I wrote a paper (http://goo.gl/xJISa) not too long ago about a Super Bowel advertisement attempting to convince men to "wear the pants" once again (it was a Docker's ad). This was one of those highly controversial but at the same time not too controversial advertisements that turned a lot of heads. What were they trying to say? Was Docker's trying to convince the world that only men should wear pants, that pants are somehow inherently masculine? Well, no, actually they were just selling pants, but this does raise an issue. What is gender distinct clothing? Did you know that Deuteronomy 22:5 commands that we dress like our own sex and not like the other? Well, however that plays out (read my paper!), I thought about how this actually worked in the ancient world ... I mean, didn't they all just wear robes anyway?
The answer might actually be surprising. The gist of it all is that in most (if not all) ancient Near Eastern cultures there existed a very specific gender distinction in clothing practices, except when involved in cultic/religious ceremonies. A rather interesting Neo-Sumerian hymn “Hymn to Inanna” (fourth kirugu, verse 60) describes a male prostitute who is “adorn[ed] with women’s clothing.” Rather than show a specific style of masculine or feminine clothing, this hymn acknowledges that the ancient Neo-Sumerians at least had a division between male and female dress. In the image I have uploaded, we see Asiatics from about the time of Abraham selling goods in Egypt. What I found rather striking is the difference between male and female dress. Yes, there isn't much, but does there have to be? The point is that there is actually a difference.
I find it fascinating that there is only one instance in ancient Near Eastern literature of transvestism outside of religious practices. In ancient Babylonian literature, “The Assyrian Collection,” we find an instance of transvestitism not associated with the cult. It appears that a man and his wife switch roles in order to woo each other – foreplay. So the only time this occurred outside of religious ceremonies was in a closed door situation ... it was not something people did publicly on the streets.
This is where someone gets mad at me and begins to abuse me verbally in the comments section, lol, but hang in there. Yes, I do actually have a very conservative view on this topic, but all I am trying to do here is point out what is considered "_normal_" in the ancient Near East and to address why Deuteronomy 22:5 actually existed.
I think that the bottom line with Deuteronomy 22:5 is that the Israelites were to avoid non-Hebraic cultic practices, but that doesn't mean that this isn't also a command to avoid transvestism. There really was no need to command that as no one ever did it!
We do find transvestism in later cultures, but even those are considered devious.
So, didn't the ancients just wear robes? How could we tell which is male and which is female? How we can tell isn't the point; the point is that they could tell. However we apply those same principles in our day is actually hotly debated. ... Feel free to debate it in the comments, but keep it civil.