THE HISTORY OF LATEX IN FASHION

There's a reason we usually put 'latex' and 'fetish' in the same sentence – it's because, after the waterproof material that became the basis for modern latex wear was invented by Charles Macintosh near the turn of the 20th century, our first real exposure to it was in underground smut magazines like Exotique and Bazaar in the 1940s and 50s.


Technology developed over the century and brighter colours became available – the 70s through the 90s saw those into latex take on a more stylized take on their love for rubber... leading us to where we are today – which is terribly exciting!


In the modern day, we see latex everywhere and it's not just reserved for fetishists. Celebrities have been donning the red carpets with their rubber-wear for years and it is slowly becoming more and more accessible to the mainstream public.



Katy Perry in Berlin, 2010


But where did latex come from and why is it subject to such fascination and fetishization?


A BRIEF & RUBBERY HISTORY

Latex can be manufactured synthetically, but most of the world's supply comes naturally from plants. From as early as the 17th century, latex was the word used to describe the milky white fluid that secrets from around 10% of all flowering plants. Natural rubber is a refined byproduct of harvested latex and we can see some of the earliest instances of rubber being used by humans in the ancient Olmec culture of Mesoamerica for making balls to play with. Further on in time we see the Aztecs and Mayans combine latex sap with other materials to make textiles waterproof.

Rubber tapping to collect latex sap from a tree

It wasn't until 1736 that the first samples of rubber were introduced to Europe and in 1736 the first latex-waterproofed textiles were commercially patented. From there on, with colonization, rubber started to make it's way around the world.


The first latex condom was produced in 1855 though the type we are familiar with today was developed in 1920 and has remained virtually unchanged ever since.


We can see from vintage advertising that rubber corsets were available around the turn of the 20th century, though, by World War Two, rubber had made it's mark in industrial manufacturing, predominantly with the rise of automobiles.


A vintage latex corset advertisement

It wasn't until the 1960s that we see a boom in the use of latex for clothing, specifically in the underground BDSM scene, in the form of catsuits, gloves, stockings, etc. By the time the alt-punk era of the 70s came around, revolutionary fashion designers like Vivienne Westwood had begun experimenting with latex and it was then that the mainstream public was exposed to latex fashion as we know it.




The growing global BDSM scene grew throughout the 1980s and 1990s and with it the exposure of latex to the mainstream and a fascination with kink lifestyle itself. Specifically in these decades we see the majorly increased use of fabrics like vinyl and PVC in fashion, which are so reminiscent of latex but are more 'accessible' (wearable for everyday) to the general public.


In the present day, fetish-inspired clothing is everywhere. With celebrities donning it on the red carpet and indie designers making garments not specifically meant for fetish, latex has become more approachable and available than ever for those interested.