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Information on French School Uniforms

Updated April 17, 2017

Unlike England, France has never instituted long-term regulations for school uniforms. Most recently, debates over such a possibility have been raised. Equally, what children cannot wear to school has been an issue of primary concern given the state's secular approach to public education.

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France largely did away with formal school uniforms after the end of World War II. Before this, smocks were often worn instead or regulated clothing. French authorities saw the smock as reducing visible class distinctions between students.

Many students took to wearing overalls at this point but their were no consistent expectations from schools, parents or the government.

Prominent Debates

The French either support the use of school uniforms or contend it for a variety of reasons. Ideas of public order and discipline have been espoused by both the right and left each raising concerns over "unruly youth."

Parents may like the idea of uniforms for monetary reasons as there is less need to buy fashionably expensive clothes for their children. There is also the issue of avoiding a sense of improper dress or what some have termed "the Lolita look."

Opponents of the uniforms cite the need for greater personal freedom of choice and the value of individualism as reasons for their opinion.

2004 Ban

Rather than prescribe a specific uniform, the 2004 ban instead prohibited noticeable or overt religious items from being worn by students.

The primary concern was the Islamic headscarf worn by some girls. This has been not only a site of contention in France, but throughout many other nations in Europe.

Banning religious identifiers from student dress is a strong example of French belief in Laicité or state secularism. This is a cultural ideal that has been applied to education in particular since the 1870s.

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About the Author

Geoffrey St. Marie began writing professionally in 2010, with his work focusing on topics in history, culture, politics and society. He received his Bachelor of Arts in European history from Central Connecticut State University and his Master of Arts in modern European history from Brown University.

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