Louise Sallé, edited by Corentin Alloune / Photo credit: GODONG / BSIP / BSIP via AFP 07:45, June 09, 2023

In Rouen, the National Museum of Education inaugurates Saturday an original exhibition. Entitled "Dressing for school", it evokes the relationship to the school uniform, retracing the history of girls' and boys' clothing from the end of the 19th century to the present day in public schools.

And the first thing we learn from this exhibition at the National Museum of Education in Rouen, accessible from June 10, 2023 to March 31, 2024, is that the uniform has almost never existed in France. We can see it on the austere portrait of a teenager of the 1860s, explains Nicolas Coutant, co-curator of the exhibition: "Here, a very stiff student, but who amused us a lot, who wears this uniform inherited from Napoleon's imperial high schools, quite military. We have a uniform that is very limited, from the beginning of the 19th century to the 1920s. Since the 30s, the blouse has accompanied many generations of students, but is not in uniform."

An evolution of the uniform

The gown, on the other hand, has a primarily practical function, to protect stains on photographs taken in class. Different gowns cohabited. We see some students wearing the gown, others not wearing it. Internal regulations posted on the walls make it clear to the visitor that the garment has never been the subject of a strict code.

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"We have two injunctions which are essentially decency and especially cleanliness, and finally the question of hygiene. This is the great concern of the end of the 19th century. Questions related to secularism emerged at the very end of the 20th century," explains Nicolas Coutant.

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A vagueness that is still felt today on this secularism. "It is formulated in terms that sometimes, indeed, open the debate. It's a subtle balance in which it's not always easy to place yourself," adds the co-curator of the exhibition. Namely that only the veil is strictly prohibited.