Police tell topless women on French beach to cover up

After reports of police officers telling topless women on a French beach to cover up, we look at the law about what you can and cannot wear in public in France.

Police tell topless women on French beach to cover up
All photos: AFP

For a brief period on Tuesday, the hashtag #seinsnus – bare breasts – was trending on Twitter in France, with hundreds of people leaving their comments on this French summer tradition.

The chat was in response to an incident in the coastal resort of Sainte-Marie-la-Mer in south west France, near Perpignan, where two gendarmes had apparently approached several women who were sunbathing topless on the beach and asked them to cover up.

The mairie confirmed to local media that the incident had happened, saying the gendarmes acted on a request from a family who were also on the beach.

But would the women have been within their legal rights to refuse to cover up?

This is what French law says

Topless women

If you are on a beach, there is nothing in national law to prevent women going topless or wearing the 'monokini' – bikini bottoms only.

However some municipalities have brought in their own local decrees banning the monokini or thong. These should be sign-posted, and flouting the regulation can earn you a €38 fine.

Among the places where going topless is banned are the Paris plages – the urban beaches that pop up in the capital every summer.

For a variety of reasons – from skin cancer to fears of being filmed on mobile phones – French women are increasingly less likely to go topless.

Away from the beach going topless in public is generally not allowed unless you are in a designated area – such as a nudist colony or Paris' short-lived nudist restaurant – or a designated event.

Femen activists frequently demonstrate topless as an act of disobedience. Photo: AFP

Topless men

Men are allowed to be topless on any beach because apparently their nipples are less shocking than female ones, but once you get away from the seaside there are some restrictions.

Again there is no national law covering this – the law that banned men from appearing topless in public was repealed in 1994 – but some local authorities have brought in restrictions for towns that order men to keep their tops on. 

For example those who decide to go shirtless in the town of Trouville-sur-Mer on the Normandy coastface fines of up to €17 while at La Grande Motte, a popular seaside resort in the southern French region of Occitanie this penalty jumps to €60.

Private businesses are also within their rights to refuse entry to bare-torsoed men.

Fully nude

If baring your top half only is not enough, there are plenty of places in France where nuturism is practised. However if you're going to do this you need to be sure that you are in a designated area as you cannot strip off on all beaches.

READ ALSO Why foreigners flock to France to let it all hang out


There are designated nudist resorts and even whole villages such as the famous Cap d'Agde on the Riviera, as well as plenty of beaches where being nude is accepted – these will usually be signposted.

Away from the beach it's a little more complicated. Although there is no specific law against being nude in public in France, there is a law against disturbing public order, which can be used for people who are naked in public and refuse to cover up when asked.

“The first rule for any naturist is to respect other people,” Jacques Freeman of the Association for the Promotion of Naturism in Liberty (APNEL) previously told The Local. “And it's really important not to be confrontational about your choice to be nude, for example if your neighbours don't like you sunbathing naked in the garden.”

For more on how and when to practice naturism in France – click here.

Wearing too many clothes

As well as rules on what you can take off, there are rules about what you can put on, although again these mostly apply to women (that might be the patriarchy). The full-body swimsuit known as the burkini is banned at most municipal swimming pools.

Whether it's allowed on beaches has been the subject of several years of controversy and high-profile legal battles after some local authorities attempted to ban it on the beach, although in the end the local bans were overturned by the courts.


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What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer


But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.