From the late 1800’s all the way to the first half of the 20th Century, a dreaded future for french draftees and ruffians was to “get sent to Biribi.”
The term Biribi encompassed penitentiaries in Algeria and Morocco. Often associated with the Bat’ d’Af’ (French military disciplinary battalions of North Africa), Biribi was the solution chosen by the French government to tame hard headed rebels, anarchists and other misfits.
Youngsters with a misdemeanor police record, individuals who had tried to dodge the draft (common practice was to stick a rusty fork in your thigh to invalidate yourself…), or just had an issue with authority, ended up doing time under the blazing sun in the ol’ African French Colonies. Fun activities included breaking piles of hot rocks, building never ending roads, enduring constant humiliation such as the infamous crapaudine, but mainly learning the ropes for a future life in the underworld. Biribi made the tough tougher and buried the weak.
Biribi and other French colonies penitentiaries (Bagne de Cayenne…) disappeared in the mid 1950’s, after numerous testimonies of survivors had shaken public opinion, and international pressure had forced the government to change its penal system. The year 1972 marked the official dissolution of the last Bat’ d’Af’ unit.
On a lighter note, Biribi will be the background for a small limited edition group of garments. We will be using NOS (New Old Stock) rolls of disparate vintage fabrics, mainly cotton/linen homespun style early french textiles and selvedge stripe ticking twills, NOS vintage buttons/trims and single needle machine construction. Early French bourgerons (military work dungarees) were often made of unbleached linen or linen/cotton blends, plain or HBT weave. The use of stripe fabrics for early penitentiary gear is believed to be a way to facilitate the spotting of escapees, before they could get their hands on more blending outfits…
The MF “Biribi Bourgerons” pictured above are a sample of our small production.
Available One Wash (preshrunk)
Made in USA
Assorted Sizes XS, S, M, L, XL
Retail $249.95: Shrinkage varies from one NOS fabric to the other. It is impossible for us to make a graded sizing pattern for each textile, so slight differences in fits are to be expected with each style. Some styles will not be available in all sizes. On the “fit picx” (this is JUST to get an idea), our Lady model is wearing an XSmall, John a Medium, CL a Small. The fits are left up to the wearer according to which silhouette works for them.