Why The Influence Of BDSM On Fashion Is So Important

Before Fifty Shades Of Grey made everyone and their moms aware of the depravity of kink, much of fashion used BDSM references repeatedly in order to make bold style statements. This use of a subculture's motifs within society's mainstream style or in high fashion is far from a first — something anyone who's seen a Vivienne Westwood collection will likely tell you. Designers have long found inspiration from punk, goth, and rave cultures to influence their creations, and BDSM is no different.

BDSM stands for bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism. It's a sexual kink that places partners in two positions — either the submissive or the dominant — and is all about playing with power dynamics in a relationship. While often physical, many practitioners feel that submission is a mental space, too. This fetish scene also utilizes a lot of specific costumes and materials, including latex, leather, and rubber.

When it comes to the adoption of specifically sexual imagery or themes, BDSM is the one and only fetish that can be witnessed again and again in style. At times, I cannot help but wonder whether BDSM itself is often robbed of its sexuality through its transformation into wearable looks. But for the time being, its utilization in fashion only seems like a hugely important thing.

FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images

This day in age, BDSM themes can regularly be seen in editorials and clothing campaigns. As soon as Kylie Jenner hit 18, for instance, several of her photoshoots enacted bondage themes: There was that sexy photoshoot on her website that flaunted both her boobs and booty, and the many controversial pictures she took for Interview Magazine. From the runways to photoshoots, BDSM can indeed be found everywhere.

But as of late — by which I mean the past couple of years — BDSM style has taken itself off of the runways and onto our favorite celebrities, which in turn has lead to the materials and outfits of the fetish scene appearing in the mainstream.

On red carpets and in stores alike, materials like PVC and occasionally latex are being seen more and more. Chokers with rings, bondage-themed straps, and all-leather-everything aren't just for couture anymore, let alone for underground sex clubs. Even everyone's favorite fashion-forward family, The Kardashians, has been spotted wearing high-end latex designs at events and on their Snapchat stories.

Of course, just because the celebrities are wearing certain items doesn't always mean that our peers are. To prove the popularity of these designs in the mainstream, I wish I could take you to the club so you might see them for yourself. Instead, a simple search within fast fashion and independent brands will prove my point: Latex, bondage, and other aesthetic aspects of BDSM are being represented in fashion on every level in a way that they never were before.

Latex Underwire Mini Slip Dress, $110.50, asos.com

What's Yer Fetish Collar Necklace, $45, dollskill.com

The fascination with fetish-wear doesn't just stop with our club clothing, either. Subtly, it has found its way into our day-to-day wardrobes.

Swimsuits with millions of meaningless straps can easily be perceived as inspired by bondage harness-wear, for example. Even more overtly, we're seeing fashion harnesses and body necklaces sold both as underwear and outerwear. The similarities between Ashley Graham's swimsuitsforall "Liaison" suit and a "super revealing slave harness" are also more common than the differences.

Paranormal Harness Bra, $17, vixencurves.co.uk

But what is it about these designs, whether inspired by or directly taken from fetish-wear, that appeals to us so much? Were these concepts — picked up by fashion designers and trickled down from celebrities to the high street — always stylish, or is it their origins that make them so alluring?

The taboo and sexuality inherent in this subculture are arguably not seen in other alternative cultures, because other subcultures aren't necessarily fetishes. BDSM is first and foremost a sexual practice, with fetish-wear being merely a part of the sexual act. Other subcultures — like punk or emo, for example — are rooted in political and social statements: There may still be a taboo involved in practicing them (a misalignment with the mainstream, perhaps) but there is not a sexuality.

When it comes to the allure of BDSM fashion, however, I feel that there are two possible reasons we could be attracted to the scene's style: Either the taboo, sexual subtext within this clothing, or the high fashion element that seemingly removes the sexuality and makes it all about the style.

Larry Busacca/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

In discussion with Fashion Magazine, BDSM educator and PhD student Andrea Zanin of Toronto's York University revealed that she sees the exploration of kink within style as an act of pushing boundaries, rather than demonstrating specifically sexual interest.

“Basically, the mainstream has always been, and will always be, interested in things that are on its own edges," she commented. "What’s interesting is the way the edges constantly change. The most recent example is Fifty Shades Of Grey, but there was Gaultier dressing Madonna in fetish gear in the ’80s and ’90s and motorcycle culture in the ’50s. The mainstream keeps rediscovering kink as being that edge.”

Perhaps, then, our fascination doesn't lie with the inherently sexual, but with the inherently taboo. Just as dressing as a punk used to be controversial — and just as women wearing trousers was once incredibly subversive — so too is BDSM perceived as radical by a relatively vanilla audience. Or rather, an audience that is largely beginning to feel that it has "seen it all."

PIERRE VERDY/AFP/Getty Images

As the mainstream embraces more and more taboos — with a story centered on BDSM becoming a blockbuster hit and one of the best-selling book series of all time — I wonder where else fashion can possibly turn. Will we be seeing adult baby-themed collections one day? How far can the edges be pushed before celebrity and mainstream style alike no longer see these designs as edgy, but rather "too much?"

With the ebb and flow of the popularity of BDSM, bondage, latex, and leather, I'm sure that we have more than a few years left of exploring harnesses and kink inside and outside of the bedroom before high and fast fashion brands see the need to move on. Personally, I hope the taboos get pushed further by the industry and eventually the mainstream. By experimenting with subcultures like these, the public can hopefully learn to respect and understand them even more — and subsequently, learn to respect and understand the people whose sexualities are unlike their own. Even if that respect has to start with a new leather corset or a necklace.

Image: Courtesy Brands