French women out and about in their spectacular hats on Saint Catherine’s Day, circa 1909. (Photo: PRI’s The World)
During a traditional celebration in France known as “la Sainte Catherine,” or Saint Catherine’s Day, every unmarried woman 25 or older would be celebrated, or publicly humiliated — depending on how she felt about it.
The women would have to wear one-of-a-kind hats symbolizing their unmarried status. The hats would draw attention to the eligible (and considered long-in-the-tooth at 25) bachelorettes.
The tradition has faded and is now mostly referenced with irony in France.
A more recent advancement for single French women: starting this year, they will no longer have to identify themselves as “Mademoiselle” (or unmarried woman) on official documents. After years of pressure from feminist groups, the office of the prime minister has ordered that the word “Mademoiselle” be phased out in all bureaucratic matters, including obtaining a credit card, applying for a job, a driver’s license, a lease, or even ordering anything online.