Sight, smell, feel, creak, and even taste. People use these words to describe the appeal of leather. All five senses seem to be used to 'register' the arousing effect of leather. Combined they make leather stand for masculinity, sexiness, and male bonding. To some (especially in the USA) the word "leather" even describes a whole life style that involves SM. Leather (the material) arouses people in very different ways. But really explaining why leather is arousing is almost impossible. You either understand, or you don't.
How people define themselves as leathermen is very different too. The same goes for wearing leather. Some follow very strict rules, others "just" wear leather clothing they like or find arousing. To some "leather" is only a part of their sexuality, to some it's their life.
Getting Leather fetish gear
A very important factor for the appearance of gay leathermen was the availability of leather clothing itself. Edward from Amsterdam went all the way to Hamburg in Germany in the late 1960's and Jason in London tried to obtain special leather items by mail in the USA in the late 1940's. In 1972 the English ad of Boy Studio appeared in a German magazine. The magazine was not only published in Germany but also in German. Moreover, the rest of the magazine was not at all aimed at leathermen. If it was interesting enough for an English company to advertise on the European continent, it is obvious that there weren't that many manufacturers of leather gear in Europe. At least not many companies that sold leather appealing to gay leathermen.
Leather gear for motorcyclists was readily available. But for leather of a more kinky nature leather fetishists had to find other leather shops who were willing to meet special requests. One of these, in Los Angeles, was started by a young Harley riding leather fan who learned to use a sewing machine and made a few items for himself. In 1960, when some of his friends asked him to make leather fetish items, he opened a small shop called The LeatherMaker. His first success, was the creation of black leather chaps for bikers, styled after those worn by cowboys.
The LeatherMaker claims to have been the originator of biker chaps, which were first made with a full length zipper on the inside of the leg. Jason, by then living in Los Angeles, tells us: "I can vouch for the fact that he DID make the first chaps with a zipper on the outside of the leg, because I ordered them from him in 1962, and I still have them. From those first orders and requests for new items, he began to design and make codpiece pants, hoods, masks and many other leather fetish items." Sadly, in 1985, the LeatherMaker died suddenly from a heart attack, but many of his ideas were quickly copied by other shops, in many places, to meet the increasing market for fetish leather. Above he is wearing some of his early chaps and other leathers he made for himself.
By the 1970's, new leather stores were opening in many of the large US cities to meet the demand from the new crop of young leather fans who were not bikers. Many of these were inspired by the early pop musicians in black leather, and later hard rock bands who adopted black leather as a trademark. Many of their outfits were definitely kinky in design. So owning at least a black leather jacket and then leather pants became commonplace.
In Amsterdam Rob Meijer opened the RoB Amsterdam leather shop in 1974. The shop has become legendary for its quality and design. It now has branches in London, Manchester and Berlin too, and could even be found in San Francisco for a time. Their gear is also sold in other shops in Brussels, Paris, Munich and Zurich. In a number of cities one person firms were established in the 1970's. "Leder - boutique bei Günther" in Berlin for instance (see picture above). A lot of those one man shops stopped when the owner and leather craftsman retired or was unable to continue the shop for another reason. In the case of RoB the company survived Rob Meijer's death in 1990, because it had already become much larger.
Because there were not that many shops a lot of customers lived too far from the shops to visit them. Many of the shops had catalogues that could be ordered by mail and so could the merchandise. When the Internet really broke through in the late 1990's most catalogs were soon replaced by a website.
For some reason there seems to be a different attitude towards leather in Europe and America. "Leathermen" in Europe wear leather pants and jackets, without very strict rules. In the US you are considered a leatherman if you lead a certain lifestyle, not necessarily in leather pants and mostly in an SM style.
This is consistent with the description in the American "Leatherman's Handbook", by Larry Townsend (1930-2008), first published in 1972, who describes leathermen as men with "toys, belts, boots, jackets and" ... "blue jeans". To us this is very surprising. A lot of gay men in Europe consider leather pants to be the most essential part of the leatherman's outfit. Fortunately a lot of the leathermen in the US (and elsewhere) cover the blue jeans with leather chaps. The modern motorcycle style chaps that gays wear were modeled after the ones the cowboys wore.
The image of a leatherman has almost turned into a cliché now. Two Dutch artists made series of pictures portraying dress codes from different subcultures, one of those was a series called "Leathermen".
In the 21st century the Internet has become a major influencing factor for leathermen too. The Internet provides pictures to copy the style from and all sorts of opportunities to meet and date each other. It has taken over the role of contact ads and bars in a way. In the following pages we look at how leathermen used to meet each other in the old days.
Leather History pages of the website of Cuirmale, the Netherlands
e-mail: email@example.com - website: www.cuirmale.nl