One of the most common questions that people in this community get from curious onlookers or guys who know that they have some connection to leather but have not gotten involved yet is “where do I begin?” or “what should I buy first?”. There is a lot that people have to navigate when getting involved in this community — aside from perceived unspoken rules and cultural norms that are somewhat exclusive to gay men’s leather culture, leather is not cheap.
Some things to note before we go further:
- This is intended to be a set of guidelines for beginners who want to get involved in the leather community but aren’t sure where to start.
- I present everything as subjective opinion.
- You do not need to follow every single word that you are told about what you should be doing.
Spend Your Money Wisely
Leather is not a cheap fetish, so you’re going to want to buy gear that lasts a lifetime. When you see a new uniform shirt on eBay for $100, ask yourself why it costs so much less than a shirt from a reputable seller. While eBay was once a source for good quality used goods, it is now overrun with drop shippers who use the wish.com strategy of advertising cheap products by stealing photos.
Take this listing for example…
What you will likely end up with if you buy this shirt is one of inferior material and imperfect stitching, manufactured in lousy conditions. These shirts tend to be very thin and will most likely warp severely the first time you try it on. Instead, there are several reputable brands across a range of price points you can explore for a similar product.
If you can afford custom gear, it will be worth the extra cost. It will fit perfectly, it will look better, and most importantly you will feel better wearing it. Leather operates under a “you get what you pay for” model, and the pricier stuff is built to last. There is a reason why the guys in this community who have been around the longest are still wearing the same leathers they did in the 80s or earlier.
Making the assumption that your desire is to be recognized as somebody with an interest in leather, there are a few things that will make your presence and desire known when you are out and about. While a full BLUF uniform might be in your future some day, for now you’ll want to start with a versatile base that you can wear to the leather bar without feeling out of place, which will get you recognized as somebody with an interest in leather.
There are numerous discussions in this community around our boots — talking about them serving as a base or grounding for our leather lifestyle, or an expression of detail and care, for example. That can be addressed later. For now, we want to get you into a pair of boots. This is the most basic form of gear that you can wear out to the bar or event. In reality, you don’t actually need much else in order to feel at home in this community.
There are a lot of different styles to choose from, but you will likely want to avoid department and shoe stores if you want to buy an appropriate pair of boots. Thankfully, we are blessed with a number of manufacturers locally and just across the border who make high quality boots.
Military, combat, jump, or parade boots: There are a lot of different names for these boots, but the qualities you are looking for will be the same. Black, leather, and polishable. These are lace-up boots that are readily available new or used at any Army Surplus store. VML members incidentally get 10% off at a number of retailers who regularly have these boots in stock.
Engineer or harness boots: These boots have more of a motorcyclist look and can either come polishable or oil-tanned. Brands to look out for are Dayton and Wesco, which can be quite expensive but are designed to last a lifetime.
Logger boots: These are lace-up boots that are often oil-tanned and somewhat more comfortable than parade boots to wear for an entire day. One of the most reasonable styles of boots to buy because of how versatile they are. Try them with a pair of colored laces to subtly flag your interests. Local manufacturer Dayton, as well as Portland-based Danner
Patrol or motorcop boots: These boots get more into the uniform fetishism side of things, but are worth mentioning because of how great they can look when highly polished and presented with a pair of tight fitting breeches. Available either with a bal-lace or parade style, they can be a great way to start expressing your interest in uniforms and can be comfortably worn beneath a pair of jeans while you are amassing your uniform collection.
With patrol boots being mentioned, I want to touch on boot height. While it’s not necessary to buy boots that are knee-height, doing so does give the option of heading out to the bar with your pants tucked into your boots, for a more overt display of fetishism, while still giving you the option of wearing them underneath a pair of jeans for more conservative settings. It’s really up to what you want and how you want to express yourself.
And finally, a coupe of things you may want to avoid:
- Boots that are commonly marketed in the straight BDSM, alt-lifestyle, and/or goth communities. There is nothing structurally wrong with these boots, but the features of these boots — tall platforms or heels, thin leather or pleather, and the general style of these boots — tend to clash with what leathermen typically wear and a newbie will stand out in a way that expresses more of an outsider attitude than you might want to project initially.
- Fashion/designer boots, or really anything with webbing, elastics, side zips, or typical features you’ll expect from a pair of boots you find at a department store. They will not look good with the rest of your gear.
- Tactical boots, for the same reason as the last point. They have great features that make them extremely comfortable to wear, but once you get into a pair of chaps, you’ll look in the mirror and feel like something is off (trust me on this).
An aside… You are now ready to go to the leather bar
Congratulations! You are now fully ready to head off to the bar or a VML event in your boots and will be recognized as somebody with an authentic interest in leather. All you’ll need is some stuff that you probably already have: A pair of good fitting jeans (Levis 501s especially recommended), a reasonably snug plain t-shirt in some neutral color, and a black leather belt are all that you’ll need to wear, and I guarantee you will look and feel great.
Much like boots, chaps have a LOT of versatility, which is why they should be purchased early on. They can be worn over your jeans at the bar, and then with nothing else (other than your boots) for sex. In fact, owning and wearing chaps during sex is a minimum requirement for many serious leather fetishists to consider when hooking up.
Chaps are very much not fashion, and express a keen interest in leather as fetish. Expect to spend a few hundred bucks on these, and plan to get lube, sweat, cum, and maybe a few other bodily fluids all over them.
Unlike your boots, you will likely need to go into a store for this. Doghouse Leathers in Seattle is owned and staffed by leathermen. East Side Rerides in Vancouver (10% off for VML members!) are an option for consigned chaps, and are likewise owned by leatherfolk. Ask for a pair of bar chaps. Don’t be shy — they know you are a pervert, and they are also perverts.
Choose something that is snug enough that you can wear them both with jeans and nude. Laces on the side can help with this, but nothing beats something that hugs your body just right. When you try them on, wear your boots to ensure they can be comfortably worn together.
You’ll want something that is manufactured with a single piece of leather extending the entirety of the product. A manufacturer making up each piece of the chaps with several horizontal ‘panels’, usually one above the knee and another below, is a sign they are doing everything they can to cut costs. This is something that you typically will never find from fetish companies.
There are a number of styles of jacket that work well in terms of fetishism, but even more that do not. Police jackets or racing leathers will work here, but the most versatile and useful jacket will be a classic ‘Brando’ style of jacket designed for motorcycle riding.
Making sure your jacket fits well should be your first priority. Jackets are usually sized to the chest, so you’ll want to try it on before you buy it to make sure that there is not excess room in the arms and belly areas.
Lacing on the sides will ensure the jacket fits well as your body composition changes over time.
A single leather jacket in this style can last a long time, worn both in casual settings and hardcore play parties, and if the leather is of appropriate quality and the jacket is of appropriate construction, you will feel like a million bucks wearing it.
Find something with a wide collar, button-down lapels, and belt loops for a duty belt if you have the inclination towards that look. Ensure it’s made entirely of leather and of a quality of leather that feels heavy and soft, rather than thin and plasticy.
East Side Rerides has an extensive selection of jackets of varying quality, and we are in close proximity to Langlitz leather if you want to go all out on something custom fit. A lesser known alternative is Johnson Leather in San Francisco.
When it comes to jackets, you can also sometimes find amazing deals at thrift stores.
Harnesses have escaped from fetishism and are now frequently associated with general gay club wear. This is quite alright, but knowing the difference between a harness you’ll find at a circuit party and one you’ll find at the leather bar is an important consideration if you are expressing an interest in the leather scene.
My opinion is that buckles look better than studs, 2 inches wide is better than 1 inch wide, if you want to show that your interest is leather, rather than clubbing.
There are many different styles of harnesses, but keeping things simple is best. Symmetry, heft/thickness, and basic design will show off your chest and set you apart from the guys who buy a harness to wear at jockstrap parties.
Wearing a bar vest gives you the best of both words of being shirtless and covering yourself in dead cow. You can easily wear it over a harness or a shirt, it’s useful for a variety of kink activities, and it can look really hot by showing off your arms, chest, and shoulders.
What you want to look for is a “bar vest” — A basic, plain, unlined black leather vest with clean lines and no bullshit. While a western/cowboy vest can look great if that’s the look you’re going for, your first bar vest will probably be something you keep forever and can wear anywhere. Similarly, a modern biker style vest can certainly look good, but before you buy it, try it on both with and without a t-shirt to see how it looks.
The fit on the vest should not be draped across your chest, instead you’ll want to show it off. A good guideline is that your nipples should be exposed.
Much like with everything else, pay attention to the quality of the leather. Soft and supple, as always.
And that covers the basics! The order you purchase them in is really up to you (although I have strong feelings about boots being first, personally).
One final caveat I will leave you with is to avoid being a clone and understand there is no need to purchase any particular piece of gear if it does not speak to you, and while there are some brands that are either very well known or located in or near Vancouver listed here, your personal style and fetishes should dictate what gear you should buy above all else.
Up next, I intend on expanding more into common leather gear, covering a few more iconic pieces of leather gear that may be of interest.