History of Latex Fetishism


Kink Culture: History of Latex Fetishism

“It’s important to look back so we can honor those who walked through great uncertainty and risk”

28 March 2021
Interviewer: Michael

The history of latex fetishism is a story of fights for freedom, of hiding one’s desires from public, facing juristical threats and being culturally discriminated. For all that, many figures fought for progress and founded magazines, clothing companies, communities and dating platforms. whiteout went to archives and made some videos, which gave an overview on several developments within the latex fetish community. In this interview he talks about the first piece of clothing, which gave fetishists pleasure, about magazine-, and illustration-heroes, and about the social and cultural environment for early fetishists.

Hello whiteout, thanks for having you here for this interview. You’ve produced two videos on Youtube on the topic of latex fetishism history. What was the first piece of clothing that rubber and latex fetishists used for fetish pleasure?
The first clothing adopted by the rubber fetish community, and arguably what started the latex/rubber community as a whole, is the Mackintosh raincoat. These were first sold by Charles Macintosh starting in 1824 and was the first form of rubber clothing to become an economic success, with Mackintosh rubber raincoats still being produced today. These garments were so popular, that Mackintosh enthusiast groups would form during the 20th century. The term “maccing” would also appear during this time; used to describe the pleasure derived from wearing the rubber mackintosh raincoat.

People in raincoats
Top: from the movie “Dressing in pleasure” from 1977 by George Sampson; bottom: pictures from “Atomage” magazine

When did clothing come up, which wasn’t originally intended for other purposes (e.g. diving suits, swimwear), but directly for fetish use?
It’s hard to say when the first fetish-focused rubber clothing would come about. During the 1930s to the 1940s, it was reported in magazines such as London Life and Bizarre that users would modify their Mackintosh raincoats for more fetishistic purposes. This would include the tailoring of full rubber garments using mackintosh rubber, and creating custom rubber hoods using various crude design methods with latex fabrics. Some of these fetishists also reported layering traditional mackintosh raincoats on top of their custom designs in order to provide total rubber coverage.

“Bizarre” magazine founded by John Willie and Charles Guyette in 1946
Left: rubber gear by “Atomage”; right: first rubber catsuit by “Sealwear”, made in the 60s

Can you describe the cultural, juristical, and medical risks faced by fetishishists before the late 20th Century?
To put it bluntly, the consequences for getting outed as a fetishist during the first half of the 20th century would have been very life changing. I’ll answer this in the context of the United States since that’s where I’m from.
Culturally? Expect to be looked down upon and considered a complete sexual deviant. Much like how we view child predators today, fetishists historically were viewed as dangerous perverts who’s goals in life were to corrupt others with their smut and obscenity.
Juristically? Depending on what part of the United States you lived, simply owning obscene content could be enough to warrant a stay in jail. The legal risks were even greater if you published or produced your own pornographic content and/or used to US Postal Service to distribute pornography and/or contraceptives. Under the 1873 United States Comstock Laws, these actions could lead to imprisonment with hard labor for up to 5 years. These laws wouldn’t see major pushback until the 1960s and 70s through multiple legal cases – which redefinined the classification of pornography, allowing it to have literary and historical significance.
Medically? Fetishism is still classified as a DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) mental illness today. However, if you were diagnosed as a fetishist 60 years ago, expect to receive treatment similar to that of someone with a severe form of psychosis such as schizophrenia. Treatments such as electro-shock therapy were recommended by psychologists up to the late 1960s for the “treatment” of fetishistic desires.
Thanks, as far as I know, there will be some changes in the future: for the 11th revision of the ICD (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems) the WHO (World Health Organization) decided, to remove the category of fetishism and other forms of “paraphilic disorders” from this cataloque, which comes into effect in January 2022. Each country decides on its own, at what time it implemens these decisions into its national health system. This was influenced by the work of the “Revise F65“-initiative. F65 was the chapter of the ICD-10 version, which contained all aspects of “paraphilia disorders”.

John Sutcliffe (left) established “Atomage”, a company for waterproof clothing in 1957 in the UK, and he later founded “Atomage” magazine in 1972 with lots of gear clothing pictures

Maybe some readers of our interview have already heard terms like Macintosh, Bizarre Magazine or Atomage Magazine; or have read names like Eric Stanton and John Sutcliffe. Can you say a few words on the first heroes of the latex fetish magazine community, who made all these desires more visible and shareable among people?
There are so many heroes to mention! Tons of people who risked public persecution and criminal punishments in order to help influence and expand the reach of the fetish community.
My favorite of the “fetishistic heroes” though would be Charles Guyette. Charles is credited as one of the first persons in the United States to produce and sell fetish art and literature. He was able to gain a worldwide fanbase for his fetishistic pictures during the early 1930s; and would be federally arrested in 1935 for distributing pornography. Immediately after his release, he started producing even more pornography and “pin-up” magazines. He even invented the g-string!

Some of the pictures Charles Guyette distributed to his clients for which he faced several legal disputes

Guyette would later help John Willie with the magazine publication Bizarre in 1946. Bizarre was one of the first explicit fetish magazines and the first publication to feature pictures of latex fetishism. Guyette would continue making pin-up and beauty magazines until his death in 1976. The guy knew what he liked, and he persisted and influenced the fetish community from it’s very beginnings of development into the modern community.

Some of the most famous fetish illustration pioneers
Drawings from fetish illustrators;
top row: Gene Bilbrew; midle row: Eric Stanton; bottom row: “Harry”

Apart from clothing and magazines, also places to meet each other came up during that time. In Germany for example, one of the first fetish meeting places was a gay leather bar, which was called “Loreley-Bar” in Hamburg, found in 1971. From your research: where and when came up bars or clubs for latex fetishists?
Compared to more of the mainstream fetishes like leather, latex historically had a much smaller presence within the kink community. Now I’m speaking from a US perspective again, but most of the kink friendly leather focused bars would simply accommodate any latex enthusiasts as opposed to being a latex specific bar. One of the earliest latex focusted bars that I know of in the United States was “The Five Senses” club opened on December 17, 1964 in NYC. This was a gay rubber club organized by Elliott Howard and “Bud” Herr and was in business until 1973. It was a small club though, with only around 25 members
In general, these rubber enthusiast groups were very small. It wouldn’t be until the 80s and the formation of groups such as the New World Rubber Men club in 1979 where more larger rubber focused groups began to form and regularly meet up.

Newsletter from the “New World Rubber Men” (1982) and a “membership roster” with fetish preferences of their subscribers (1984)

The UK had things going on a bit earlier with AtomAge rubberist meetups going back to the early 1970s. However these were still relatively niche and small affairs. The rubber community wouldn’t see major growth until it began adopting a greater fashion focus, popularised by publications such as Skin Two and Marquis. This would eventually lead to now massive rubber events like the Rubber Ball, Fetish Factory, and Mister International Rubber contest. But these are still once a year events. The rubber community kind of has always been the “red-headed stepchild” of the leather bars. If anything, I’m surprised we don’t see more pup play focused bars these days.

“Rubber Rebel” magazin from 1993; posters of rubber contests in Boston in 1997 and in Chicago in 1998

From my point of view, since the 90s, mainly accompanied by the invention of the internet, there was a big boost to the latex fetish community, regarding shops, digital platforms for texts and pictures, as well as for dating apps. How would you characterize those changes in that time period?
The internet certainly has helped spread awareness for kink communities! I would personally say this was more of a 2000’s phenomena instead of the 90s. While the 90s did have some important personal websites such as LatexPajamas.com in 1996, these were still static websites with only one-way interaction.
The 2000s however saw the introduction of interactive websites as well as a much greater adoption of the internet as a whole. This is where we see the rise of specific fetish dating websites such as GearFetish (1999), Recon (2000), and FetLife (2008).
We also see the rise of micro-blogging and image hosting websites during this time such as Blogger (1999), Deviant Art (2000), Flickr (2004), and Tumblr (2007). These services are what I personally feel really lead to a massive boost for the online presence of the latex fetish community.
The online shift has certainly led to a greater awareness of the latex community. Whereas before you really only had access to the community within specific kink bars, events, or exclusive magazines. Now you can connect with members of the latex community 24/7!

Sometimes it seems, it’s a trend of our time, to use fetish clothing in mainstream culture. It’s less used as something strange anymore, but more as something exciting; more like usual clothing (when Katy Perry or Lady Gaga wear it). What’s your impression of that?
I wouldn’t consider it a recent trend at all! Popular culture has always seemed to have a fascination with things that are provocative or eye catching. You can easily look back 40 years ago to the 80s with figures like Madonna, Billy Idol, Motley Crue, and Kiss all donning latex and leather outfits for the cameras and their fans to see.
Now granted, I think the bar for what’s considered acceptable has been pushed forward a ton since the 80s. Especially during the 90’s and 00’s with groups like Slipknot and Marilyn Manson, who not only wore fetishistic clothing but made the grungy and fetishistic lifestyle as part of their iconography.
There has been a pretty steady stream of artists bringing latex mainstream attention since the 80s. I’m always excited to see how future artists can incorporate the material within new forms of popular culture! I remember having my mind blown when American Horror Story used a latex catsuit as a major plot element, concealing the identity of one of the characters (no spoilers). Mainstream culture seems to be doing a pretty great job of taking latex and making it into something unique and exciting.

Music videos from Nine Inch Nails (“Pinion”, 1992) and Madonna (“Human nature”, 1994)

To gather all these information for your project must have been so much work fo you. Please describe how you worked during this research process?
The hardest part of the research process was figuring out where to start! When I was first doing research on latex fetish history, I assumed the community started gaining some traction during the 1960s. So that’s where I initially started finding publications of the era related to rubber feitshism.
However after reading several historical and psychological books/publications related to the study of fetishism, I was able to discover more rarer and lesser known fetish publications and groups. Eventually, I was able to trace the origins of the latex community to around the beginning of the 20th century.
However, who’s to say it doesn’t go back even further! I can only go off of the information I have found so far, but I’m most definitely interested in reading more books and studies about fetishism to see how deep this rabbit hole really goes.

whiteout during his research process

Why did you want to make a video about rubber fetish history? Why is it important to look back so much in time?
I’ve always been fascinated by history, regardless of the subject. And while there’s thousands of videos related to electronics, cinema, or even videogame history; I couldn’t find a single comprehensive video for the history of latex fetishism beyond a reading of the limited wikipedia page.
As I started digging into the subject, I realised how generally inaccessible this information was to the average person. So I started taking lots of notes, which eventually evolved into the history of latex video script.
If anything, it’s important to look back so we can honor those who walked through great uncertainty and risk. It makes me so thankful to be living in a time where I can truly enjoy my fetishistic desires without fear of persecution or imprisonment.

Lenny Burtman, founder and editor of “Exotique” magazine, here drawn by Eric Stanton

When you look back on your work on the topic of latex fetish history, what did you find most surprising?
The most surprising finding for me was learning about the massive legal risks that early porn distributors faced. It’s hard to imagine a time when porn was strictly illegal, especially since you can find it pretty much anywhere on the internet. But up till the 1970s, this really wasn’t the case!
So many important people who had lasting influences on the fetish community were arrested and charged with obscenity convictions. Some pornographers like Leanord Burtman even had to hire legal counsel to monitor published materials to ensure they were acceptable under the constantly changing obscenity laws. And even then, he faced 6 separate legal cases related to obscenity offences from 1957 to 1964.
I’m just glad consenting adults can now produce and view pornographic content without the risk of being sent to a federal prison! I was just really surprised to see how long it took for us to get to that point.

whiteout, thanks for this interview!

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All pictures used in this interview were taken from whiteout’s videos, which you can watch below

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