Leather Culture

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The Leather Subculture typically includes both a style of dress and an affiliation with BDSM practice. Both the style of dress and the kinds of BDSM activities characteristic of a community may differ between gay, lesbian, and straight communities, and between Old Guard and newer generations of players. While most people who engage in the leather culture style of dress are also affiliated with BDSM practice, not all BDSM practitioners wear leather culture apparel.

The leather community has been considered a subset of BDSM culture rather than a direct descendant of gay culture as a whole, despite the fact that in years past much of the organized SM community was in fact homosexual, especially in the United States. Today, while some may still use the term strictly in the old fashioned sense (confusing it with old guard), the "leather community" or "leather culture" can include all practitioners whether gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, pansexual or otherwise; and high or low protocol. Modern efforts exist to tie together all varieties of leather culture regardless of gender, sexual orientation and other subjects of discrimination.


Throughout the history of the leather subculture, a variety of traditions have been observed, often diligently. While most or all are based on military protocols and ritual, these traditions varied widely between regions, causing much debate today over which traditions are the "original" or "true" traditions, or whether the "romanticized versions of leather history" ever existed at all.

As time has progressed and BDSM has become more mainstream (see below), the traditions of leather has adapted. The first major evolution has become known as "New Leather" or "New Guard". However, even this is the subject of some disagreement, as many noted authors and historians assert that there is little or no substantive differences.

Today, the leather subculture is one of many facets to semi-organized alternative sexuality. Many individuals describe long periods of introspection leading to their choice to identify as "leather". Others do not necessarily associate their leather lifestyle with BDSM, and simply enjoy the sensory experience of leather.

Old Guard

"First, a bit of historical perspective will be more helpful than you might guess. '0ld Guard' is really a misnomer-a misapplied name-for the earliest set of habits that jelled by the mid- to late 1950s in the men's leather community here in the U. S. It is very important to remember that the modern leather scene as we now know it first formalized itself out of the group of men who were soldiers returning home after World War ll. (l939-1945)." ~Sir Guy Baldwin, M.S. [1]

The Old Guard when the concept was first coined, was used as a derisive statement to speak about the "old ways", considering them inferior. The term "Old Guard" today has ironically come to mean many other often romanticized ideals that in some cases were never even associated with the Post WWII era of Gay SM and biker practices. In some cases the term old guard has even been misappropriated as "The origin of Leather and SM Culture" or to indicate high protocol practices, which is entirely inaccurate as BDSM practices are dated back to at least roughly 3000 BC.

From Guy Baldwin's other writings on the subject it quickly becomes clear that no formalized homogeneous kink culture ever existed outside of those who reported it into existence and that there is no legitimate one true way when it comes to leather culture, leathersex, and BDSM. [2][3][4]

Leather and BDSM

In recent decades the leather community has been considered a subset of BDSM culture rather than a descendant of gay or rainbow culture. Even so, the most visibly organized SM community has been a subculture of the gay community, as evidenced by International Mr. Leather in the US (established 1979) and SM Gays in the UK (established 1981). Meanwhile, other subcultures have likewise appropriated various leather fashions and practices.

See Also Leather Family and House.


Numerous major cities host Leather Pride events, including San Francisco's Folsom Street Fair, Berlin's Easter in Berlin Leather Festival (Europe's biggest gay fetish event) from 1975 and Folsom Europe, New York City's Folsom Street East, Chicago's International Mr. Leather and Amsterdam's Leather Pride.

Connor Tinquist set a world record in 2011 when he wore a leather BDSM outfit without changing for 4 weeks, 3 days, 17 hours and 42 minutes.

See Also Public Calendars of BDSM Events.

Museums and exhibitions

The 10,000-square-foot (930 m2), two-story Leather Archives and Museum[5], based in Chicago, has much information and details on the beginning of the leather subculture.

In addition to activities in Chicago, the LA&M serves the leather world by preserving material from various leather communities, and sends traveling exhibits around the country.

In 2005, Viola Johnson started traveling with The Carter-Johnson Leather Library[6] and telling self-promoting stories from her 35 years of personal involvement in the leather subculture.