Fetishism and fetish fashion are 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 fetish clothing is usually too impractical to wear for any purpose other than, well, the obvious. So, just seeing it makes your mind wander. Even though it may be restrictive, many kinksters view their BDSM fashion collection as liberating. No wonder that many refer to their bondage gear as a second skin.
Many cultural factors came together to create what we now understand as BDSM and fetish fashion. In recent history, the punk aesthetic and particular clothing designers have brought the look to mainstream attention.
However, modern fetish imagery's true roots 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 these 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.
Milking it, military style
Then, in the 20th Century, the 1950s biker trend worn by Marlon Brando in film The Wild One made leather a highly-eroticised material. More provocatively, military regalia has also informed uniform fetishes and created some of alternative culture's most popular symbols.
In the fetish & 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 particular area of skin, the materials used in BDSM 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 whips.
“Even though it may be restrictive, many kinksters view their BDSM fashion collection as liberating. No wonder that many refer to their bondage gear as a second skin .”
Assuming they don't suffer from allergies, anyone can look like a million-dollar porn star in spandex or latex. Indeed, it's a sexy mainstay of BDSM fashion, forming an essential component in maximum impact designs like wet-shine catsuits, corsets or harnesses. Considering latex started as a functional material used in creating gas masks, gloves and Mackintoshes, isn't it ironic that all of these have since become fetishized?
BDSM fashion can be both sexy and empowering.
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. In particular, many women feel empowered by changing their appearance with make-up and clothes. 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.
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Curiously, haute couture has regularly been an advocate of sadomasochism chic. The designer Vivienne Westwood was one of the early pioneers, bringing studs, leather and chains to the high street while designing for The Sex Pistols during the 1970s.
“Anyone can look like a porn star in spandex or latex. Indeed, it's a sexy mainstay of BDSM fashion, forming an essential component in designs like wet-shine catsuits or harnesses .”
More recently, 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."
Jean Paul Gaultier' The Boudoir', from the "Sidewalk to the Catwalk" 2011 exhibit in Montreal, Canada
Gaultier 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. Madonna's pink fetish corset on her 1990 Blonde Ambition tour has become an iconic emblem of crossover fashion.
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; acceptance and appreciation of all things different, in ourselves and others. •
What's your most favorite BDSM fashion item you have in your closet? Share deets on your most-loved items of clothing or accessories below or in the Fetish.com forum.
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