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This articles is about cross-dressing in general. For specific information about cross-dressing for sexual reasons, see Transvestic fetishism. Compare also the List of transgender-related topics and Transvestism (disambiguation).

Cross-dressing is the act of wearing clothing commonly associated with another gender within a particular society. The usage of the term, the types of cross-dressing both in modern times and throughout history, an analysis of the behaviour, and historical examples are discussed in the article below.


Nearly every society throughout history has had a set of norms, views, guidelines, or laws, regarding the wearing of clothing and what is appropriate for each sex. Cross-dressing is a behavior which runs counter to those norms and therefore can be seen as a type of transgender behavior. It is not, however, necessarily transgender identity since a person who cross-dresses does not always identify with the other sex.

The term cross-dressing denotes an action or a behavior without attributing or proposing causes for that behavior. Some people automatically connect cross-dressing behavior to transgender identity or sexual, fetishist, and homosexual behavior, but the term cross-dressing itself does not imply any motives. (See "Equal clothing rights" below.) However, referring to a person as a cross-dresser suggests that their cross-dressing behavior is habitual and may be taken to mean that the person identifies as transgendered. The term cross-dresser should therefore be used with care to avoid causing misunderstanding or offense.

historically the term eonism was used, named after a Frenchman, D'Eon, who was noted for this behavior.[1]

Other meanings of the term[]

A new meaning for the term "cross-dressing" has appeared in the African-American community, where it is used to refer to wearing two different name brands of clothing (or sports team logos) simultaneously. For example, a Tommy Hilfiger hat and FUBU jacket might be referred to as "cross dressing." This use of the term is exclusively negative. While far removed from the original meaning, this usage is increasingly common and can lead to confusion among those used to more traditional meanings of the term.

The term "cross dressing" is also used in debate, as a rhetorical device to couch your argument in your opponent's terms, making you appear more cooperative and your argument more difficult to refute.[1]

Varieties of cross-dressing[]

There are many different kinds of cross-dressing, and many different reasons why an individual might engage in cross-dressing behavior. The following examples are by no means an exhaustive list.

Some people cross-dress as a matter of comfort or style. They have a preference towards clothing which is only marketed to or associated with the opposite sex. In this case, a person's cross-dressing may or may not be visible to other people.

Some people cross-dress in order to shock others or challenge social norms.

Both men and women may cross-dress in order to disguise their true identity. Historically, some women have cross-dressed in order to take up male-dominated or male-exclusive professions, such as military service. Conversely, some men have cross-dressed in order to escape from mandatory military service.

Single-sex theatrical troupes often have some performers cross-dress in order to play roles written for members of the opposite sex. Cross-dressing is often used for comic effect onstage and onscreen.

Drag is a special form of performance art based on cross-dressing. A drag queen is a male-bodied person who performs as an exaggeratedly feminine character, in an elaborate costume usually consisting of a gaudy dress and high-heeled shoes, heavy makeup, and a large wig. A drag queen may imitate famous female film or pop-music stars. (See also RuPaul)

A drag king is the counterpart of the drag queen — a female-bodied person who adopts an exaggerated masculine persona in performance or who imitates a male film or pop-music star. Some female-bodied people undergoing gender reassignment therapy also self-identify as drag kings, although this use of "drag king" is considered inaccurate by some.

Transgendered people who have undergone gender reassignment therapy are usually not regarded as cross-dressing.

A transvestic fetishist is a person (typically a heterosexual male) who cross-dresses as part of a sexual fetish.

The term underdressing is used by male cross-dressers to describe wearing female undergarments under their male clothes.

Some people who cross-dress may endeavor to project a complete impression of belonging to another gender, down to mannerisms, speech patterns, and emulation of sexual characteristics. This is referred to as "trying to pass". Others may choose to take a mixed approach, adopting some feminine traits and some masculine traits in their appearance. For instance, a man might wear both a dress and a beard. This is sometimes known as genderfuck. Finally, for some the motivation for cross-dressing is to undermine the idea that any article of clothing is "only for men" or "only for women." These people may broadly mix clothing from both genders, in a practice called freestyle.


The actual determination of cross-dressing is largely socially constructed. For example, in Western society, trousers have been adopted for wear by women, and is not regarded as cross-dressing. In cultures where men have traditionally worn skirt-like garments such as the kilt or sarong these are not seen as female clothing, and wearing them is not seen as cross-dressing for men. As societies are becoming more global in nature, both men and women are adopting styles of dress associated with other cultures.

It was once taboo in Western society for women to wear clothes traditionally associated with men. It is specifically cited as an "abomination" in the Bible in the book of Deuteronomy (22:5). This is no longer the case and Western women are often seen wearing trousers, ties, and men's hats. Nevertheless, many cultures around the world still prohibit women from wearing trousers or other traditionally male clothing.

In most parts of the world it remains socially frowned upon for men to wear clothes traditionally associated with women, although such clothes are accepted in certain traditional contexts (e.g. the Scottish kilt). Attempts are occasionally made, e.g. by fashion designers, to promote the acceptance of skirts as everyday wear for men (see also Contemporary kilts). To date, though, this has not caught the attention of the general public.


Female-bodied cross-dressers[]

The behaviour of women in general has historically often received less attention than that of men, and cross-dressing is no exception. However, there are some famous examples of cross-dressing female-bodied persons in history (see Famous historical examples of cross-dressing people below).

Cross-dressing among women in modern Western societies seems to be rare. Yet the question of how many people cross-dress is difficult to answer, as it depends on social norms that change over time. When only a few women in the West wore trousers, women in trousers were considered to be cross-dressing. As more women began to wear trousers, the style gained mainstream social acceptance, and was no longer considered cross-dressing. Trousers are now in fashion for both sexes. This broadening of clothing types considered "normal" for women has made cross-dressing behavior in women more difficult to identify. A woman can even wear men's shirts, trousers, and underwear without it being considered as crossdressing, as very similar clothing items are produced for women.

The classic psychoanalytic view[]

Classic psychoanalytic views of cross-dressing emphasized the role of taboo in the behavior. Only items that were proscribed to a gender would be appropriated, and therefore it is not the general association of an item with one sex or the other but the prohibitions against the item that give satisfaction to those with a fetish attachment to cross-dressing. According to this theory, as articles become acceptable for ordinary wear (e.g. a man's necktie on a woman, which passed from taboo to fashion in the 1970s) they will cease to be sought by cross-dressers.

The problem of attributing motives for cross-dressing[]

When speaking of historical figures, when cross-dressing is not clearly related to specific events (like an escape or disguise) it is usually impossible to state clearly what the motives for cross-dressing were. This information was rarely recorded or preserved. Documents on the subject are often either court records (where the cross-dressing person may have said whatever they thought would minimize their punishment) or accounts by other people who might not understand the motivations correctly. Furthermore, historic figures were often unable to identify themselves as homosexual, transgender, transsexual, or transvestite because these classifications simply had no names or social recognition in their era.

It can be equally difficult to be certain of the motives of modern day people who cross-dress. The only real proof of motive is that person's own statement. Yet even this is not always certain, as there are examples of people attributing their cross-dressing behaviour to one motive only to later realize that they may have had another reason. The classical example of this would be a transsexual person who initially attributed cross-dressing behaviour to transvestic fetishism (for transwomen) or the utilitarian practicality of male clothing (for transmen).

Some famous examples of cross-dressing[]

Thor and loki in drag

Thor and Loki in drag

In Greek mythology[]

  • Achilles dressed in women's clothing at the court of Lycomedes

In Norse myths and legends[]

  • Thor dressed as Freya in order to get Mjölnir back in Thrymskvida.
  • Odin dressed as a female healer as part of his efforts to seduce Rinda.
  • Hagbard in the Scandinavian legend of Hagbard and Signy (the Romeo and Juliet of the Vikings). After having slain Signy's brothers and suitors, Hagbard was no longer welcome in the hall of Signy's father Sigar. Hagbard then dressed up as one of his brother Haki's shieldmaidens in order to have access to the chambers of his beloved. When the handmaidens washed his legs, they asked him why they were so furry and why his hands were so callous. Because of this, he invented a clever verse to explain his strange appearance. Signy, however, who understood that it was Hagbard who had come to see her, explained to the maidens that his verse was truthful. Hagbard was, however, deceived by the handmaidens and he was arrested by Sigar's warriors. Hagbard was hanged and Signy committed suicide as Hagbard watched from the gallows.
  • Frotho I dressed as a shieldmaiden in one of his eastern campaigns.
  • Hervor from Hervarar saga. When Hervor learnt that her father had been the infamous Swedish beserker Arngrim, she dressed as a man, called herself Hjörvard and lived for a long time as a Viking.

Famous historical examples of cross-dressing people[]

Famous historical examples of cross-dressing people include:


First World War photograph of English war reporter Dorothy Lawrence who secretly posed as a man to become a soldier.

  • The legend of Pope Joan alleges that she was a promiscuous female pope who dressed like a man and reigned from 855 to 858. Modern historians regard her as a mythical figure who originated from 13th century anti-papal satire.
  • Joan of Arc was a 15th century French peasant girl who joined French armies against English forces fighting in France during the latter part of the Hundred Years' War. She is a French national heroine and a Catholic saint. After being captured by the English, she was burned at the stake upon being convicted by a religious court, with the act of dressing in male clothing being cited as one of the principal reasons for her execution. A number of witnesses, however, testified that she had said she wore male clothing (consisting of two layers of pants attached to the doublet with twenty fasteners) because she feared the guards would rape her at night.[2]
  • Anne Bonny and Mary Read were late 17th century pirates. Bonny in particular gained significant notoriety, but both were eventually captured. Unlike the rest of the male crew, Bonny and Read were not immediately executed because Read was pregnant and Bonny claimed to be pregnant as well.
  • Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée Éon de Beaumont (1728-1810), usually known as the Chevalier d'Eon, was a French diplomat and soldier who lived the first half of his life as a man and the second half as a woman. In 1771 he claimed that physically he was not a man, but a woman, having been brought up as a man only. From then on s/he lived as a woman. On her/his death it was discovered that her/his body was anatomically male.
  • George Sand is the pseudonym of Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin, an early 19th century French novelist who preferred to wear men's clothing exclusively. In her autobiography, she explains in length the various aspects of how she experienced cross-dressing.
  • Dorothy Lawrence was an English war reporter who disguised herself as a man so she could become a soldier in World War I.
  • Rrose Sélavy, the feminine alter-ego of the late French artist, Marcel Duchamp, remains one of the most complex and pervasive pieces in the enigmatic puzzle of the artist's oeuvre. She first emerged in portraits made by the photographer Man Ray in New York in the early 1920s, when Duchamp and Man Ray were collaborating on a number of conceptual photographic works. Rrose Sélavy lived on as the person to whom Duchamp attributed specific works of art, Readymades, puns, and writings throughout his career. By creating for himself this female persona whose attributes are beauty and eroticism, he deliberately and characteristically complicated the understanding of his ideas and motives.
  • Billy Tipton was a notable jazz pianist and saxophonist in the United States during the Great Depression. He was born Dorothy Lucille Tipton in 1914, but began living as a man in the 1930s. He was married five times to women, and adopted three boys. He led a full career as a musician and, in later life, as an entertainment agent. Other than his birth family, no one knew of his birth sex or cross-living until after his death in 1989.
  • Willmer "Little Ax" Broadnax was a lead singer in several important gospel quartets, most famously the Spirit of Memphis Quartet. When he died in 1994, it was discovered that he was female bodied.
  • Because female enlistment was barred, many women fought for both the Union and the Confederacy during the American Civil War while dressed as men.
  • Edward Hyde, 3rd Earl of Clarendon, colonial governor of New York and New Jersey in the early 1700s is reported to have enjoyed going out wearing his wife's clothing, but this is disputed. [3]
  • The Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, and the Disney movie Mulan derived from it, feature a cross-dressing heroine.
  • Eddie Izzard, a British comedian, claims to have cross-dressed his entire life, though some say he does it for the shock value.

Cultural examples of cross-dressing[]

Cross-dressing is the subject of many works of literature and plays a significant role in popular culture. References to cross-dressing are frequently used for comic effect.

Film and television[]

Main article: Cross-dressing in film and television

See also[]


  1. Harriman, P.H. (1950). Dictionary of Psychology. London:Peter Owen Vision Press

Further reading[]

  • Rudolf M. Dekker, Lotte C. Van De Pol, Lotte C. Van De Pol, The Tradition of Female Transvestism in Early Modern Europe, 1989, ISBN 0-312-173342.
  • Peggy J. Rudd, Crossdressing With Dignity : The Case For Transcending Gender Lines, PM Publishers, Inc., 1999. ISBN 0962676268.
  • Charles Anders, The Lazy Crossdresser, Greenery Press, 2002. ISBN 1890159379.
  • Lacey Leigh, Out & About: The Emancipated Crossdresser, Double Star Press, 2002. ISBN 0971668000.

External links[]

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