Question: Is it permitted for boys to dress up like girls and vice
versa in celebration of Purim?
Discussion: Before we are able to answer this question we must first
explore the laws of Lo yilbash that apply all year around, and then we will
discuss if Purim is an exception.
It is biblically forbidden for a man to wear women’s clothes or for a woman
to wear men’s garments. The Torah refers to this kind of conduct as an
abomination since it can easily lead to promiscuity and immorality. This
prohibition, known as Lo yilbash, applies even if one cannot be seen by
others and even in the privacy of one’s home.
“Men’s clothing” includes any garment which, in that locale, is worn
strictly be men, and “women’s clothing” means garments which are worn
strictly by women. But an item which is not gender specific and is worn in
that locale by both men and women is permitted to be worn by either
gender. While contemporary poskim debate whether or not women who wear
pants which are specially designed for them are in violation of Lo
yilbash, all poskim ─ without exception ─ agree that it is strictly
forbidden for women to wear pants or slacks in public, since it is forbidden
for them to wear in public any form-fitting garments which outline any part
of their body.
Lo yilbash includes wearing even one garment that is specifically worn by
the other gender. It is forbidden, for instance, for a woman to wear a
man’s hat, belt, tie or shoes even if the rest of her clothing is clearly
feminine and she is clearly identifiable as a woman. Similarly, it is
forbidden for a man to wear a woman’s shawl, tichel, jewelry or wig, even if
that is the only feminine item that he is wearing.
Once a boy or a girl reaches the age of chinuch, parents are forbidden to
dress them in the clothing of the opposite gender. The age of chinuch
concerning this halachah is defined as the age when a child is old enough
that his mother is particular not to dress a boy like a girl or vice versa,
or when a boy or girl is old enough to be embarrassed to wear the clothing
of the opposite gender.
Question: Are there any situations where the prohibition of Lo
yilbash does not apply?
Discussion: Many poskim are of the opinion that the prohibition of Lo
yilbash applies only if one’s intention is to beautify, adorn or to call
attention to oneself; if, however, the intention is for other reasons, e.g.,
to protect oneself from the sun or rain, it is permitted. According to
this opinion it is permitted for a man to wear his wife’s sweater, scarf,
socks or slippers if he is cold and needs to warm himself, her rain coat or
boots if it is raining, her slippers if he needs to protect his feet from
cold or wetness, or her apron if he is cooking and needs protection from
splatters. While a minority opinion disagrees with all of the above and
some poskim recommend being stringent, the basic halachah follows the
more lenient view.
Based on the above, we may also permit a man to wear his wife’s watch or
ring for safekeeping, or her sunglasses if the purpose is to protect his
eyes the sun’s rays.
The poskim also agree that Lo yilbash does not apply to umbrellas, canes
(when used as a walking aid) or handkerchiefs, even if a particular type or
style is designed for use by men primarily or by women primarily. It is
also permitted for a man to wear a toupee, to use a hair-clip or bobby
pin to fasten his kippah, to wear a ring on his finger in a locale where
men wear rings, and to ride a woman’s bicycle.
Question: May women wear pants when they are exercising in the
privacy of their homes or in gyms which are for women only? Is it permitted
for them to wear ski pants when they are sledding in an area where there are
no men around?
Discussion: From a strict halachic perspective there are grounds for
leniency, since many poskim maintain that Lo yilbash does not apply to pants
or slacks which are designed specifically for women, and since the activity
is taking place in a private area there is no breach of modesty. In
addition, wearing pants for those activities is generally not for the
purpose of adornment but for other reasons, e.g., for protection, as in the
case of ski pants, or for ease of movement, as in the case of exercising,
which is permitted according to most poskim mentioned earlier. Still, for a
variety of reasons, some authorities are hesitant to permit women, even when
there are no men around, to wear pants indiscriminately. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv
is quoted as ruling that women may wear ski pants only if they wear a top
that reaches the knees over the pants. In actual practice, women should
follow the ruling of their own rav who is in the best position to judge what
the proper app roach is for his community.
Question:Is the prohibition of Lo yilbash less severe when dressing
up in celebration of Purim?
Discussion:This topic has been hotly debated for generations. In some
communities it was customary for men to dress up as women and vice versa on
Purim, and the rabbonim did not object. They reasoned that the dressing up
was being done only for the sake of simchas Purim and it does not violate Lo
yilbash. But in many other communities the rabbonim were strictly
opposed to the practice and demanded that it be stopped, and this has
become the prevalent custom nowadays. Children below the age of chinuch,
however, are permitted to dress like the opposite gender. Even for
adults, the poskim do not object to those who wear just one item that is
usually worn by the opposite gender, as long as one’s true identity is
clearly recognizable (even though this is forbidden during the rest of the
1. Rashi, Rashbam and Ibn Ezra, Devarim 22:5. See Rambam (Sefer ha-Mitzvos,
lo saseh 39 and Moreh Nevuchim 3:37) and Chinuch 542 who connect this
prohibition to idol worship as well.
2. Some poskim suggest that the prohibition of Lo yilbash in the privacy of
one’s home applies only to men but not to women. According to this opinion,
women are permitted to wear men’s garments as long as they don’t mingle with
men. But most poskim hold that mi-derbanan, this is forbidden for women as
well; see Darchei Teshuvah, Y.D. 182:7, Minchas Yitzchak 2:108-3, B’tzeil
ha-Chochmah 5:126-3 and Shevet ha-Kehasi 2:258 for the various views.