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Makers of mayor sashes getting ready ahead of French local elections

Mayor sashes are codified, gold tassles for mayors, silver for assistant mayors and councillors.
Mayor sashes are codified, gold tassles for mayors, silver for assistant mayors and councillors. Sarah Elzas/RFI

The spread of the coronavirus in France appears to be eclipsing upcoming local elections, but makers of the sashes worn by mayors and public officials are still gearing up for business. Every six years the makers of the tricolour sashes see their workload explode, and this year even more so, with some expecting a higher turnover than usual.

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Stepping through the glass-panelled wooden door of Maison Baqueville on the courtyard of the Palais Royale in central Paris is like stepping back in time. The mirrored walls are lined with shelves and drawers full of different coloured ribbons and fasteners, like an old haberdashery.

The glass and wood counter displays medals and ribbons; a stack of flags leans in a corner.

Ribbons in the window of the Bacqueville shop in central Paris.
Ribbons in the window of the Bacqueville shop in central Paris. Sarah Elzas/RFI

People come in with ceremonial medals to get them attached (or reattached) to lapel pins or pocket clips and paired with the right coloured ribbon.

Store manager Sylvie Keller knows what colours go with what awards, as everything is codified, including the mayor sashes, striped blue, white and red like the French flag.

This story is part of the Spotlight on France podcast:
This story is part of the Spotlight on France podcast. Click to listen

Keller has been running the business since 1988, so she no longer needs to refer to the Code général des collectivités territoriales, the code of practice for local governments, to tell her how to make the sashes. The code states that mayors wear sashes with gold tassles, assistant mayors and conceillors have silver tassles.

The code also explains how to wear the sashes: As a belt, or across the body diagonally, from right shoulder down to the left side. For mayors, the blue stripe is on top, to differentiate them from senators or MPs, who wear theirs with the red stripe on the top.

Mayors, assistant mayors and city councillors wear these sashes for official functions. It is not mandatory, but it is very much part of the French tradition.

Sylvie Keller, manager of Maison Bacqueville, unrolls a mayor sash, which is 1.9 metres long.
Sylvie Keller, manager of Maison Bacqueville, unrolls a mayor sash, which is 1.9 metres long. Sarah Elzas/RFI

“Mayors at wear them for marriages at city hall, also when there are ceremonies. Sometimes they wear them out in the streets, in marches, for example,” explains Keller, who warns there are consequences for non-officials who wear the sash.

“You need a paper that proves you are a mayor or assistant mayor. I warn people who come in here to be careful: You can buy a sash and keep it at home. But you can’t wear it out.”

If you are caught, you face a 15,000 euro fine.

At least 535,000 people in France are authorised to wear the sashes, including the 35,086 mayors and the nearly 500,000 local council members.

Mayors and officials wear sashes during official functions, like mariages, or funerals.
Mayors and officials wear sashes during official functions, like mariages, or funerals. Gerard Julien/AFP

This means local elections are the busiest times for sash makers. Only a handful still make them in France, and by hand. Baqueville weaves the ribbons and attaches the tassels in a workshop in Argenteuil, northwest of Paris.

“We have been preparing since last September. But you never know what will happen. We have always had enough sashes, but often you need to make more in a hurry,” says Keller, who expects a particularly high demand this year, with a high turnover after the two rounds of voting on 15 and 22 March.

We are expecting a lot of changes in city halls and in regional councils.

Sylvie Keller

In the 2014 elections, nearly half of mayors were newly-elected. And about a third are not running again this year.

“There will be a dramatic change," says Keller. “A lot of mayors come through here and I’ve talked to them, and asked if they are running again, and a lot say no, I’ve done my time. I’ll leave my spot for the younger ones. And I want to enjoy life, too!”


Listen to an audio report on the subject in the Spotlight on France podcast.

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