French students cry liberté over right to wear sexy clothes

Schools across France are facing revolts from students demanding the right to wear raunchy clothing banned by educators.

The protests, which some observers say signals a new sexualisation of French teenage life, began at Lycée Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire in Essonne, south of Paris, where teenagers protested by coming into school for two days running in skimpy clothes. At Lycée Condorcet d'Arcachon in Gironde, 200 students recently took to the town to protest against a new dress code, which stated that students could not wear low-slung trousers, short garments or piercings. "We're at school, we don't want to feel like we are in a prison," one student said.

The protest in Essonne was in retaliation to the rules imposed by a new headteacher, who banned holes in trousers and in garments above the knee.

Léa Dedieu, 17, persuaded 300 of the 2,100 students to come to school wearing revealing shorts or mini-skirts for the girls and Bermuda shorts for the boys. She said the protest was intended to make a philosophical point about freedom rather than to "draw attention to ourselves".

"To be dressed in an eccentric way, wearing shorts or very short skirts with low-cut T-shirts is rare at school," she said. Her actions led to a three-day suspension, justified by a concern that students "could come across paedophiles on the way to school".

Other schools have taken a more subtle approach. Pascal Charpentier, a headteacher from a school in Dijon, said: "With 600 girls in my school, I am not going to risk banning [anything]," he said, adding that if he regarded any clothing as inappropriate, he would speak to the student directly.

At Lycée Saint-Jean-Hulst in Versailles, girls who turn up in short garments are given plain overalls to wear to discourage them from trying it again. François-Xavier-Boca, the head of Lycée Saint-Joseph in Reims, said that if he sees a male student wearing low-slung trousers he simply gives them a pair of braces and says that "the teachers have had enough of seeing your boxers".

Michel Fize, a sociologist at the French centre of ethnology, said he was not surprised by the growth in the number of teenagers wanting to dress more and more provocatively. He placed the blame on television, and a society he views as "hyper-erotic". "The High Mass of today is the small screen," he said. "How can you say to a teenage girl that she is baring too much of her shoulder when those on television are doing exactly that?"

Meanwhile, students at Geoffroy- Saint-Hilaire are not stopping at protests against clothing regulations. When it was rumoured that the head would ban all contact between couples on the school grounds, they threatened to stage a "day of kissing".

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