“Guided by a desire for appeasement, the police asked the people concerned if they would agree to cover their chest after they explained the reason for their approach,” the police said on Facebook.
Marie Hebrard, a woman who was present on the beach, told France 3 Occitanie that the officers — a man and a woman — had first asked a woman in her 60s to cover up before asking others to do the same. When Ms. Hebrard confronted the officers, she said they asked her to move on, and left the beach shortly after.
In France, where the bikini was invented nearly 75 years ago, being topless has been associated with women’s liberation since various movies in the 1960s and 1970s showed actresses like Brigitte Bardot or Miou-Miou bare-breasted outside. More recently in “An Easy Girl,” an acclaimed coming-of-age movie, the main character strolls the French Riviera topless, as the director’s camera glorifies her sexual freedom through various intimate encounters.
The bra (or lack of one) has also been associated with the women’s rights movement. But more women in France — particularly those under 25 — are ditching the undergarment for reasons of comfort, prompted by the recent coronavirus measures, the Ifop institute found in a recent poll. Nearly 20 percent of the women surveyed said they never wore bras, up from 4 percent before France imposed lockdown in March. More than half of those who said they continued to wear a bra in public said they did so out of fear of verbal or physical harassment.
While nothing in national law prevents women from going topless, municipalities can ban “monokini” — wearing only the bottom of a bikini — or thongs through local decrees. They are, for instance, banned on the urban beaches that pop up every summer along the Seine in Paris.
But there is no such ban in Ste.-Marie-la-Mer, the police in Pyrénées Orientales said, acknowledging on Facebook that the officers had showed “clumsiness” in asking the women to cover up.
Maddy Scheurer, a spokeswoman for the French gendarmerie, echoed that message.
“You will always see me in uniform,” she wrote on Twitter, along with a smiling emoji. “It was clumsiness by two gendarmes who had the best intentions.”