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Fetish fashion

The Fetish Fashion Revolution

While fetish clothing and underwear can still be enjoyed as deliciously deviant, gone are the days when it had to be hidden from sight. Over the past forty years, kinky has gradually infiltrated the fashion world…

What Is Fetish Fashion?

‘Fetish fashion’ is a term that has slipped into popular usage, but to what exactly does it refer? A fetish is, of course, finding something (other than conventionally sexual body parts) arousing. In that sense, ‘fetish fashion’ could refer to any sexy outer or underwear – a thong, a short skirt, a low-cut top, even a cool jacket or figure-hugging t-shirt. Usually, though, ‘fetish fashion’ means the outfit’s style is associated with BDSM, especially if it is sexually provocative. Think collars, corsets, latex and harness straps.

Why Fetish Wear?

Psychologists are fascinated by fetishes. In Advances in Consumer Research, Kathleen O’Donnell investigated why people wear kinky clothing. She found that by being forced to ‘stand tall, chest held high’ when wearing stilettos, corsets or latex dresses, people overcame a lack of self-confidence and felt empowered. That empowerment led to increased control over their own sensual and sexual experiences. In other words, results showed what fetish aficionados have always known: it’s all about how it makes you feel – confident, self-assured and sexy.

Sexual Liberation

BDSM practices can be traced back thousands of years, even featuring in the Kama Sutra. However, what we now associate with bondage regarding fashion didn’t come until much later, and for many years remained behind closed doors. It wasn’t really until the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s that fetish wear came out of the closet.

From Subculture to the Catwalk

Subculture fashion often grows in popularity until it becomes more socially accepted, reaching runways, glossy magazines and high street stores. In the Seventies, punks started to incorporate fetish iconography such as collars and harnesses into their clothing. Designer Zandra Rhodes created a range of slashed and safety-pinned outfits, and Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s London shop SEX sold dog collars, harnesses and rubber clothes. Vogue featured models in stockings, stilettos and satin lingerie, plus whips and other BDSM equipment. Underwear became outerwear, with punks displaying bras and girdles, and Dolce & Gabbana designing catwalk ranges that included girdle panties and bustiers.

The Eighties and Nineties saw more experimentation with bondage clothing and fetish wear. Vivienne Westwood, Thierry Mugler and Azzedine Alaïa’s collections included corsets, and Jean-Paul Gaultier was designing conical bras – including the famous one worn by Madonna. Punk also saw a revival with spiked collars by John Galliano and safety-pinned dresses by Gianni Versace.

To the present day, designers continue to use fetish details in their fashion ranges, such as bondage straps in Jil Sander’s 2016 Spring collection, and Valentino Garavani’s studded high heels.

Fetish Debates

A milestone in bringing bondage wear into the public eye was Gianni Versace’s 1992 show ‘Miss S&M’. The collection included tight, revealing dresses with straps across and around the model’s breasts, and outfits with studs and buckles. The show invited much debate. Style.com’s Tim Blanks says that Versace’s designs weren’t just physically provocative, but also intellectually provocative. There was a ‘look don’t touch quality’ that was about looking at sex rather than having it, perhaps in response to the fear surrounding the AIDS epidemic of the time. Others have seen it differently, with some seeing the clothing as exploiting and objectifying women, and others, such as Valerie Steele, saying it was more about empowering women with ‘the freedom to be sexually aggressive’.

How To Kink Your Wardrobe

If you’re into latex or rubber, while you may get hot at the sight of others squeezed into black stockings, a figure-hugging mini-skirt or thigh-high boots, it can feel amazing to wear latex or rubber yourself. The same goes for bondage wear – if your pleasure is in being restrained, bondage wear can be used to enact that fantasy. Some people go for full-on harnesses, others go for wristbands, cuffs and slave collars, with buckles, studs and rings giving that arousing hint of being restrained. Then there’s sexy lingerie, with classics such as the lace teddy as well as nipple tassels, crotchless or open-back latex underwear… or, if you’re feeling more daring, outerwear.

Whether you prefer just a hint of fetish in your daily accessories or going for an all-over bondage look inside or outside of the bedroom, remember the point of fetish fashion is pleasure. Wear something that makes you feel sexy and confident and above all, enjoy yourself.