From the bodies of quirky, fashionably-provocative celebrities like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga to more mode celebrities like Beyoncé Knowles and Kim Kardashian, latex fashion has been making a major appearance on the red carpets and in the streets recently; although, latex fashion itself is not an entirely new concept.
HISTORY OF LATEX
Making its origins in the early 19th century, the first latex fashion item was created by Scottish chemist Charles Macintosh, who created a form of rubberized fabric which was later turned into long rubber raincoats and was sold in 1824. The coats were originally met with complaints about the smell, stiffness, and their tendency to melt in hot weather. Later, individuals began to rather enjoy the unique qualities of latex fashion and used it towards more… recreational, rather than functional, activities.
“TACTILE EXPERIENCE” OF LATEX
Until the last few years, latex has been primarily considered a staple of the fetish community, rather than a type of fashion statement for the red carpet and for a few good reasons. Latex literally fits on the body like a second skin, highlighting every curve. Wearing latex itself, in the words of The Baroness, an iconic Queen of Latex, is a very “tactile experience”. Physical gestures like running your hands down the material on your body or lightly dragging your fingertips against what you’re wearing are heightened when you’re wearing something as sensitive to the body as latex.
From the early fans of latex in the 19th century who grew to love the swish and feel of latex against their skin, to the popularity of 1950s fetish magazines with pinup girls like Bettie Page, to the music videos of celebrities from Nicki Minaj to Beyoncé, latex has transitioned itself from an item of sexual desire to high fashion. More often than not, it acts as both.
There are many ways to descriptively talk about latex; its tight, second-skin like quality (sensation to that of wearing a giant condom), sound (swishing/squeaking sound effect), scent (the Baroness refers to the smell as a chocolate/vanilla scent mixture), or the empowering feeling one supposedly gets when they wear a latex ensemble. It was then, I began to wonder what it was like to try it on myself.
MEETING THE BARONESS
To quench my curiosity and experience what the hype was all about, I went to New York’s very own latex boutique, dubbed The Baroness, and meet with the designer of the boutique’s items and proprietor of the store herself, The Baroness.
In a sense, The Baroness was exactly someone you would picture owning a latex store and creating designs that have been featured on Lady Gaga and Janet Jackson. A tall, curvaceous woman with shocking, bright pink hair, red lips, and blue nails. Of course, she was wearing a latex dress that was precisely the color of her nails and a red, latex jacket. She stylishly carried herself with such as elegance that you wouldn’t even see with women dressed in traditionally elegant attire. This made it a surprise to later discover what her preferences with latex fashion styles were. The Baroness leaned more towards the refined and classic, rather than the short and trendy, such as an elegant men’s latex tuxedo or women’s evening gown.
“I like people to look elegant, I like people to look their best, and I’m also challenged by the issues of latex.”
The Baroness’s main emphasis with latex is formality and elegance. She made this clear with a rather interesting statement about how she designs latex for men and not for boys. She doesn’t particularly love how the men of this current generation choose a more informal, less classic attire.
“I mean I’ve seen men’s clothes that people just make and it’s like it doesn’t look very good. My background is in tailoring, and I can do a lot of tailoring. I have a philosophy that gentleman should be gentleman, and I think of them as gentleman.”
On men wearing latex fashion, the Baroness proudly responded:
“My men’s line is the best in the world, period. My women’s line isn’t; my men’s line is. The men’s line is because I’m really dressing for men, not for boys, but for men, and that is a market you don’t really see.”
Another distinction the designer emphasized with latex was fit. When I asked her what made her interested in latex in the first place, she replied: “Someone bought me a little red dress. It was a scoop neck, sleeveless, short, tight, and zip up the front, not my style at all.”
Even though the dress wasn’t quite her style, she went back to the store with her girlfriend to check it out.
“I really want this present because I like presents, I go in with my girlfriend later…I’m cramming myself into this dress, I have to walk out into the store and when I do I hear, ‘Oh my god, you look incredible’, and I thought ‘Actually I feel like a stuffed sausage’, but if this dress fit me, I would feel as good as you think I look. So that’s when I started, really at that precise moment. ”
When I asked her how latex should really fit on a person’s body, she explained her philosophy towards her designs:
“Some people like things to fit really, really tight, I like things to fit basically what your size is, and I don’t want it to be so super tight. I want it to be holding you, not squeezing you… I think that too many women have issues about their body and when you’re squeezed into something the first thing you feel is fat.”
From a fashion lover’s perspective, it’s a relief to hear a designer talk about clothing fitting the individual, rather than the other way around and designing for the sake of designing, rather than for popularity.
On the increased appearance of latex fashion in mainstream culture, the Baroness sounded almost disappointed that latex, what was once considered a major taboo, has become essentially “normal”. I asked her what she saw happening for the future of latex and latex fashion, she predicted:
“Well it will be more popular, it will continue to be more popular. It will be, right now on the very high end of fashion you can see there is a lot of fetish/BDSM imagery…Fashion people and people who like clothing are always looking for some new challenge, some new interesting thing and currently latex is the new interesting thing.”
Before I took my first shot at latex, I asked her how she would describe latex, and what she said made me immediately made me rethink what the material was about. Where other people have described latex as being overtly sexual and restricting. The Baroness compared latex to a living, breathing thing which, like us, live and die as well.
To clarify, latex is a milky liquid found in certain plants, such as poppies or other plants yielding Indian rubber, which coagulates on exposure to air. So rather than being a restricting, unnatural material as some people (including myself) have assumed, latex is a natural material that can easily be damaged if not taken care of properly.
The Baroness suggested that you treat a latex piece like you would a wedding dress; care for it and preserve it. The Baroness herself has pieces that are over 20 years old and are still wearable.
THE BARONESS EXPERIENCE
I originally walked into The Baroness’ store, not certain of what to expect, when I’m hit by the scent of rubber in the air. If there were any doubts that this was a custom latex shop, they were gone by the time I entered the store. The Baroness is a small, intimate-feeling shop that has several ready-to-wear items hanging on display. There is an area of the store specifically for consultations with clients who want custom-made latex pieces. Having picked two outfits out beforehand (the Latex Tart Dress & the Myrna Loy Dress), I quickly proceeded to try them on, nervous but excited about finally seeing what wearing latex was like “in real life”.
Before I even walked into the store, I was expecting the process of getting into latex to be very labor intensive; involving but not limited to, a vast amount of lubricant (so as to easily slide into the material), at least one assistant helping me out, possibly nipple covers and a thong (not knowing if the lines of the underwear I usually wore would be visible through the dress), and a lot of sucking in. I was pleasantly surprised at how straightforward and easy the process of getting into the dresses actually was.
If you are having trouble sliding latex over certain parts of your body, using lubricant or something else water based (as latex and oils do not a fun mix make, the latex will disintegrate) was recommended, which I did, using a slight amount on my shoulders to slide the dress over my head. The dress in which there was a zipper on the back was, personally, was easier for me to put on, and also heightened the sensation that the latex was curving to my body. To smooth out any bulges or lines that originally appear as you pull on the dress, a small amount lubricant was used, and you can also use lube to shine up the material as well. How much you use depends on personal preference and how much you want your outfit to shine.
Regarding the fit of latex against my skin, I was expecting to feel like a giant condom, which is what numerous other people have compared their experience to, and it was true, there was a strange aspect to it that brought to mind the fact that I was definitely wearing a latex dress. However, what I didn’t expect was how supple and sensitive the dress would feel against my skin. Running my hands down my body, it felt like the dress was forming to my body, rather than the other way around, in a way no other fabric would have been able to. I was surprised by how well the latex melded to my skin, having heard and read that latex works kind of like a body shaper and emphasizes your curves rather than make you look like a sausage in a too-small casing. It’s one thing to hear about something, and quite another to see how an ensemble, like a latex dress, actually looks on your body.
I had two different experiences with the two different dresses I tried on; with the first dress I was self-conscious, trying on two different sizes (a small and a medium) and finding that the medium was gaping a little in the back while in the front I was desperately trying not to let my bra (a simple, tan strapless underwire, not meant for showing off at all), peak at the edge of the neckline While it did emphasize my curves, with my high heels on and the dress’s short hemline (about few inches or so from my hips and definitely shorter than what I’m usually used to) I felt clumsy and self-conscious, though I didn’t look bad per se in the ensemble.
With the second dress, I actually felt more elegant than sexy, especially with the swishing effect that was happening with the flowing hem of my dress. Coming from somewhat of a conservative background, I was surprised to realize that it looked as if I could wear this dress to an actual social function, like a wedding, than to simply a niche location like a club or a fetish convention; though these two are perfectly acceptable locations to wear this type of ensemble.
To be honest, while I love latex fashion, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to pull off the look myself. There is definitely a level of confidence and risk you need to have to wear something considered so provocative. However, the Baroness suggested that anyone who wants to wear latex should.
“Anybody can wear latex, anyone can wear anything, just has to fit you and you just have to feel comfortable in it.”
I felt elegant, classy, sexy, and instead of wearing something like a leather choker or simple earrings with this outfit it felt almost as if I should have been wearing a long strand of diamonds or pearls around my neck. There are many associations that come with latex; but for the majority of the mainstream public, elegant would not have been one of them.
Latex is considered fetish staple, and after putting an outfit like this on, I would have to agree. It wasn’t so much that it made you look sexy, which it does, but the fact that it felt sexy. Flicking cool water on it, running your hands or the edges of your fingernails down the material, was a very sensual experience that was really enjoyable.
One of the last questions I asked of the Baroness was what did she want people to know about latex. She stated:
“I want them to know that latex is not what they think it is… People do have a very narrow view, people don’t think a lot about how they look, about how they dress at all, I want them to think about that…Latex is my medium, I want to see them dressed in latex, I want the world dressed in my latex preferably, but it would be very nice just to see people not be so narrow-minded about what clothing is there…There’s always a hesitancy to dress, and I would just like to see that gone.”
When I asked the Baroness how she would describe latex in one word, she smiled and stated: “It’s a miracle.” And after having my first close-up glimpse at the world of latex fashion, I would have to agree with the Baroness wholeheartedly.
Shop the Baroness luxurious latex fashions here.