Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Fetish and fashion have always been closely related. Menswear has a history of borrowing from kink culture, but womenswear has probably produced the most iconic examples of sex-inspired clothing over the years, from Christian Dior and Roger Vivier’s 1950s popularization of tight lacing and stilettos to Gianni Versace’s groundbreaking Miss S&M collection in 1992 and beyond. And we’re not just talking about leather coats à la Tom of Finland. The most recent—and rather unexpected—evolution of fetish in streetwear has led to a growing vogue for harnesses.

Read More: Custom Harnesses

Structural chest straps have gone from the runway to the red carpet and beyond, thanks to designers like Virgil Abloh, Matthew Williams, and Shayne Oliver, and supporters like Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman, and Timothée Chalamet (though he claims it was a mistake). However, how and why did this BDSM-emblazoned piece of clothing make its way into men’s premium fashion?

The history of the harness begins with the homosexual leather scene that emerged in the 1960s in American and European cities like as Berlin, Amsterdam, and San Francisco, spurred on by the post-World War II motorcycle culture. However, the harness didn’t take off as a staple of fetishwear until the 1980s. According to historian and former assistant archivist Noah Barth of the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago, “harnesses only crop up in masse in 1983 if you look back at images of contestants for [the annual leatherman contest] Mr. International Leather.” They clarify that “their function in a bondage context includes suspension, restraint, and the ability to pull on or lead someone.”

Here, it’s critical to focus on the harness’s other salient feature—aside from its BDSM functionality—which is its stylish style. According to writer and BDSM specialist Andrea Zanin, “Harnesses are all about aesthetics,” HYPEBEAST. They don’t shield your body from the elements or keep you warm as most leather gear does. Most often, they are used to frame and highlight the body, whether it is over clothing or bare flesh. Some are made for bondage. They are therefore extremely provocative and shameless.

Undoubtedly, the harness’s greater sartorial appeal stems from both its shape-enhancing form and its risqué associations. When Vivienne Westwood teamed up with San Francisco-based fetish business, Mr. S. Leather, to create the punky BDSM-inspired clothing she carried in her Kings Road Sex boutique in the mid-1970s, she became one of the first designers to introduce the harness and other forms of bondagewear to a wider public. Punks, steampunks, and goths all quickly embraced the appearance, according to Dr. Frenchy Lunning, author of Subcultural Fashion: Fetish Style (2013). “It started in the BDSM culture’s submissive realm and evolved into its own aesthetic.”

“It started in the BDSM culture’s submissive realm and evolved into its own aesthetic.”

In the 1990s, designers such as Versace, Thierry Mugler, Dolce & Gabbana, and others gave women’s fashion a kinky edge by adding a lot of leather, PVC, and binding, which had an empowering impact. In the same decade, Michael Jackson made music history at the 1993 Super Bowl wearing a gold military-style harness, while Madonna sported Jean Paul Gaultier’s strap-adorned fetishwear during her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour.

But the harness didn’t make its runway debut until the 00s. Helmut Lang, for example, used black strapping in between shirts and suit jackets for Fall 2003 and paired perfectly fitted suit pants with white harnesses across bare chests for Spring 2002.