My personal world of BDSM is coloured by gay leather traditions, and within that subculture there are lots of protocols relating role to appearance. Dominants and submissives don’t dress in the same way, and there are some items (caps and boots in particular) where it would be a faux-pas to be wearing the wrong thing. We even “flag” on opposite sides, with Dominants wearing cuffs, keys and hankies on the left and submissives wearing them on the right.
That’s just rules relating to D/s roles. It gets even more complicated if you throw in considerations such as whether an item (for example a Master’s cap) requires a certain amount of experience to be worn in public, whether it is “earned” or whether it’s just fashion.
WE PUT ON THE COSTUME AND PLAY THE PART
Of course, in your own home or dungeon you can wear whatever the hell you like, and the choices of many of us are coloured by symbolism. It’s potent.
There’s a reason why black, the colour of darkness and transgression, is the unofficial colour of BDSM. Tattoos, piercings and severe haircuts aren’t so prevalent in our community just by coincidence. Our lifestyle is full of symbolism and you’ll see it on display at any of our gatherings.
It pleases me greatly that my boys dress a certain way to not only please me but as an outward manifestation of their roles. I’m a little lazier, but when I do dress up, I use symbols of power. Collars have meaning in my family, there are rules about body hair, there are items under clothing in public that only my boys and I know about. We do these things for ourselves and each other (and sometimes the public) because they integrate us and it’s important to us that we express ourselves in that way.
I’ve heard people say “I’m dominant even in my cartoon boxer shorts”, and yes, of course you are. But, for me it misses out on part of the fun. There is theatre in BDSM. Costume, setting, lighting, sound, scent and all the other elements are there to be played with and enjoyed.
Symbolism plays in to that. It’s powerful, evocative shorthand that can be used to get you to the place you want to go. You don’t have to use it, and you can get to the same places without it, but it can be part of the fun.
• Submissive Guide – What Are Dress Protocols?
• Dominant Guide – The Meaning of the Collar
• Boot Kink – The Power of Leather
• Submissive Guide – Dressing the Part: What to Wear at Community Functions
• Sarah Sloane – History Break: The Muir Cap
• De Zeen – Kink and Fetish Has Much to Teach Mainstream Design Culture