Law of the Trouser

The Napoleonic police was kept busy managing the security of the state. In the capital they were tasked with the mundane duties of law enforcement such as curbing crime, issuing permits, running prisons, regulating markets and brothels, crowd control, monitoring suspicious persons. Then there was the excitement of the unusual: solving murders, foiling plots, monitoring suspicious persons, running agents and informers, chasing deserters.

But they were also involved in policing minds. The French Revolution, as with any enormous movement of social upheaval, had engendered a kind of moral panic in France in the early 1800s. Britain would develop Cant and Methodism to tackle similar perceived threats to the public good. France turned to regulations. Or, in the spirit of the times, by centralising regulations so that one body now took charge where before there had been chaos.

Such as the one issued on 7 November 1800 by Prefect of Police Dubois. On transvestites. It reads thus:

“The Prefect of Police

Informed that many women are becoming transvestites, and persuaded that few are quitting the clothes of their sex on the grounds of concern for health; and considering that females transvestites are therefore exposed to infinite inconveniences, and misunderstandings, even by police officers, if they are not issued with special permits citing their needs; and considering that any such permit should be regulated, and that, until now, different permits have been issued by different bodies; and, finally, considering that any woman found in the clothes of a man shall, after the issuance of this order, be deemed, if she has not followed the prescribed regulations, culpable of intending to commit an abuse through transvestism.

Therefore orders that


  1. That all permits issued hitherto, either by deputy prefects or the mayors of the departments of the Seine, as well as the mayors of the communes of Saint-Cloud, Sevres and Meudon, and those that were issued by the prefecture of police, shall be deemed to have been cancelled.
  2. Any woman, wishing to wear male apparel shall present herself at the prefecture of police in order to obtain authorisation.
  3. Such authorisation shall only be issued following presentation of a doctor’s certificate, duly notarised, along with an attestation, by a mayor or commissioner of police, bearing the requestor’s name and first names, profession and place of birth.
  4. Any woman found in male clothing who has not conformed to the instructions contained in the above articles shall be arrested and taken to the prefecture of police.
  5. The present ordinance shall be printed and posted in the authorised locations throughout the department of the Seine and in the communes of Saint-Cloud, Sevres and Meudon, as well as being sent to the 15th and 17th military divisions, to the general commanding the military in Paris, to captains of the gendarmerie in the departments of the Seine and Seine et Oise, to the mayors, to police commissioners and justices of the peace so that they, and those concerned in this matter, shall make sure that it is executed.

Prefect of Police Dubois.”

Unfortunately, the police archives only contain fragmentary information when it comes to requests and permits. The earliest request, dated 7 September 1806, is request number 167. It was so Catherine Marguerite Mayer could ride a horse.

In 1887 women keen on cycling attempted to have this restriction repealed but they met with defeat, although, in 1892 concessions were made for women riding horse and, in 1909, for those on bicycles. And during the carnival. An attempt to scrap such discriminatory legislation altogether was made in 2004 and 2011 but the police replied that cancelling archaic bylaws was not a priority. The Law of the Trouser was eventually dropped in early 2013.