At the first meeting of the new French Parliament on Tuesday, there was a sartorial scandal: Male members of Parliament representing Jean-Luc Mélenchon's far-left France Insoumise party turned up without ties.
It was no mistake. For the party's members, it was an important and politically symbolic move. “It is the people who are returning to the National Assembly,” MP Alexis Corbiere told BFMTV. “I campaigned without a tie and I did not have a tie on my posters. I sometimes wear them, but I do not want to be given a dress code.”
Mélenchon himself, clad in a black workers' jacket for the meeting, compared his party's lack of ties to the sans-culottes (literally “without breeches) of the late-18th century — the nickname for the radicalized lower classes who became a driving force of the French Revolution and wore long trousers rather than the short silk breeches worn by the upper classes. “There were sans-culottes, there will now be sans-cravates,” he told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday, according to Le Figaro.
While there are not clear rules specifying that MPs must wear neckwear in the National Assembly, male members traditionally have worn ties with only a few notable exceptions. France Insoumise's move quickly sparked criticism from other political groups and was quickly dubbed “cravategate” on social media.
Sébastien Chenu, a representative of the far-right National Front, called it a “silly provocation,” while a spokesperson for President Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche (REM) party called the move an “insult” to the French working class. On Twitter, many users posted pictures of Mélenchon wearing a tie while meeting with Venezuela's late leader Hugo Chávez and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The French far left is not the first political group to take a stand against wearing ties in recent years. Alexis Tsipras, the young leftist prime minister of Greece, refused to wear a tie during high-level international meetings that took place in the past few years, later explaining that he would not wear one until Greece's debt problem was solved. Former Uruguayan president José Mujica, another left-winger, has also spoken against wearing a ties, dubbing it an example of “hyperconsumerism” and warned of “wasting human strength on frivolities that have little to do with human happiness.”
In a number of countries, most notably Iran, ties are not customarily worn, in part due to their associations with Western culture. The modern necktie is thought to trace back to 17th-century France, when fashionable Parisians started copying the neckerchiefs worn by Croatian mercenaries in the country during the Thirty Years' War.
France Insoumise currently has 17 seats in the National Assembly, making it the smallest party. It is dwarfed by Macron's centrist REM, which took an enormous majority with 313 seats in elections earlier this month. However, Mélenchon proved a surprisingly popular candidate in France's presidential elections, with his outspoken brand of leftist politics proving popular with young voters in particular.
Mélenchon is now pledging to act as “resistance” against the reform-minded and pro-European Union Macron. As the leftist leader entered the National Assembly on Tuesday, he pointed to an E.U. flag and commented: “We have to put up with this?”
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