What Not To Wear: A Short History Of Regulating Female Dress From Ancient Sparta To The Burkini

 “Let’s keep in mind that it is no more freeing to tell a woman what she can wear than to tell her what she can’t.”

Few can deny that the various burkini bans put in place by towns on the French Riviera this summer have become symbolic of thecountry’s struggle over “secular identity.” The bans have seemed particularly odd to Italian beachgoers and others around the world, who have pointed out that nuns are often seen on Italian beaches in their habit. Despite the French Conseil d’Etat’s suspension of the burkini ban, local mayors continue to say they will enforce the dress code. Cogolin Mayor Marc Etienne Lansade told CNN, ”if you don’t want to live the way we do, don’t come...If you are accepted in Rome — do like Romans do.”  As it turns out, there is an ancient history of telling women what they can and cannot wear as a means of controlling a community’s political message.


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