Heroines in Disguise: Cross-Dressing Trope

Historically, it’s not been easy for women living in a man’s world. Both history and fiction have numerous stories of women skirting society restrictions in disguise.

In 17th century Europe, Shakespeare’s plays As You Like It and Twelfth Night gave us two of the most memorable tales of women disguising themselves as men. In 12th century China, The Ballad of Mulan tells us of a young woman who risks her life to take her father’s place as a soldier.

The trope continues to be a popular device, particularly in historical stories, to allow female characters to do things and go places that would’ve been prohibited. Sometimes these shows give us a dramatic tale (like Mulan) and others some humorous escapades (like Twelfth Night). I also enjoy seeing how much effort the show will put in making it convincing – some of these stories force the audience to bring a huge amount of suspension of disbelief as they cast a stunning model and even let her wear makeup!

Here are 12 different stories of heroines in disguise; some are tales of survival, others are humorous. Plus my appraisals of their disguises (or lack of disguise)!

In this fictionalized story of The Ballad of Mulan, Mulan gives us the most sacrificial, heroic story here as she selflessly decides to protect her father and family by going to war in her father’s place. Though her comrades initially shun her after learning the truth, they eventually accept her, recognizing her courage and strength. Even the Emperor of China acknowledges her great deeds!
Disguise Appraisal: 4.5 out of 5. Convincing.

Deokman (Queen Seondeok)
A story about a long-lost princess becoming the ruling queen of her land, (Princess) Deokman first survives years alone by disguising herself as a man and joining the Hwarang warriors. She has many close encounters where her identity is nearly discovered.
Disguise Appraisal: 3.5 out of 5. Decent. At least, she’s not wearing noticeable makeup.

Ra-Oh (Moonlight Drawn By Clouds)
Ra-On grew up disguised as a boy per her mother’s wishes. She later on discovered that her family had been in hiding for years, thus her mother’s pressure for her to disguise herself. She has a romance with the Prince of Joseon, who eventually figures out that the cute little Ra-On is actually a girl.
Disguise Appraisal: 2.5 out of 5. She has such an adorable little babyface, she could pass for a 12-year-old boy. Maybe?

Gwyn (Princess of Thieves)
The daughter of Maid Marian and Robin Hood, Gwyn decides to take on her father’s mission, cutting her hair and pretending to be a man. Along with her father, she helps dethrone Prince John and put Richard’s son and heir, Prince Philip, on the throne.
Disguise Appraisal: 2 out of 5. She’s seriously not even trying.

Viola (She’s The Man)
In a modern retelling of Twelfth Night, Viola dresses up like a boy to cover her brother. She has an amusing love triangle with Duke (Channing Tatum) and Olivia who thinks she’s a boy. Eventually the truth comes out and everyone lives happily ever after. Also…. Amanda Bynes is so freakin’ adorable!
Disguise Appraisal: 4 out of 5. Decent. The sideburns really help and she thankfully doesn’t wear strong makeup... except for the lip gloss.

Veera (Dil Bole Hadippa!)
In this Bollywood Twelfth Night retelling, Veera’s dreams of going to the cricket big leagues, but no one will let a woman try out. So she disguises herself as a man. It gets complicated when she starts a romance with her coach as her “twin sister”.  She overcomes everyone’s prejudice in the finale.
Disguise Appraisal: 5 out of 5. She wears a hat and a beard! Nice effort, Veera!

Velvet (National Velvet, 1953)
Such a cute story! Velvet takes in a wild horse and calls him The Pie. With the help of a former jockey, Mi, she starts training Pie. They hire a jockey to take Pie in the Grand National steeplechase, but Velvet can see the jockey’s heart isn’t in it. With the help of Mi, she dresses up like a boy and rides Pie to victory herself.
Disguise Appraisal: 4 out of 5. With her cap pulled low and with Mi’s help,  she basically avoids everyone so they don’t notice her.

Eowyn (Lord of the Rings)
Lady Eowyn has always had a thirst to fight in battle for glory. When asked to stay behind in Rohan, Eowyn disguises herself as a man and goes to the battlefield. She’s able to defeat the powerful Witchking who cannot be slain by a man.
Disguise Appraisal: 4.5 out of 5. Under heavy armor and chainmail and with that huge helmet, no one would question who Eowyn is. Of course once she takes her helmet off...

Roberta (Swiss Family Robinson)
Roberta disguised herself as a cabin boy just as her and her grandfather were captured by pirates. With the help of two of the Robinson sons, she escapes to their family’s tree house. She gets caught in a love triangle with the brothers.
Disguise Appraisal: 3 out of 5. I mean, I guess she could pass as a 13-14-year-old. Maybe.

Mi-Nyeo (You’re Beautiful)
Mi-Nyeo dreams of becoming a nun. But after her brother, a newbie idol singer, has to go to the U.S. to fix a failed plastic surgery, she agrees to help him for a month by pretending to be him in a new band. Two of her new band-members quickly figure out she’s a girl – and of course, a love triangle and hilarious hijinks ensue.
Disguise Appraisal: 3 out of 5. It helps to be in a pretty boy band.

Kim Yoon-Hee (Sungkyunkwan Scandal)
While this is a light-hearted youth drama, Sungkyunkwan Scandal deals with some tougher issues, particularly in Yoon-Hee who has no choice but to pretend to be her brother to get jobs to provide for her mom and very ill brother. She even ends up in a prestigious institute for scholars while daily working not to be discovered... and executed.
Disguise Appraisal: 2.5 out of 5. I mean, I think she’s trying... no she's not. She just thinks no one will question her because she put on a guy hanbok, lol.

Kate (After the Ball)
Kate’s the daughter of the CEO of a fashion company. She tries to reconnect with her estranged dad and join his company, but her evil stepsisters (this is a Cinderella retelling hehe) frame her and get her thrown out. She comes back disguised as Nate, a designer, wowing Dad and everyone with her designs. Of course, it gets harder and harder for her to keep her identity a secret – especially from the cute guy in the shop department.
Disguise Appraisal: 4.5 out of 5. She is definitely giving effort with that wig and fake facial hair.

Bonus: worst disguise ever…

Dam Yeo-Wool (Gu Family Book)

Disguise Appraisal. 0 out of 5. Failure. Is this even trying?? WHAT???? Suzy please!


  1. mulan - yes, definitely should be on the list though it is animation but it looks like she has done well, until she was discovered.

    'she's the man' is a good movie and I kind of believe she is a boy, plus she sort of looks like her twin brother so...

    I didn't think anyone saw 'after the ball' but me, I actually thought that was a good movie, but yes, I think she was pretty good with the disguise but Nate looked sort of weird to me

    you're beautiful - that is pretty much the whole plot, & yes I agreed that in a boy band, she fits in very well pretending to be a man

    haven't' seen queen seondok, but the actress also disguised as a man in 'the horse doctor,' which only for a few moments and I didn't believe she pulled it off but her younger version, that actress succeeded in pretending to be a boy, because boys can look like girls at that age.

    what about the taiwanese drama Bromance? she did a pretty decent job as a pretty, shy boy plus she can fight so well, I think she pulls it off because I even sort of began to believe it, plus when you compare her male disguise with her female counter part, it really is quite different.

    did you see that short series about a boy pretending to be a girl - Ma Boy, I think that is that name, that guy pulls it off real well...

    have a lovely day.

    1. I agree that it's easier with animation, still they did a good job I think.

      In She's the Man, they really did find a "brother" who looked a lot like Amanda, lol.

      Yeah, I didn't think anyone would've seen After the Ball either, lol. She did a great job with effort... however, the disguise did look odd at times.

      I didn't realized that Lee Yo-Won (Queen Seondeok) was in The horse Doctor. Yeah, I agree it's easier for younger girls than older ladies.

      Oh yes, Bromance! I honestly haven't seen much of the show, maybe part of the first episode? But she would be a good choice for the trope!

      I haven't seen Ma Boy. Is it like a Some Like It Hot story?

      Thanks lissa! Have a lovely day too!

    2. I like Lee Yo-Won - although I always have to look up her name if I mentioned her but yes, she is in the horse doctor and one of my favorite dramas 49 days, have yet to see Queen Seondeok, I'm sort of on drama-ban until I finish some writings but Queen Seondeok is on my list

      Bromance is actually a pretty decent show but as always, they sort of mess up the reveal about her being a girl, they gloss over it as it's nothing which I thought was a bit lacking on the writing but the first ten or so epsidoes have very funny moments

      Ma Boy is full of teenagers so nothing like Some Like It Hot, it is about a boy dancer thaat pretends to be a girl to earn money for something, I forget, and I actually think he did look like a very pretty & convincing girl, that is, when he stands still, it's actually a pretty decent show and I think it's episodes, very short, the lead actress is from 'fight ghost', sorry, forgot her name

      have a lovely day.

    3. Yes, a drama-ban while writing is a good idea. It's probably why I never feel like I have time to write, lol.

      I'm always disappointed when a show has a something going on that's a big part of the part... and then they gloss over the reveal. Lol. It's like, we were all waiting for that!

      I looked up some pictures of Ma Boy and he did look pretty convincing, hehe. I like short episodes. There's something satisfying in knowing that I don't have to watch a show that's an hour long... haha. Oh K-dramas. ;)

      Thanks for all your lovely comments Lissa!

  2. Hello! I'm afraid I only knew about two of them, Mulan and Eowyn, but I was amazed seeing Keira Knight as Princess of Thieves. I like this woman and her movies.
    May I write another heroine in disguise? Coffee Princes is a k-drama with Yoon Eun Hye. I love this woman, too. Hahaha.

    Good Day to you!! :D

    1. If you haven't seen Princess of Thieves, definitely check it out. It's a very cute, fun movie, especially if you like Keira Knightley and Robin Hood.
      And yes! Great suggestion! I haven't seen Coffee Prince yet, but I hear that Yoon Eun-Hye was really great in the role! :D

      Thanks for stopping by! Have a good day! :)


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