- Despite the Biblical prohibition against cross-dressing, 'The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God' (Deuteronomy 22: 5), men dressing as women (and occasionally the other way round) is a recurrent feature of traditional customs, including *morris dance, *mumming plays, Occupational customs (especially mock weddings), *Molly dance, *sword dance, *Castleton Garland, *Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, and even the Lady *Godiva procession, and is regularly mentioned as a feature of other events such as *Charlton Horn Fair, and private Christmas parties. Some folklorists pronounced that cross-dressing had a ritual, fertility-enhancing function, but there is no evidence of this, and the practice has other more prosaic features which are sufficient to explain its presence and continuity. Until the 17th century women were routinely debarred from taking part in all performance milieux, including the legitimate stage, and this prohibition would have been even stronger in the realm of customs which involve heavy drinking, rough horseplay, and fighting. A further reason is that in our society men dressed as women have been regarded as inherently funny, allowing scope for ribaldry and innuendo which normal social mores would hardly allow if women were taking part.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.