From rubber to leather, to corsets to latex, fashion and uniform place a huge part in the fetish scene. But where did it all begin? traces the origins of fetish fashion through history to the mainstream, taking in high-profile supporters such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood along the way...

Fetishism and fetish fashion is best understood as lust directed at a person’s clothing, or specific parts of an outfit. If you’re serious about the lifestyle, it’s likely that the gear associated with restraint, submission or domination piques your interest.

Part of the attraction is that play clothes are usually extremely impractical and almost impossible to wear for any purpose other than, well, the obvious. So, just seeing them makes your mind wander.

Even though it may be restrictive, many kinksters view their S&M fashion collection as liberating. The material fits so closely to their body and feels so natural against their naked flesh, that many refer to their bondage gear as a second skin.


Where did the fetish look begin?

A number of cultural factors came together to create what we now understand as fetish fashion. In recent history, the punk aesthetic and certain clothing designers have brought the look to mainstream attention.

However, the true roots of modern fetish imagery go back to libertine writers like Donatien Alphonse François de Sade – better known as the Marquis De Sade – and Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch, both of whom were writing about alternative sexualities over 200 years ago. Jointly, they gave their names to the modern term, sadomasochism.

In The 120 Days of Sodom, de Sade frequently described the use of a cat o’ nine tails and leather whips in an erotic context. While in Venus In Furs, Sacher-Masoch describes the goddess Venus from a highly-charged, kinky perspective: “The plush red velvet. The dark fur outlining her naked body. The bracelets cuffing her wrists... But is Venus covering herself with fur, or is she opening the fur to reveal her glories?” he asks.

In the 20th century, the 1950s biker trend worn by Marlon Brando in The Wild One, made leather a highly-eroticised material. More provocatively, military regalia has also informed uniform fetishes, as well as created some of alternative culture’s most popular symbols.


The materials and meanings of fetish fashion

In the BDSM community, becoming aroused at the look, and more importantly the feel of a fabric, is part of the lifestyle. Whether they’re part of a uniform, a method of restriction, or stretched around a certain area of skin, the materials used in S&M fashion convey meaning.


Leather has always made subcultures look sexy – from aviators to bikers, leathermen to punks – it’s a sensual way of protecting, concealing and drawing attention to the body all at once. If you don’t want to wear it, enjoy the experience with leather restraints or whip.


Assuming they don’t suffer from allergies, anyone can look like a million dollar porn star in spandex or latex. It’s a sexy mainstay of S&M fashion, forming an essential component in maximum impact designs like wet-shine catsuits, corsets or harnesses.

Considering latex started out as a functional material used in the creation of gas masks, gloves and mackintoshes, isn't it ironic that all of these have since become fetishised?


How does fetish fashion express sexuality?

Clothing can help you create an identity and feel more assured of your sexuality. Indeed, if you look the part, it begins to sink in at a psychological level. Many women in particular feel empowered by changing their appearance with makeup and clothes, an act which brings them closer to being the woman they want to be.

When we put on our bondage gear it’s symbolic; we occupy the role we intend to play for that session, or better still, look like a sexual demon.

girl in bondage outfit
Putting on bondage gear really sets the scene and empowers you


Mainstream and vanilla reaction to fetish fashion

Haute couture has regularly been an advocate of sadomasochism chic. Vivienne Westwood was one of the early pioneers, bringing studs, leather and chains to the high street whilst designing for The Sex Pistols during the 1970s.

In later years, both Gianni Versace and Jean Paul Gaultier played with extreme sexual apparel in their collections. The Versace Bondage Collection was released in the winter of 1992 and was inspired by imagery from the BDSM lifestyle, with a Wild West slant. Gaultier worked gold cowboy boots into tight leather designs and bold studs, famously declaring, “I don’t believe in good taste.”

He also experimented with kinky imagery in his monochrome fetish wear collections, bringing avant-garde designs to the fore and creating the notion of underwear as outerwear. The pink fetish corset worn by Madonna on her 1990 Blonde Ambition tour has become an iconic emblem of crossover fashion, and Gaultier regularly uses alternative images of beauty, like singer Beth Ditto and burlesque artist Dita Von Teese to display his work.

In doing so, he underlines one of BDSM culture’s most attractive traits; an acceptance and appreciation of all things different, in ourselves and in others.

What's your favourite fetish fashion item? Start the conversation below or head over to our Forum to chat more about fashion fetish. And, if you're not already a member of, sign up below for free BDSM dating, Forum chat, and all the latest fetish news from our sex-positive, kinky community.

Photos: Alexandr Vasilyev / Dollar Photo Club and masterdesigner with a CC BY 2.0 Licence






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