Leather harnesses... fashion or fetish?

As we travel on memory lane, and try to figure out this burning question: How a fetish accessory became an advanced fashion most item on the big designers shows.

The harness can be traced back to the the gay leather scene that took hold in various European and American cities, like BerlinAmsterdam and San Francisco, in the 1960s, inspired by post-World War II biker culture. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that the harness became a fetishwear mainstay. “If you look back at images of contestants for [the annual leatherman contest] Mr. International Leather, harnesses only made few appearances in 1983,” says Noah Barth, a historian and former assistant archivist at the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago. “Their function in a bondage context includes suspension, restraint and being able to pull on someone or lead them,” they explain.

The leather community first emerged after the Second World War, when servicemen often had difficulty assimilating back into mainstream society. For many, military service allowed them to explore their same-sex desires. So when the war ended, they sought sanctuary inmotorcycle clubs where they met others who shared a like-minded disaffection with the conformist culture of post-WW2 America.In these spaces,leather clothing was everywhere, signalling a masculinity alluring to gay men who were weary of being depicted as effeminate.

This hyper-masculine image was further popularized by artist Touko Valio Laaksonen, better known as Tom of Finland. His highly masculinized, homoerotic art went hand in hand with the emergence of the gay leather scene.

Vivienne Westwood was one of the first designers to bring the harness and other bondagewear to a broader audience when she collaborated with San Francisco-based fetish store, Mr. S. Leather, for the punky BDSM-inspired garments she stocked in her Kings Road Sex boutique in the mid-70s.

While womenswear has perhaps provided the most memorable examples of sex-inspired garments over the years – from Christian Dior and Roger Vivier’s popularization of tight lacing and stilettos in the 1950s through Gianni Versace’s radical Miss S&M collection in 1992 and beyond – menswear has its own history of borrowing from kink culture.

Thanks to designers such as Virgil AblohMatthew Williams and Shayne Oliver, and proponents including Michael B. JordanChadwick Boseman and Timothée Chalamet (albeit accidentally, he purports), structural chest straps have made their way from the runway to the red carpet and beyond.

Harnesses are sexy to wear and to look at. They hug our muscles in all the right places. They are great to flag colors if you’re into certain sexual acts. They are all these things, but most of all, they feel personal to each of us, and to the community as a whole.

next chapter>> The meaning of harnesses' colors