassalle who wore a yellow vest (gilet jaune) and Communist MP Patrice Carvalho who came wearing his blue-collar work uniform.

The symbolism surrounding ties has also changed in recent years, Mr Chapellier stated, saying they are now bought as a “guilty pleasure” rather than a “piece of clothing everybody must have”.

But not wearing one works to MPs’ detriment, he added, saying that even left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon almost always wears a tie at the Assemblée nationale.

However, Mr Chapellier opposes enforcing it as an obligatory part of the dress code.

“There are already too many Fashion Weeks in Paris. No need to have another one at the Assemblée nationale,” he said.

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