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->'''Inara:''' So... explain to me again why ''Zoe'' wasn't in the dress?\\
'''Mal:''' Tactics, woman. Needed her in the back. Besides, them soft cotton dresses feel kinda nice. There's a whole... airflow. \\
'''Inara:''' And you'd know that because...?\\
'''Mal:''' You can't open the book of my life and jump in the middle.
-->-- ''{{Series/Firefly}}''

See that harmless little lady over there? She's actually a man -- a masculine, adventurous man who uses the dress to appear harmless and hide in plain sight.

[[MenActWomenAre Men are active, women are passive.]] That's the way things are, at least according to traditional gender roles.

Thus, if a man wants to become invisible and appear nonthreatening, it can be beneficial for him to pretend to be a woman. In sharp contrast to most forms of regular cross-dressing, this is done as a way of ''avoiding'' attention.

Contrast SweetPollyOliver, which is something of the inverse of this trope, since those women dress as men in order to openly embrace the male gender role of being active and potentially dangerous.

Many of the examples specifically have a male character disguising himself as an ''old'' woman, which is ''somewhat'' less reliant on sexist perceptions since senior citizens are (stereo)typically weak and frail (and it's also somewhat more believable that a man could look like an older woman than a younger one).

Subtrope of DisguisedInDrag. May overlap with WigDressAccent or MuggingTheMonster.


* In ''[[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQbXeAycblU The Crunchie Train Robbery]]'', when the outlaws emerge carrying the strongbox full of Crunchies, a respectable looking matron jumps up. whips off 'her' wig and rips open 'her' dress to reveal a marshal's badge.

[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* In the "Moonlight Sonata" arc in ''Manga/DetectiveConan'', after a young boy named [[spoiler:Seiji Asou]] escaped the strange death of the rest of his family because [[IllBoy he was hospitalized in Tokyo]], [[spoiler: he was adopted by an old friend of his dead family (which let him stay unnoticed), and grew up into [[HospitalHottie a handsome]] [[DudeLooksLikeALady (and girly-looking)]] [[HospitalHottie doctor]]. He then returned to his island under the false name Narumi Asai ([[AlternateCharacterReading not totally false, actually]])--as a female doctor--to investigate their murders and have his {{Revenge}}. [[MagnificentBastard He got away with almost all of it]], confronting and then killing all the culprits while leaving strange music-related messages... but when he was caught by Conan, Seiji set his family's old house on fire and [[DrivenToSuicide stayed inside as it burned down]], [[FaceDeathWithDignity calmly playing the Moonlight Sonata in his father's old piano]] despite Conan's desperate pleas for him to live.]] Note: he, like most villains in the series, was portrayed [[SympatheticMurderer with so much sympathy]] that viewers would, at worst, consider him an AntiVillain. Strangely, in Italy, due to homosexual connotations, the trope wasn't spelled out (but still implied) to get it past the {{Media Watchdog}}s.
* In ''Manga/FullmetalAlchemist'', Roy runs into a kind old lady at a cemetery--who, it turns out, is actually [[spoiler:Lt. General Grumman]].
* Joseph Joestar of ''Manga/JoJosBizarreAdventure'' disguises himself as a lady in order to get inside a Nazi compound. [[SubvertedTrope It doesn't work]] - he's over six feet tall and has the build of a professional wrestler. The Nazis take one look at him and ready their guns.
** Joseph gets the "tequila" outfit as an alternate costume in ''VideoGame/JoJosBizarreAdventureEyesOfHeaven'', with him claiming that he's trying to pull this routine on their opponents. Most of the cast has special dialog where they tell him what a poor disguise it is or call him a creep; amusingly, Polnareff points out the obvious flaw in the disguise (the whole "six feet tall and beefy" thing) and Joseph's reaction is "[[GratuitousEnglish OH NO!]] [[TheDitz I didn't even consider that!]]"
* During Rei's introduction in ''Manga/FistOfTheNorthStar'', he's disguising himself as a helpless woman with a cloak in order to attract bandits and kill them for their food.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* Madam Fatal, a 1940s superhero, had this as his shtick, earning him a spot on {{Website/Cracked}}'s 7 Crappiest Superheroes.
* Franchise/{{Batman}} did it in ''Comicbook/BatmanTheDarkKnightReturns'', as an old female customer at a liquor store.
* A mob boss "disguised" himself as a woman for years to avoid being killed by ComicBook/ThePunisher. His nephew later joined him out of fear of the same fate.
* Early ''ComicBook/CaptainAmerica'' disguised [[http://scans-daily.dreamwidth.org/1843574.html himself]] as a grandmother and Bucky as a small child and then [[http://scans-daily.dreamwidth.org/575263.html going to Nazi-occupied France]].
* Obscure villain He-She has the left side of a pretty woman, and the right of a tough man. His/her entire strategy for dealing with heroes is to turn so that only the female side is visible, thus making people think that he/she is weak like a woman and either harmless or needs protecting. Yeah.
* ''ComicBook/JudgeDredd'': In one story the undead superfiend Judge Death escaped from his confinement and murdered an old woman to use her dead body as a disguise. Though he ''really'' wouldn't be able to pass for human if someone took a closer look at him.
* In ''[[ComicBook/RobinSeries Robin]]'' a grounded Tim who cannot get out of the house without his dad noticing spots an internationally wanted criminal who dresses up as a pregnant woman and then leaves as one of their own hostages on a breaking news segment. His frantic hushed calls to the rest of the Batfamily result in the crook's capture when he pulls the same stunt to try and escape the police in Gotham.

[[folder:Films -- Animated]]
* At the end of ''Disney/{{Mulan}}'', the villain has the place guarded to stop any soldiers coming in to save the day, but a few of Mulan's male colleagues talk their way in, disguised as concubines. [[IncrediblyConspicuousDrag Ugly concubines]].
* In ''WesternAnimation/OpenSeason 2'', Elliot (who is a deer) dresses up as an old lady to get pass security to the pet camp where he thinks Weenie is being held prisoner. Somehow the man watching for trespassers completely falls for it, even mistaking another old lady (who was wearing the same attire as Elliot's disguise) for the culprit.

[[folder:Films -- Live-Action]]
* Madmartigan's lady disguise ends up serving as this in ''Film/{{Willow}}'' when the villains are searching the town he's in. It doesn't fool them for long, though...
* Agent Smecker in ''Film/TheBoondockSaints'' dressed as a tartish woman to get through a mobster's defenses (and it's implied to get through their pants as well.)
* Eames, [[TheBigGuy The Forger]], does this in ''Film/{{Inception}}'' [[spoiler:to distract Fischer while Cobb brings him over to their side]]. Unlike most of these examples, he uses illusion rather than a physical disguise.
* Used by the villain of ''Film/TheDevilDoll'' to bluff his way through encounters with his intended victims and the police, and also as an excuse to carry around his "dolls" (actually miniaturized assassins) in public.
* The existence of this trope in the popular imagination winds up getting the protagonist of ''Film/BreakfastOnPluto'' (a possibly transgender WholesomeCrossdresser) in a lot of trouble. Kitten is not a violent person at all, but when a nightclub she visits is bombed, the authorities suspect that the biologically-male Irish person in women's clothing is an IRA operative, and she's arrested and treated very badly.
* In the Jim Belushi comedy ''Taking Care of Business'', Jimmy Dorsey [[ItMakesSenseInContext disguises himself as his own mother to break into a prison]]. It somehow works.
* In both the silent and talking versions of ''Film/TheUnholyThree'', Creator/LonChaney is a criminal and burglar who disguises himself as a sweet old grandma as part of a complicated plot to gain entry into the houses of rich folks.
* Subverted in ''Film/{{Suffragette}}''; one of the suffragists, who is actually a woman, disguises herself as ''harmless'' lady by using a baby carriage to hide the brickstones she's going to smash windows with.

[[folder:Folk Heroes]]
* The Swedish criminal FolkHero Lasse Maja used this extensively. (Lasse is a traditional Swedish male name, and his real name. Maja is a traditional Swedish female name, and the nickname he used. It appears he was not a cross-dresser otherwise, he only used his female persona to carry out his schemes.)
* In one ballad, RobinHood was nearly cornered when he exchanged clothes with an old woman. She was captured by the sheriff; he got away and brought his merry men to face down the sheriff.

* ''Literature/TheScarletPimpernel'' is famous for this, and probably the trope maker.
* In Creator/GKChesterton's ''The Club of [[HaveAGayOldTime Queer]] Trades'', a curate describes a gang of criminals dressed up as a group of respectable old ladies. [[spoiler: [[SubvertedTrope Subverted]], in that the "curate" himself is lying and in disguise.]]
* In Creator/DorothyLSayers' Literature/LordPeterWimsey story, "The Article in Question,” a lady's maid turns out to be a disguised male criminal. The noble lady employing the 'maid' is less than horrified to discover she's been dressed and undressed for the better part of a month by a young man. In fact she seems rather pleased.
* ''[[Literature/XWingSeries Starfighters of Adumar]]'' has the infamous "Escape Done In Drag". Wedge ordered his three pilots to get him four sets of women's clothing, in which they snuck into a base while a diversion went on. On Adumar, women can take all the combat positions men take, but Wedge and his pilots were male and being hunted by pretty much the entire city, so a group of four women would be less suspect. Hobbie cemented the disguise by doing a [[ScreamingWoman convincing]] [[ScreamsLikeALittleGirl scream]].
* Literature/TheStainlessSteelRat once took several dozen army deserters through a military checkpoint dressed as women. On bicycles.
* In ''Literature/HarryPotterAndTheGobletOfFire'', [[spoiler: Barty Crouch Jr.]] escapes Azkaban disguised as his elderly mother.
* In ''Discworld/MonstrousRegiment'', the soldiers attempt to gain access to a heavily guarded fortress by disguising themselves as washerwomen. Subverted in that [[spoiler: all of the soldiers save the lieutenant are actually women...who just happen to be disguised as men.]] ItMakesSenseInContext.
* In ''A Study in Scarlet'' Literature/SherlockHolmes is fooled (for a while) by a man disguised as an old woman; he himself pulls off this disguise in order to trail a villain in ''The Mazarin Stone''.
--> "He actually picked up my parasol for me once. ‘By your leave, madame,’ said he –- half-Italian, you know, and with the Southern graces of manner when in the mood, but a devil incarnate in the other mood. Life is full of whimsical happenings, Watson.”
* In Creator/MichaelFlynn's ''[[Literature/SpiralArm The January Dancer]]'', near the end, Hugh at one point is disguised as a woman.
* In Fred Vargas' ''The Chalk-Circle Man'',[[spoiler: Augustin-Louis Le Nermord]] spends half his time dressing as an especially ugly old woman, [[spoiler: which is part of his creepily elaborate plan to kill his wife.]]
* In the world of ''Literature/ABrothersPrice'' women are the dominant sex and men are so rare it's unthinkably dangerous for one to go out alone. Men are also long-haired, makeup-wearing, and don less practical prettier clothing. However, whores in this world do themselves up to look like men and take on male mannerisms - so when Jerin has to go out, he [[RecursiveCrossdressing masquerades as a whore]].
* In ''Literature/{{Dragonlance}}: Dragons of Autumn Twlight'', the male heroes disguise themselves as women to infiltrate the slave-mine Pax Tharkas. This causes some issues for Riverwind whose people have a cultural taboo about males dressing in female clothing.
* In ''Literature/TheInvisibleLibrary'', the protagonist, who is a real woman, often makes use of sexist stereotyping in the worlds she visits to make herself seem harmless, often by combining her oppressed status as women in patriarchy with dressing as lower class (whether that is a disguise is questionable, as the librarians exist outside time and space and thus, any class system). In the first chapter, she is seen cleaning the floors of a school, which is part of a plot to steal a book from there. When traveling a patriarchal world with a new trainee, she pretends to be his secretary, but the resident GreatDetective quickly figures out that she is actually the one in charge. There is also [[spoiler: a villain who disguises as a woman by much more magical means.]]

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* In ''Series/DoctorWho'', the Second and Third Doctor have used these types of disguises. In Three's case, Captain Yates of UNIT compliments his handbag, and the Doctor threatens to slosh him with it (it's a bucket).
* Quark in the ''Series/StarTrekDeepSpaceNine'' episode "Profit and Lace".
* Mal in ''Series/{{Firefly}}'' pulled this stunt in one episode, pretending to be Jayne's wife.
-->'''Mal:''' I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you.
* Used ''ad nauseam'' in ''Series/AlloAllo''.
* The title character on ''Series/{{Baretta}}'' frequently did this. A couple of them can be seen in the opening credits.
* In ''Series/HogansHeroes'', Newkirk occasionally utilizes a 'little old German lady' disguise to fool the Germans.
* Radio/TheLoneRanger disguised himself from time to time in order to reconnoiter; very occasionally he dressed up as an old woman.
* Hannibal once dressed as a nun on an episode of ''Series/TheATeam''.
** In another episode, he's dressed as a bag lady as part of a movie he's working on.
*** In yet another episode, he pretended to be an old lady. More specifically, Murdock's mother.
* Neville Savage of ''Series/MissionTopSecret'' once disguised as an old lady with his accomplice pushing "her" wheelchair. It allowed him to pass under the protagonists' nose, but they later find the discarded costume.
* In an episode of ''Series/GroundedForLife'', Sean is unable to change a flat tire, so he wears a shawl and pretends to be an old woman while Claudia shows some leg to flag down another motorist to help.
* Robbie Rotten of ''Series/LazyTown'' disguised himself as an old lady to give the hero a spiked apple and capture him.

* Myth/ClassicalMythology: Achilles' mother did this to him in an attempt to keep him from the war. Naturally, the plan fell apart when Odysseus presented all the girls he was hiding among with gifts and Achilles was the only one to immediately go for the sword.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* Captain Qwark disguises himself as a woman more than once in ''VideoGame/RatchetAndClankUpYourArsenal''. One of the occasions was in a [[GameWithinAGame vid-comic sidescrolling minigame]].

* ''Webcomic/TheOrderOfTheStick'' took this a bit further when Roy used a magical belt temporarily to turn female, in order to avoid some assassins, who, true to the trope, just assumed he was a prostitute and ignored him -- except for the dwarf, who invited him up to his room. That bit didn't end well for ''anyone'' involved. However, while their assumption falls under this trope, Roy just wanted to disguise himself and the belt was the only disguise on hand.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* One of the villains on ''WesternAnimation/DynomuttDogWonder'' assumed the disguise of an old woman so Dynomutt would help him escape in a taxicab. Blue Falcon wasn't so easily fooled.

[[folder:Real Life]]
* There are stories about Jesse James having done this.
* When Charles Stuart, the Young Pretender, was escaping from Scotland after the collapse of his rebellion, Flora [=MacDonald=] smuggled him onto a boat disguised as her maid.
* Male insurgents in the Middle East have been known to hide under burqas.
** As did a prime minister trying to escape during a coup in Iraq in the 1950s; he was caught because someone noticed that he was wearing men's shoes.
* William Wallace disguised himself as a woman more than once.
* Unfortunately a real tactic among suicide bombers, especially in countries where women wear concealing clothing, which makes disguising [=IEDs=] on their person much easier.
* [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ehud_Barak Ehud Barak]] dressed in drag and pretended to be another soldier’s girlfriend during [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_Israeli_raid_on_Lebanon Operation Springtime of Youth]]. The popular Israeli satire show ''[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eretz_Nehederet Eretz Nehederet]]'' portrayed him once as going AxCrazy and demanding his dress to go fight at the slightest hint of an imminent armed conflict.