"I'm interested in getting some leather gear, but don't know where to start. What should I get first, and how can I tell quality gear from junk? I'm confused by the wide variety of prices, styles, and selections of leather products."
This is a question I am sometimes asked. I have a fair amount of leather gear myself and over time, I have learned a thing or two about it. I also have read some very well-written information on the web about choosing leather, so I thought I would put together these good points (referenced, where appropriate), and share what I have learned. Knowledge about leather gear is not some big dark secret to be held only by the "old guard." Read on, learn, and explore your interest in leather.
I begin this discussion with the following assumptions in mind:
- This information is only about men's leather gear.
- Truly wearing leather is a masculine thing -- leather is not a "costume" to make one more masculine. Leathermen are masculine not because of the costume they wear, but from a sensible, confident and value-driven outlook on life. If this sounds like you, read on.
- Being from the United States, I am writing from the point of view of American culture, and use U.S. sizes and units of measure. But leather fetish interests are pretty much the same 'round the world and thus the advice relates internationally.
- Leather gear is often worn to provide protection for a motorcyclist, as a durable, warm, water-resistant outer shell, and for leather fetish interests. And yes, it is worn while having sex. There are many uses!
- Rubber, vinyl, and latex are not leather and these materials, if worn at all, should be worn by themselves, not mixed with leather. This information is ONLY about leather. If you are interested in rubber, vinyl, or latex, visit another website. I don't have that kind of gear for a reason: these products make me sweat, and to me, are a real turn-off (my opinion). They also are designed for thin, hairless little guys rather than for bigger guys like me.
- Every man who has and wears leather has his own likes and dislikes.
My thoughts below reflect these assumptions.
A. Leather: Grades and Quality
The following information is both my own and from John Pendal, International Mr Leather 2003.
- No two hides are the same. It may seem an obvious point, but all leather was once a living animal. Each hide is a different size and shape and has different flaws: scratches, blemishes, insect bites, etc. A good leather manufacturer will cut around these imperfections (or disguise them within the body of the product), but that increases manufacturing time and scrap (waste). "Clear" (unblemished) leather is much more expensive than leather that reveals some flaws. The question you should ask yourself is how badly the flaws show, and if the blemishes add character to the product or are unsightly eyesores.
- One good indicator of the quality of a leather garment is thickness of the leather. Thicker leather provides more protection and durability. But it is also heavier, which is not always a preferred characteristic.
- Leather varies in thickness. Leather thickness is usually measured in ounces. One ounce equals 1/64 inch (.4mm) in thickness. Thus, a weight of 7 to 8 oz. means the leather is 7/64 to 8/64 inches in thickness or approximately 1/8 inch (3mm) thick. The thickness of leather varies to some extent throughout the hide. This is why leathers are usually shown with a range of thickness such as 4 to 5 oz., or 6 to 7 oz. As a comparison, a quarter (coin) is equal to a 4 oz. thickness. A standard thickness for belts is a 7 to 8 oz leather.
- Several types of leather are used in crafting leather garments: cowhide, deer hide, boar hide, kangaroo, etc. Of these, cow hide is predominant. Cowhide is strong. It wears well. It is less expensive than other leathers. Considering its price and performance, this is perhaps the best material in existence.
- A green (untanned) cowhide is thick, so it is usually split into two layers before tanning. "Top leather" shows the grain of the outer skin, and it is the toughest of the two layers. The "split" layer is the bottom, fleshy side, and it tans with a smooth or suede finish. This "split" is tough in its own right, and being less expensive than top leather, it constitutes a very good per-dollar value for uses such as for furniture and car seats (but not wearing apparrel). The main drawback of a "split" is its tendency to abrade, owing to its smooth surface.
- Hides can come from all over the world: The price of hides varies greatly from one country to another. If your leather manufacturer cares how the animals were treated or which chemicals were used in the tanning process, they are likely to choose hides that come with some welfare and quality guarantees, which increases the price.
- Hides stretch by different amounts: The neck end of the hide stretches more than the rear - so a good manufacturer will make sure that they lay the pattern symmetrically over the hide. Trouser legs and the backs of shirts could be cut from the back end of the hide where they will stretch less, and cuffs and collars from the neck end. However, this also creates more scrap (waste) which increases the price.
- Tanning process: The average thickness of a tanned cowhide is 5mm. This is too thick for most uses, so the hide is divided into a "grained" hide and one or two "splits". The splits are put through rollers to emboss a fake grain on them, but are lower quality and so are usually used for furniture and car upholstery. If the "grained" hide has excessive scarring or marks it might be buffed smooth and embossed with a fake grain. This will allow the whole hide to be used for clothing, but should also lower the price (and the quality - be cautious!). Look closely at the leather you are about to buy. If you can see tiny hair holes the leather has probably been aniline tanned and is a "grained" hide. This is the highest quality leather you can buy. If you can't see any hair holes the hide might be a "split", or have been buffed smooth or had a pigment coating. These kinds of leather are often shinier and less able to absorb oil-based leather care products. One of the qualities of aniline tanned leather is that the dye can rub off, especially next to hot and sweaty skin, so even top quality leather manufacturers may use chrome tanned leather to make jockstraps, for instance.
- Check the finishing touches: There are steps a leather artisan would take to finish a product that are easily skipped to save money. For example, when thick leather is cut for a belt or sling, a craftsman might bevel the edges of the leather and then polish the cut edge with a piece of bone to prolong the life of the product. Sometimes you will see edges that look as if they've been cut with no further work done.
B. Measuring for Custom Leather Gear
Custom leathers are really the way to go. Not only will the leather fit you better, it looks better. You will not have unsightly snaps or zippers that are found on off-the-rack, cheaper leather goods, made to fit anyone of any size and height. Custom leather gear often is not much more expensive than off-the-rack, provided you are getting quality, top-grain leather. If you order the cheap stuff from the usual biker's leather retailers, it will be obvious and gives a signal that perhaps you don't want to give -- that you're cheap. Certain items like leather breeches or leather uniform shirts should always be custom made. Chaps should be custom, or at least altered to fit, else they will be baggy in the wrong places, too short, or too long.
If you will be ordering leather gear by telephone or using the Internet, here is how to obtain measurements that custom leathercrafters will need to know. Have someone else do the measurements. Never measure yourself, because you just can't get a tape correctly around yourself to get an accurate measurement, no matter how careful you think you can be. Ensure the tape is pulled 'snugly'. Do not allow 'extra' in the measurements around the parts of your body, because inevitably the measurement will not be accurate. Also, leather stretches naturally, so if the leather is tight when you first get it, it will accommodate by stretching as it breaks in during regular wear. Do not assume that the size you wear for a pair of jeans is the same for a pair of leather jeans, or a shirt size is the same for a leather shirt. Generally those bluejeans or shirt sizes are not your actual measurements. The following measurements are the essentials for what a custom leathermaker will need.
Waist: Measure around your body over the waistband of a pair of jeans that ride and fit you the way you will want leather jeans or chaps to ride and fit you. Do not measure over a belt. If you are going to be wearing jeans under chaps, then make sure you measure with the jeans on you that you will be wearing with the chaps.
Thigh: Measure around the thigh about 2" (5cm) below the crotch... at the widest part. If you are measuring for chaps, be sure to wear the pair of jeans that you might be wearing under your chaps when doing this measurement. If you plan to only wear chaps with nothing else on underneath, then have yourself measured while naked. Note, you may think you may wear chaps only without ever wearing them over jeans, but you may find that once you have them, you may need to wear something under those chaps if you go out in public. Also, it is common to gain weight as you age, so skin-tight chaps may not fit in a few years.
Chest: wrap a tape around your chest about 2" (5cm) under the arms. If you have a "bearish" figure, also measure about 3" (7.5cm) above the waist for a measurement of the abdomen. This measurement is important so a leather shirt or jacket will fit right at the arms and around the middle.
Neck: This may not seem obvious, but measure your neck. Quality leather shirts that you might use for BLUF (Breeches and Leather Uniform Fanclub) attire such as with a leather tie, need to fit you right in the neck -- not so tight as to choke you, but not so loose that it hangs open even if snapped shut. Measure at the base of the neck just above the shoulders.
Length of arms: Again, this may not seem obvious, but just like getting fitted for a dress suit, a leather tailor will need to know your arm length for a long-sleeved shirt or jacket. You don't want the sleeves to come down past your wrist, or be so short to ride up your forearm. Measure from the top of the shoulder to the wrist bone.
Lower leg: Custom gear may include custom boots. If you order custom boots, a critical measurement is the distance between where your knee bends down to the heel across the back of the leg. You don't want boots that are so tall as to rub the back of your knee when you sit down, else suffer a terrible sore. (Crotch-high boots are different, as the leather goes well above the knee).
Calf circumference: Also called "calf width," one very important matter to ensure custom boots fit right is knowing the circumerference of your calf. Stock boots may fit okay in the foot, but if they are too tight on the calf, you will be uncomfortable, or you may not be able to pull the boots on tall and straight. If you plan to wear boots with leather or cloth uniform breeches inside them, put that gear on first, and then have measurements taken over what you are wearing to accommodate for the thickness of the leather or fabric. Wrap a tape around the calf about 4" (10cm) below the knee, and again about 8" (20cm) below the knee.
C. Where to Buy Quality Leather Gear
If you are nervous about going into a leather fetish store, don't worry about it. These shops are in business to sell leather. I remember the first time I went into one of those stores (in San Francisco), my heart was beating a mile-a-minute. However, I soon got over my fear of the unknown. The staff were helpful and friendly, but not pushy. They don't want to scare you off. The best places to go are fetish leather shops or motorcycle leather shops. Visit a store that specifically sells leather, preferably one that makes its own products on premises. Look around, see what catches your eye, then ask questions and let someone help you.
Do not go to a motorcycle retailer like a Harley-Davidson dealer. While the majority of Harley-Davidson's income is from sales of its licensed products and leather goods (not from selling the motorcycles themselves), H-D labeled leathers are vastly overpriced just for the name. You can get custom leather gear at lower prices from fetish leather stores. Also, don't go to stores in the mall that sell some leather goods. These stores sell off-the-rack stuff for the masses, and are more "fashion" oriented than having anything worthy of a true Leatherman.
Despite being tempted by lower prices, DON'T buy leather gear from websites that cater to straight bikers. Most of the gear found on these websites is almost "one-size fits all" and looks like it. The gear hangs funny on everyone except the handsome model in a tough-looking pose. Pants, chaps, and long-sleeves of leather shirts are often too long or too short, requiring alteration anyway, and the leather is from a country where quality is doubtful. This is particularly true about International Male, Jamin' Leather, and LeatherUp.com. Believe me, I have purchased leather from each of these on-line retailers, and have been very disappointed each time. (Once, each; never again!)
Don't buy fetish leather via eBay for your first foray into leather gear. Remember, items on eBay belonged to someone else. Leather gear stretches to accommodate the (former) wearer's body. Just because you are a size 34 and the eBay posting says the leather pants are a size 34, it does not mean they will fit you. They could be larger just from natural stretching. They could be (and often are) baggy in the seat and thighs. The problem with eBay is that seldom can you return something if it doesn't fit right. Leather gear needs to fit right, or it's not worth the investment. I'm not saying that you should never buy from eBay. Just know that you may not get something that fits well and you are stuck with an "as is" sale. Also, used gear is used gear. Don't pay more than half of what the item new would cost. It's not worth it (provided you don't have a fetish for some other guy's used gear. If the smell of used gear gets you off, then forget this warning).
However, you say, "I live far away from a store that specializes in crafting and selling fetish leather." (Or I've heard, "I don't want my wife/parents to find out about my fetish interests.") "Can I use the Internet?" Well, you can, with care and a thoughtful plan.
The rest of this section is written about buying new leather gear from a reputable fetish leather merchant via the web.
- The first thing to do is to explore the merchant's website to see what interests you. Write down stock numbers and better yet, print out pages of items that turn your crank.
- Second, look for information on fitting, sizing, or measurements. Better fetish leather on-line retailers will provide a measurements form on their website. Have someone measure you and fill out all the blanks on the form -- even for measurements you don't think you may need right now. If you're going through the measurements routine, get them all.
- Third, find the store's telephone number from the website. Most legitimate U.S.-based stores offer a toll-free number to call within the continental U.S. For others, it may be a long-distance call. Regardless, it is best to call the store to discuss your order. Note the store's operating hours and convert for your local time so you call when they are open. You should begin by asking them if they craft their own gear or sell leather garments made overseas. If they sell gear made elsewhere and only do alterations, thank them for the information and end the call. Find another store that does make its own gear.
- Fetish leather retailers want to get it right the first time, and want you to be happy. Likely they have questions that are not asked on on-line order forms. Plus, you can discuss options that may be available for custom gear that don't appear on a website. For example, do you want a zip fly instead of a snap fly? Do you want a zipper down the back of the butt of your leather jeans? Do you want contrasting colors on shirt pocket flaps and epaulets? The choices are endless, and the store will know what they can do and how long it will take to have it done. Plus, they can take credit card information from you while you are on the phone. That will protect the security of your card details.
- If it is not possible to call the store, your alternative is e-mail. It may take several e-mail exchanges to ensure that the store understands what you want and gets it right. However, at a minimum, you may have to call them after placing an order to give a credit card number. Never, EVER, give credit card information via unsecure email. It's okay to use a website that has security features to protect credit card information, but never via regular old email.
- If you do not have a credit card (or one you can use), you can ask the store via e-mail if they will accept an alternate form of payment, such as a personal check, cashier's check or money order. In this day and age, it is most common to use a credit card, but if you don't have access to one, stores will take alternatives that assure they get paid. You will have to wait for a check to clear before they will begin work on what you ordered.
D. Leather Gear Essentials
A lot of the following content is based on my own experience, plus that of a very helpful website written by GlovedCopSF. While he ranks leather gear as to what he thinks is essential and less important, I have not included his rankings here, because the uses for leather gear are different for different men.
Here are the basics for someone starting out, or someone interested in some pieces of leather gear that he doesn't have yet. The following are my personal opinions and as GloveCopSF points out, his personal opinions, too. Your opinions and creative thoughts may be different. By all means, explore your own style and make a leather statement that suits you best.
GlovedCopSF says, and I agree, that chaps should be your first major purchase. Chaps are the most versatile piece of leather you will own. They are great for wearing out to a leather bar, while riding on a motorcycle, and for sex. You can put them on and take them off quickly, and they stand up to a lot of punishment. Chaps show a serious interest in leather, and they convey that message to others.
A good pair of leather chaps will cost you US$200 minimum. They will be fairly functional and usually have a snap or belted front closure with rawhide strings in the back for adjustment. A great pair of chaps will probably run you about US$400. "Great" chaps have pockets on the front, are made of thick top-grain leather, and are made custom to your size, so there is usually one solid band of leather across the back, or if rawhide strings holding grommeted ends together are used, the ends are spaced close together. Great chaps will also have a quality, adjustable closure on the front. Do NOT buy a US$79-$99 pair of chaps. You'll regret it. They're paper thin, often made of cowhide splits (not top grain leather), and often are pieced rather than made of one solid hide. Cheap chaps are pretty much worthless.
Features to look for:
The Fit: Go to a quality leather store (see "Where To Buy Quality Leather Gear" above) and try on a pair or two. If you're not sure what you're doing, the salesperson will help you put them on. Wear the jeans you may wear with them so you get a proper fit. And let the leathermaker do alterations so they fit you right. (i.e. length and adjust the waist closure if necessary). Minor alterations shouldn't cost more than about US$20-$30.
Weight/Thickness: The thicker the leather, the better. You want a heavy weight leather. It looks 100% better. And you don't want cheap looking chaps. Leather that is in the range of 7 to 8 oz. is best.
Zipper Position: If you ride a motorcycle, you want the zipper on the outside (so it won't scratch your tank). Otherwise, a zip on the inside is fine.
Chaps to Avoid: Don't buy chaps made of anything except real leather. Chaps made of "pleather," or other materials like "neoprene" may look good from a distance in a dark bar, and may have a fetish interest of their own. But remember this Guide is about leather. If you're serious about leather, then wear leather, not imitation by-products of the oil industry.
Boots are essential for anyone getting into leather. Sneakers worn with leather just look silly -- even black ones. But you do not have to spend a fortune. Usually those first starting out get a pair of plain black harness boots, which are readily available from a variety of on-line retailers. You may want to consider a pair of engineer boots, which have a more "tough-look" style. The best and most affordable choices are made by Chippewa, Carolina, or Red Wing. Some guys just wear plain black combat boots that you can find at any Army-Navy surplus store. All are fine -- but the point is that if you are going to wear leather, you must have boots and no substitute.
A good leather vest is a fundamental leather item that you should own. There are plenty of styles to choose from, but your best bet here is to get a leather "bar" vest. However, if your figure is more "bearish" like mine, you may do better with a "biker" vest. If you join a club, a biker vest is easier to put patches and run pins on than a bar vest because there's more room.
Features to look for:
Style: A leather bar vest is a simple, masculine design, meant to show your chest. A good bar vest will typically cost US$75-$100. You want to make sure the fit is tight. It should not hang over your chest, but rather to the sides of it.
Other Vests: A biker vest looks like a standard biker jacket without sleeves. Biker vests should hang over your shoulders and not pucker around the sides. Many are adjustable using side laces. If you want to show a little of your chest, consider getting a smaller vest but also vest extenders, which allow the vest to be open but still held across your front. You really don't want to wear a biker vest snapped completely closed. It just doesn't look right unless you're actually on a motorcycle.
It is likely that you already have a leather jacket. But just make sure you have a good one. There are several types of leather jackets that are acceptable as "fetish", but primarily these are jackets that are meant for motorcycle riders. Either true biker leathers or even racing leathers work well here. Also leather police jackets work fine.
Features to look for:
The fit: Now this part is quite important. Make sure the jacket fits you properly! You don't want a big bulky piece of leather - You wind up looking fat. If you can afford custom, go for it. Otherwise try on several different jackets until you find the one that fits you well. It is best if there are lacings at the bottom sides of the jacket so you can adjust the fit.
Style: Pick the right style, and you can wear it over and over again. A standard motorcycle jacket is best. Some jackets have lapels and some do not -- get what you like. If it has a belt, choose one with a wide belt that is not sewn onto the jacket and is removeable. Epaulets are your own personal choice. Avoid gaudy hardware.
Quality: look at the label to ensure it is made of "top grain" leather rather than cowhide splits. If it doesn't say "top grain," be suspicious. Also, be suspicious of leather jackets made in China, Pakistan, or India. The quality of leather from these countries just isn't there.
If you have a nice head of hair without a bald spot, cut short and masculine, you probably don't need a hat. The tough Leatherman's look, however, comes together with a full leather cap. Many Leathermen choose to wear a Muir Cap. Sometimes called a "biker's hat," the style goes back to the tough biker appearance of the 1950s. Leatherman's caps made by the Muir Cap & Regalia Company, Ltd. are made of full leather.
Features to look for:
The fit: You want the hat to fit tightly but not be so tight as to give you a headache, and no so loose as to fall down over your eyes. Measure your head size by placing a flexible tape measure around the circumference of your head, 1" (2.5cm) above your eyebrows and around the widest part of your head. Measure the circumference at least twice to be sure that you are getting an accurate measurement. Write down the measurement and use this chart to determine your hat size.
Style: A genuine Muir cap has a solid black shiny peak with silver mylar on the edge, a black plastic expansion strap across the front and the top, and buttons to hold the strap onto it. A silver metal expansion strap and silver buttons on the side add style and class. Personally, I replaced the top expansion strap with a silver chain.
Quality: There are a number of imitations of a Muir-style cap out there. It's generally okay to buy an imitation -- just make sure the cap is made of full leather. A number of imitators use plastic. Look to make sure that plastic parts are not substituted on key components, such as the top, brim, or bill.
What headwear not to wear with leather: A lot of guys like to wear ball caps. That's fine when you're out on the ballfield or in jeans and a t-shirt grillin' burgers. But don't wear a ballcap with full leather. It just doesn't look right. Even ballcaps made of all leather. It just looks dorky. (The exception is a ballcap for a specific police agency when wearing a uniform of that agency. If that's that agency's spec, then wear it. If not, then don't.) Some guys substitute a military "camo" BDU hat. Again, that just looks dumb unless you are dressed in military BDUs. I've even seen some guys try to pull off wearing a black cowboy hat with leather. It really hasn't worked. Wear a cowboy hat with jeans and cowboy boots, not with leather. Go hatless if you don't have a Leatherman's cap.
This may not be something you think of right away, but it really can make a big difference to the leather fetishist. Gloves are not worn much any more except perhaps when outside on a cold day, or when riding a motorcycle. But a man in full leather, including gloves, attracts a lot of attention.
Features to look for:
Length: You want gloves that are wrist-length. The wrist should also be elasticized. Avoid gloves that have a little "skirt" after the wrist which is sloppy looking. The look here is "police" - authoritative. That's why you want the clean design. The back of the glove should either have three seams or a solid back. You want unlined gloves (for dexterity purposes).
The best fetish leather glove on the market is Damascus D302s. There are plenty of brands out there, but as your first glove purchase, buy these. Hands down, the best glove you can buy. They'll cost you about US$35-$40. You can find them in any decent cop shop, or at Stompers Boots on-line.
Sizing: Gloves come in small-medium-large. Most men should get a medium, since the point is to keep them nice and tight.
What to Avoid: Don't buy gloves with cut-off fingers, or "half-gloves." They may be okay for a motorcycle, but not for fetish wear. You really don't want "driving gloves". Don't buy lined gloves unless you are using them for practical purposes (e.g., riding a motorcycle in winter weather). Make sure the gloves feel like leather, not plastic. Buy quality. Unless there is a specific purpose, do not buy colored gloves. Buy black. Avoid zippers, snaps, etc. Solid leather gloves with no gadgets are best.
7. Leather Pants, Jeans, and Breeches
This is where GlovedCopSF and I part on thinking. He does not rate having leather pants as important, because he says that leather pants are awkward when it comes to having sex. But consider that the vast majority of time when you're in leather, you're not having sex. You are in a bar, at a party, wearing them on a motorcycle, or just enjoying them as you go about your daily life. Thus, leather pants are a good idea if indeed you will wear leather more than once-a-year at a weekend leather event. (If you will wear leather only once a year, it's not worth spending the money on it. Leather is a serious investment, and should be worn more regularly for enjoyment as well as to get a return on your investment.)
If you want to have a pair of leather pants for sex, consider getting pants with a leather codpiece. The pants are designed so a leather covering can be removed to reveal your "interested member" for immediate sex. I have had a pair of codpiece leather pants for years, and find them quite fun, even after all this time. However, you probably couldn't wear them in public without attracting attention from people who do not understand fetish leather.
The differences among leather pants, jeans, and breeches: Leather pants are cut like regular men's slacks. They usually have a straight leg, snap or zipper fly, and pockets. Leather jeans are pretty much the same, but are cut in a style like denim blue jeans. There may be rivets at stress points like you find on denim jeans. They always have pockets, and have straight legs.
Leather breeches are designed to fit tightly on the man wearing them. The legs usually are cut shorter than leather jeans, because they are made to be worn inside boots and not go so far down as to rub against the ankle bone. The legs are tapered and often have a zipped closure to ensure they remain snug and low on the legs. Don't even think about wearing breeches and short boots, combat boots, or even worse, shoes or sneakers. Breeches are made to be worn inside tall black patrol-style or equestrian boots. Breeches usually have four pockets, plus sometimes a "billy pocket" (designed for a cop's "billy club" but leather fetishists often use to carry cigars.) They also may have flares (sometimes called balloons) on the sides of the legs. What's the deal about flares? Breeches originated from being worn while riding a horse. Ample room around the hips and legs was needed in old-style, wool breeches, so a flare was created on the side of each leg to accommodate the comfort of a horse rider. These days, you don't need flares on breeches to ride a horse -- or even an iron horse. Leather breeches are not usually made with flares any more unless specifically requested.
Most guys wear leather jeans or pants over boots. If you want to wear leather jeans inside boots, you can do that by pulling the end of the jeans down, rolling a sock up over the end of the jeans, and then carefully pulling the boot on. If the boot shaft is too tight, the jeans will bunch up around the knees and look bad. If your boots are already tight on your legs and you still want to wear leather inside them, either buy boots with a wider calf width, or get leather breeches instead of leather pants.
Features to look for:
The Fit: It is rare that off-the-shelf leather jeans or pants fit right. Often they are baggy at the legs, knees, or butt. It's really best to have leather jeans made custom to your size, and to accommodate your height and the boots you will wear with them. Also, make sure that the jeans or pants fit you well in the crotch and are not too "flat-fronted" which can be either uncomfortable when you are seated or if you have any bit of a tummy, cause your stomach to hang over your belt, making you look fat.
Style: Quality leather pants, jeans, or breeches will be made of one solid piece of leather on the front and the back. The seams will be straight on the inside and outside of the legs. There will not be additional seams at the knees. Seams there indicate piece-meal construction, a sure sign of poor quality. Good leather pants will also be made of top-grain leather, and will have a natural shine to them. Some leather pants may have a pebble-grain finish. As long as the pants themselves are top-grain leather, that's okay. Good leather jeans will have double-stitching at all stress points -- side seams, waist, and around the fly. Quality leather pants, jeans, or breeches are usually lined from the waist to the knee. This makes them more comfortable to wear as well as easier to put on. Some leather pants are called "naked leather" meaning that they are not lined so you feel the leather against your skin. I have both types of leather pants (lined and unlined) and find them both enjoyable.
Leather breeches may also have an extra layer of leather on the inside of both legs, and across the butt. This style is a hold-over from horseback riding, as well. However, these added layers of leather can make the breeches more comfortable if they are worn while riding a motorcycle on a long ride.
Pockets on leather pants or jeans is purely a personal choice. Many "five-pocket leather jeans" are styled like denim jeans, including a coin pocket which some guys use to hold a cigarette lighter.
Stripes and Piping: It is very common to find or be offered a colored stripe or colored piping (small strips of leather) on the side seams of leather jeans or breeches. I have been asked if the colors of the stripes have anything to do with the hanky code colors. For example, red means fisting and white means j/o. The color of stripes on leather gear has nothing to do with hanky code colors. I have reflective stripes on my LAPD Leather Breeches and some other leather jeans and chaps with piping or stripes of other colors. I just like how the gear looks that way. Get what you want. Stripes make the gear interesting but do not mean anything else.
What to avoid: Most leather pants, jeans, or breeches come with a snap fly. Usually this works fine, but if you may be wearing them while riding a motorcycle, you may find paying an extra US$25 for a zipper fly to be better. A zipper blocks the wind better and isn't as likely for the fly to pop open when you don't want it to. Don't get a button fly. The buttons holes will enlarge with use and after just a few times wearing them, the buttons may pop open just with normal activities, like getting up from a seated position or throwing your leg over a motorcycle saddle. Unless you want your fly to pop open unannounced, get snaps or a zipper.
8. Leather Shirts
Leather shirts come in a variety of styles, and nowadays, colors too. There are two basic varieties: leather cop-style shirts, and then "all the rest."
Leather cop-style shirts have two pockets, shoulder epaulets and a snaps down the front. A high-quality leather shirt will have a zipper covered with a snap-fitted covering (displayed right). Cheaper shirts may have a button closure. I don't recommend a button closure for the same reason that I don't recommend a button fly on leather jeans: the button holes stretch and after a few wearings, don't remain buttoned for long, especially if engaging in any form of activity -- from having sex to riding a motorcycle.
You can get leather shirts with long sleeves, short sleeves, or no sleeves. While I have all of these styles, I find that I wear short sleeves more often than others. Short-sleeve leather shirts are more comfortable and don't get as hot. You can also show an armband (if you wear one). I wear long-sleeved leather shirts as an overshirt when I ride my motorcycle on days when it's not cool, but not hot, either.
Other varieties of leather shirts may include a one-piece that you pull over your body and close the front with rawhide strings. These shirts usually hang funny and don't look right, even on a well-built man. You may also find a leather dress shirt -- constructed like a men's dress shirt with one pocket and a dress collar, meant to be worn with a dress leather tie.
Features to look for:
The Fit: a well-made leather shirt will fit well, snugly around your chest and tuck in well at your waist. It should not be baggy around the shoulders or the stomach. It should define your shoulders and back. It should have only one seam down the middle of the back, though it may have added decorative seams on the right and left third of the back of the shirt. If it has seams on each side, then that is an indicator of piecemeal construction that is of poor quality.
Style: leather shirts come in basic black, which is recommended if you will have only one leather shirt. You can also get leather shirts in almost any other color. If you do, I recommend darker colors like blue, olive, or brown. Shirts in lighter colors, like CHP tan, tend to accentuate one's physical size and makes even thin guys look overweight. Red shirts make you stand out like a stop sign, and seldom look good on anyone but a website's model.
You can also get piping (small strips of leather) on a leather shirt. Piping runs along the pockets, epaulets, and sometimes across the shoulders or down the sides. This is a purely personal choice. Just don't go overboard. If you choose to have piping added to your shirt, keep it simple: pockets and epaulets only, and keep it all the same color.
If Ponch and Jon (noted from the TV Show "CHiPs") got your engines goin', or if you can't help but twist your head sideways when you see a bike cop go by then you may want to get a uniform for yourself.
Note that unless you are a bonifide cop, you can't just go into a cop or uniform store and buy a complete uniform, especially since the advent of the Patriot Act after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. Also, it should be clearly noted that you can not wear a cop uniform in the same jurisdiction where the agency has authority. For example, it is illegal to wear a CHP uniform anywhere in California unless you're a real CHP officer, or a county sheriff's department uniform in that county (and sometimes even the same state.) Check your local and state laws before getting yourself into trouble. Cops take impersonation very seriously.
If you want to wear a uniform, you need to put it together piece-by-piece. It's fairly simple, starting with pants or breeches, a shirt, duty belt, insignia, and, of course, boots.
10. Arm Bands
Nowadays, you seldom see anyone (in the U.S.) with a leather arm band on. But an arm band still adds much to the Leatherman image. Generally speaking, if you wear an arm band, it should be worn high and tight on either the left or right arm -- not both. If you wear it on the left, it implies that you are a Top, and that you assert the active role in a sexual encounter. If you wear it on the right, it implies that you are a Bottom (or open to being dominated by a Top.)
An arm band should be two inches (2"/5cm) wide if you wear it on the left. It can be one inch (1"/2.5cm) if you wear it on the right, since you're giving a signal that you're in a weaker position. Arm bands should be solid black leather. While they make arm bands with colored piping or with metal attachments, they appear gaudy that way. Just plain black is best.
11. Gear You Do Not Need
Harness: If you don't have a chest, don't waste your money on a harness. You're just highlighting what you don't have. If you want a harness, go light on the studs. Buckles look better than studs. Clean designs work best. Make sure the straps are at least 2" (5cm) wide. Thin straps are cheaper -- and they certainly look it. The wider the strap, the more masculine the look.
Leather Jocks: Seldom would anyone wear a leather jock in public. And if you're in private, anything covering your privates will likely come off rather quickly. Generally speaking, you don't need one and do not have much use for one. Spend your money on other leather gear you will wear more often.
Leather Shorts: I have never seen anyone be able to pull off wearing leather shorts by themselves. (It is possible to wear leather shorts as "underchaps", but that's different from wearing shorts alone). Shorts accentuate bad features, look weird with boots (or worse, shoes or sneakers). Only body-builders can seem to pull off wearing leather shorts, and unless you are one, spend your money on other leather gear.
One-piece pull-over leather shirts: These types of leather shirts usually hang funny and don't look right except perhaps on a model on a website. You are much better off getting a regular leather shirt with a snap or zip closure, that allows for more freedom of movement.
Doo-Dads on Duty Belts: So, okay, you like to wear a uniform. But keep the duty belt simple. Perhaps a pair of handcuffs in a case, a key chain, and a maybe a mag light or mag holder to store your cigarettes or cigars. That's it. Don't buy every doo-dad in the Quartermaster Catalog just because they offer it. More than a few "duty gear" items on a duty belt looks goofy.
Gauntlets: Rarely seen any more, gauntlets are thick leather pieces that are worn on your wrists. They can vary in length from 4" to 8" or so. Generally, gauntlets can inhibit your ability to bend your wrists thus affecting simple activities like opening a door or unzipping your fly. Unless you are a Renaissance Fair participant, don't get them. You don't need them.
Boot Chains: Boot chains are worn like a bracelet around a left or right boot. Don't get them. They look weird and just are not worn in the leather fetish community.
Cell Phone Holster: DON'T wear a cell phone on your belt! It is not a badge of honor. You're not that important. If you must carry a cell phone, put it in a pocket and set it to vibrate. By all means, don't let a cell phone ring tone go off in a leather bar. Men don't want to hear those noises in a bar (or anywhere else, for that matter.) And if you have an incoming call, go outside if you have to take it. Nothing is more annoying that a guy jabbering on a cell phone in a leather bar.
After Shave or Cologne: Real men don't wear scents. Leathermen prefer the smell of leather and other men -- not smelly stuff from a bottle. Do not wear after-shave or cologne with leather. Before you go out, take a shower with unscented soap, and if you use deodorant, use an unscented variety. Men like how clean men smell -- not dirt or grunge, either.
E. Care for Your Investment
Leather is a tanned and treated animal skin, so keep that in mind. Much like our skin, leather is porous and needs to be treated with care.
Condition it when you first get it: The first thing you should do after you purchase any leather garment is to treat it. You can almost always find leather care products where you make your leather purchase, or at any good shoe or western store. What has worked best for me is Lexol Leather Conditioner. This product comes in a bottle. Just put a little bit on a damp sponge and rub it all over your leather gear. Hang the gear to dry away from sunlight and heat sources (like a heat vent.) Do not use spray treatments -- these products do not work as well because the oils that are in the product that help the leather have droplets that are too large, and tend not to soak in.
Hang It Up: Just like your momma told you, hang up your clothes! This is really important for leather. When hanging leather gear, remember to keep it cool and dry. Always use broad and padded hangers, as metal wire hangers will distort the shape of leather. Leave some space on each side of each piece of gear while it is hanging so air can circulate around it. Leather gear can stick together if packed too tightly, and cause damage that can't be fixed. Remember never to store leather gear in plastic bags or containers because they need to breathe. Sunlight can easily cause leather to fade and dry out prematurely. Keep your gear out of direct sunlight when you store it.
Regular Care: Right before you hang up a piece of gear, check it for dirt, cum stains, or other gunk and clean it off. If it's generally clean, use something like "Armorall Leather Wipes" or "Lexol Leather Wipes" and give the gear a light going-over, ensuring you cover stress points like knees, crotch, butt, shirt sleeves, and anywhere else that your body moves and causes the gear to crease.
Spot Mud, Dirt, Salt, and Stain Removal: Use a damp sponge moistened with water only -- not saddle soap or detergent -- and rub it on the gear, particularly heavily soiled spots, in a circular manner. If a stain is stubborn, rub off as much of it as you can from the leather, then use Lexol Conditioner on the spot. You may need to treat the gear several times. Be persistent -- it will eventually come off. Be particularly attentive if the gear were exposed to salt applied to roads during the winter. This salt can quickly dry out leather and leave it permanently damaged.
Removal of Mold and Mildew: Mildew is a name for a variety of common molds, which are in the Fungus family. Mold feeds on dead organic substances, including leather. Mold will cause leather to decompose, leaving thin patches which will become holes in short order. Mold propagates by spores, which are omnipresent; you can't keep the mold spores away from leather, but you can make the environment unsuitable for their growth. Mold will grow when leather is the least bit moist, especially if kept in a dark and warm place, such as a car trunk or storage chest with limited or no air circulation. Thus, the most important thing to do to prevent additional damage is to dry the leather carefully (see below) and then keep it in a dry, well-ventilated place.
If Leather Gets Wet: Drying leather the correct way will lengthen its lifespan. Leather gear should always be air dried in a cool area away from sunlight. Humidity and heat will cause excessive drying and result in the eventual cracking of the leather. Hang the wet gear on a wood hangar. Find a cool, non-sunlit but NOT DARK place to hang it. Wet gear hung in a dark place will get mildew very quickly, and perhaps mold that will ruin it. Make sure air circulates in the room where it is hung. If air doesn't circulate naturally, use a small fan to keep air moving in the room, but not to blow on the gear.
What to Avoid: Soaps, solvents, silicone, wax, and harsh chemicals are not a good for leather gear. Shoe polish should only be used on boots, but never on leather garments. Avoid spraying hair care or deodorant products while wearing leather gear. These things can stain and discolor the item beyond repair.
Professional Cleaning: If you find you cannot clean the item yourself, you can get it done professionally. Look in your local telephone directory for a dry cleaner that specializes in leather items. Some dry cleaners are not familiar with the processes involved in the making of leather and the glues used in the making the garments. It never hurts to make a few phone calls to find someone who is knowledgeable in cleaning leather.
F. How To Behave and Act Like a Leatherman
Okay, so you're getting into leather, and now you're wondering what to do when you go into that leather bar or show up at one of the leather fetish events. I sure know that feeling of bewilderment, wonder, and a touch of fear. The following was written by one of my favourite authors on the subject, Mr. John Pendal, Mr. International Leather 2003.
If you are new to the leather scene or feel invisible in bars, you may like to try some of the following suggestions:
- Get some unscented soap, shampoo or shower gel and use it before you go out to wash off any aftershave, cologne or deodorant. Leathermen are usually put off by artificial smells and hair gel.
- Stand straight and hold your head up. Imagine that you have left a coat hanger inside your shirt or jacket. This should straighten your back, push back your shoulders and lift your head, making you look more confident. Then stand with your feet shoulder width apart and toes pointing slightly outwards. This will also give you a more confident stance. Nervous people stand with their feet together or have their toes pointing in.
- Make sure your posture is open and you are facing the correct direction. If you fold your arms and hide against a wall, people will avoid you. Turn to face the center of the room and put your thumbs in your belt loops. If you're holding a bottle, rest it on your thigh. If you're holding a mug of beer, keep it at waist level. The higher you hold your glass, the more nervous you appear.
- [BHD addition:] Smile! Or at least look interested and pleasant. I have no idea what it is about men in leather, but many seem to think that a frown or sneer is the customary facial expression to have. Tell me, would you be interested in speaking with someone who looks like he has indigestion? Lighten up! Smile! Show those around you that you would be pleasant to speak with. And by all means, remove sunglasses indoors. Don't hide your face nor your eyes.
- Slow down your movements. Make them measured. Confident guys walk slowly and act like they have no need to hurry. If you scurry around, no one will have time to approach you. (BHD comment: there are far too many "race track walkers" in leather bars. Just stand back and watch -- you will see a number of guys who just circle and circle 'round, never stopping. This is a demonstration of nervousness, as well.)
- Dress as much like the person you want to attract as possible. Four out of five people who spend time cultivating an image do so to attract other people who have the same image. If you want to optimize your chances of befriending a bear, grow a beard. If you want to be taken seriously by Leathermen, wear leather and boots. (BHD adds: be careful of the fine line between imitation and impersonation. For example, if you want to befriend a biker and dress like one, expect to be asked about your bike. If you don't have one, at least know enough about motorcycles to talk about bikes with another biker. Imitation is a form of flattery; impersonation is dimly viewed. Don't make up stories about yourself or your interests to impress someone else. You'll be found out and then get a poor reputation that will be hard to dismiss.)
- If you spot your dream guy, watch him for a while and see who he looks at. If he seems to notice people who look like you - go for it. Don't wait for him to approach someone else. However, if he only looks at people who look nothing like you, then it's best to move on, otherwise you'll waste your evening.
- Be aware of the signals you give to others. If you are wearing shorts, dog collar, or anything predominantly on your right hand side (keys, hankies, wrist cuffs, arm bands etc.) you are giving off the signal that you are submissive, and are unlikely to attract the attention of guys dressed the same way. Likewise, if you are wearing full leather, muir cap, or anything on your left hand side (arm band, keys, chains, paddle, flogger, handcuffs etc.) you are giving off the signal that you are a Top. If you want to appear neutral or versatile, wear the same on both sides. (BHD adds: avoid over-doing the accessories. Some guys wear so much stuff that you can hear them banging and clanging a mile away.)
- Read books by leather authors so you understand what the leather scene is all about. The Leatherman's Handbook by Larry Townsend is a great introduction. And Painfully Obvious by Robert Davolt is a good antidote to anyone who takes The Leatherman's Handbook too seriously!
- [BHD adds:] Don't whine about everyone being "cliquish." A leather bar is like any other social gathering spot. People talk to people they know. If you are new, no one will talk to you simply because they don't know you. They are not being cliquish, they are being human. Note, however, if you see a group of guys with the same back patch on their leather vest, and you are not a member of that club, they may not talk to you. Look for "unaffiliated" guys or guys who are standing alone.
- Try talking to someone. Why should everyone else always have to approach you? Smile and offer to buy someone a drink. Even if nothing comes of it, if you can chat with three people who will say "hello" to you the next time you meet, you'll soon stop being the new kid in town.
- [BHD adds:] Avoid making assumptions about others based on their physical characteristics. (That is, "don't judge a book by its cover.") Just because my best friend "AZ" (photo right) is so incredibly handsome, it doesn't mean that he is stuck up. Just because a guy has a bearish figure doesn't mean that he isn't worthwhile talking to. The guy with the limp doesn't mean he has any other problem other than something causing him to have to limp. Actually, the opposite is often very true; they would welcome a considerate greeting and conversation. Be friendly and try to avoid being judgmental based on looks, weight, color, height, or other physical attributes. Sadly, there are a lot of gay guys who avoid others based on what they see, rather than who they get to know, because they never even try to have a conversation.
- [BHD adds:] Learn the simple rules of social chit-chat, especially with people you don't know. Begin by introducing yourself, rather than asking the other person's name first. For example, smile and say, "Hi, I'm Buck," and then hold out your hand to shake. Seldom would someone not return the handshake and give his name. (If he doesn't, then you don't want to know him anyway.) Follow by an open-ended question related to non-controversial topics, such as:
- "I like those chaps you're wearing. Where did you get them?" Guys like compliments that don't come across as being pandering.
- "I see from your backpatch that you are a member of The Bootmen. Tell me about your club." Club members always like to talk about their clubs.
- "I see you have a lot of pins on your vest. Which of the events you have attended did you like the best and suggest I go to? Guys with a vest full of "run pins" enjoy describing the events they have attended.
- "I'm from Maryland, and haven't been here before. What would you suggest I see while I am in town?" Even if the person is a first-time visitor, he may have something to suggest or give a reply that will lead to a conversation.
- "I enjoyed the contestant introductions earlier. Which guys did you like?" That is provided the guy you are speaking with was there. Lots of veteran leather event attendees skip the preliminary activities and can tell first-timers because the new guys go to everything listed in the program.
- The point is to open the conversation, and see where it goes. If you get back one word replies, grunts, grumbles, or nothing, move on. There are many other men to talk to. Not all men are interested in having a conversation that leads to the bedroom. Some just want to meet other guys who share common interests. That's not a bad thing at all. Who knows?... a conversation could lead to something more long-term than a one-night romp in a hotel room.