The popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey” — first the E.L. James novel of 2011, and in 2015, the film — has focused attention not only on BDSM activities, but on fetish attire as well. Fetish attire, which is worn by both people who are heavily into the BDSM scene as well as people who like the look of BDSM without actually engaging in BDSM activities, has become more and more mainstream. And as the summer of 2015 moves along, a wide variety of fetish attire is doing well for retailers.
Back in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s — when BDSM was much more underground than it is now — black leather was the most prominent look of fetish, from catsuits, corsets, opera gloves and thigh-high or knee-high stiletto boots for women to leather pants, masks and hoods for men. Gay leathermen had a distinctive look that was influential both inside and outside of the gay BDSM community. But as BDSM became more mainstream after the 1980s, fetish attire became increasingly diverse. And instead of being totally dominated by black leather, the fetish attire world of 2015 offers a wide variety of materials and colors.
When it comes to latex, we like to keep the essentials in stock, items like black latex stockings, undies, bras and basic tops can supplement pieces a customer already has, or a whole outfit can be created. -Robin Jennings, The Pleasure Chest
The Baroness, who has been designing latex fetish attire since 1995 and owns a well-known store in New York City’s East Village, told XBIZ: “The SM world used to be very standard black things. The bottoms would wear very little clothing, and the tops would wear more clothing. It was always black leather, whereas now, you can wear PVC or spandex and still be considered in the fetish realm.”
The Baroness explained that while fetish attire for women often had an authoritarian look in the past, modern fetish attire for women is likely to favor a more playful look. Dominant women are still wearing corsets, over-the-elbow opera gloves and thigh-high stiletto boots, but in 2015, those items might be in red, blue or purple instead of black or in latex instead of leather.
“In the 1980s, New York was tough,” The Baroness recalled. “So as a woman, you would dress sort of tough as a matter of protection — and leather was a tough look. There was a lot of that back then. But nowadays, in New York, they are pushing a more feminine fetish look. You don’t have to protect yourself as much. So you don’t have to do that tough look.”
The Baroness cited dance-pop star Lady Gaga as an example of a mainstream celebrity who is wearing fetish attire outside of a BDSM setting. “Latex can be used in a BDSM context, but a lot of times, latex is being used in a fashion context rather than a BDSM context,” The Baroness observed. “With Lady Gaga, latex is used in a fashion context.”
Gemma Pestel, apparel category manager for the U.K.-based Lovehoney, observed that the “wet look” has been a popular part of fetish attire in 2015. “Fetish clothing has been evolving incredibly fast this year, and we’re seeing a big increase in sales of easy-to-wear wet look styles in particular,” Pestel told XBIZ. “Latex fashions are being embraced by more and more mainstream celebrities for both edgy day and evening looks. Fetish styles are definitely becoming more mainstream, even in High Street fashion with wet-look skirts and detailing as we head into autumn.”
The leatherman look was an iconic part of the gay BDSM underground of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and that look is still appreciated in the gay community in 2015. But just as fetish attire for women now has a variety of materials and colors, so does fetish attire worn by gay men.
Nelson Sousa da Cunha, marketing and public relations manager for the gay-oriented Mister B chain in Europe, pointed out that for gay men, fetish attire has much more variety than it did in the past. Da Cunha told XBIZ: “We are seeing a shift away from the traditional leatherman image towards a younger, more colorful style. Leather and rubber remain popular items, but what is really experiencing a rapid growth is textile. Shiny soccer shorts, all kinds of underwear-like briefs, jock straps and jock briefs are becoming very popular in the fetish scene — again, because a younger generation is becoming more open-minded about their sexuality — and textile is a very good, budget-conscious way to start in the fetish scene.”
Da Cunha added: “Certain traditions remain, and we still have the classic leathermen shopping with us, but then we have a new generation walking into the shop for some sports shorts and a leather harness. Ten years ago, a leatherman would be a leatherman and a rubber man was a rubber man. Nowadays, we see a shift towards people who consider themselves fetishists and might wear their rubber to a party on Friday night — and on Saturday, they put on some leather.”
Alexis Miller, general manager of Le Chateau Exotique in New Hope, Penn. (a Philadelphia suburb), observed that while leather remains popular in fetish attire, customers aren’t strictly interested in black leather, but rather, are enjoying leather in an assortment of colors. “You can never go wrong with black,” Miller told XBIZ. “However, people are really expressing themselves with bold leatherwear in color combos. The ladies are loving the purple leather corsets in a smooth hide.”
Robin Jennings, national buying and merchandising manager for The Pleasure Chest, noted that in 2015, latex and leather in a variety of colors have been important parts of the chain’s fetish offerings. “When it comes to latex, we like to keep the essentials in stock,” Jennings told XBIZ. “Items like black latex stockings, undies, bras and basic tops can supplement pieces a customer already has, or a whole outfit can be created.”
Jennings continued: “Additionally, we carry basics and unique leather pieces in men’s apparel and wetlook fetish clothing in women’s apparel. The idea is always to offer the basics for newcomers to get started, but also, have exciting and unusual pieces to interest our customers with extensive fetish wardrobes.”