Can Fetish Be Fashion?

Rego: What’s your fetish: Clothing

Can Fetish Be Fashion?

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in the following column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent the views of The Collegian or its editorial board.

Fetishes may seem a taboo subject, but they’re much more common than we may think. In one Canadian study’s population sample, nearly half of their participants admitted to having a fetish. 

College students’ curiosity and sexual exploration can increase curiosity in fetishism. From a sample of college students in a study conducted by Harvard, 22% said they were interested in fetishes, and 43% said they have or believe they have a fetish.

Fetishism is defined as a form of sexual behavior in which gratification is linked to an abnormal object, activity, part of the body, etc.

A clothing fetish is defined as a fixation on clothing, such as a specific article of clothing or a certain style of clothing. Individuals with clothing fetishism tend to find sexual arousal from the aesthetic value of a particular item, the feel of the garment, the visual stimulation of seeing it on their partner or the connotations specific clothing has.

Underwear fetishism

The underwear fetishism, or panty fetish, is defined as a sexual interest or arousal specifically from women’s underwear, typically a fetish found in men. According to the International Journal of Impotence Research, about 12% of fetishists enjoy underwear fetishism.

A 2014 study done by the Oita University Faculty of Medicine in Oita, Japan, found that a potential cause for an underwear interest is decreased blood flow to the brain.

The study focused on finding a biological explanation for this panty obsession and found that subjects who had an underwear fetish also had decreased blood flow in the temporal and occipital lobes compared to individuals without such a fetish.

Latex fetishism

A latex fetish is defined as a sexual preference for rubber latex items, typically latex clothing or items. People may enjoy latex clothing on themselves, on others or both. It’s also not just about the look; some even enjoy it specifically for the smell. Those who partake in this fetish are sometimes called rubberists.

The tight look of latex on the body can be most appealing, and some even view it as a second skin, therefore viewing their subject wearing latex as naked. Some use latex in the form of bondage as well, as it can be constricting and add aesthetic appeal.

There are many more types of clothing fetishes such as spandex fetishes, jacket fetishes or skirt fetishes. The creativity and interest are endless.”

Uniform fetishism

A uniform fetish is defined as being sexually aroused by someone in a uniform. The “Visual Dictionary of Sex” reports that some of the most common uniform types are cheerleader, nurse, doctor, schoolgirl, police officer and military.

Depending on the uniform, having a partner in uniform for sex can symbolize anything from power play to a complete removal from one’s own reality. This fetish also goes hand-in-hand with role-playing. There’s a lot of crossover in this one.

Shoe fetishism

The shoe fetish is defined as a sexual arousal for particular shoes. Sometimes the fetish can exist alone, which shows sexual attraction to the shoes themselves or merely enhanced sexual attraction to a partner wearing a specific shoe.

There’s also a connection that people who have a pre-existing foot fetish may also have a shoe fetish.

Glove fetishism

Glove fetishism is defined as “an individual (being) sexually stimulated, often to the point of obsession, by another person or oneself wearing gloves on their hands.” This relates closely to the latex fetish, as some prefer a latex glove over a cotton glove, for example.

Gloves come in a variety of colors, textures and thicknesses. Some enjoy the visual or auditory stimulus they provide, while others the feel of a gloved hand on their body. While gloves are used outside of the bondage community, some individuals also find more satisfaction from receiving a spanking with a glove than with a bare hand.

There are many more types of clothing fetishes such as spandex fetishes, jacket fetishes or skirt fetishes. The creativity and interest are endless.

Shay Rego can be reached at or on at @shay_rego.


There is another conversation to be had about the rise of fetish fashion, and it starts with its cultural history

Can Fetish Be Fashion?

This year, as the world prepared for its first in-person awards season since COVID-19 saw everything get postponed, there was a reoccurring theme on the red carpet. Amongst the crystal encrusted naked dresses that appear on the carpet year after year, a more subversive theme was taking shape, and that shape, was Kim Kardashian in a leather Vetements gimp mask.

Fetish wear and fetish fashion — the umbrella term for garments most frequently used in kink communities leather, bondage, and latex — creeps into the peripherals of main stream fashion every few years, pedalled by celebrities who are hoping to be included in the optics of a sex-positive movement that has its roots in both the LGBTQI+ and sex work community. This season, it was first Kim Kardashian in a full Vetements look in New York by Demna Gvasalia, who has been working with kink-inspired silhouettes for much of his career as a queer designer; then, it was Madonna at the VMA's, who has always been famed for taking cues from the LGBTQI+ community in her work and personal style. Gossip Girl star Evan Mock followed at the Met Gala, in a Thom Browne gimp mask. Miley Cyrus has done it in previous years, Timothée Chalamet has done it, and designers Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Martin Margiela have been crafting hoods, chokers, harnesses, and rubber for the runway for decades. But when mainstream fashion adopts culturally significant optics from those whose identities sit in the marginal rings of society in the hope to capitalise on a subversive trend, what does it mean for the communities who pioneered the kink movement in the first place?

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Kurt Johnson, a stylist who has been working with kink and fetish-inspired fashion for almost a decade, first became familiar with the subculture through Robert Mapplethorpe's work, which in turn served as a crucial moment on his journey with his sexual identity. To this day, it is still something that his identity is heavily linked to, and the rise of fetish fashion in mainstream and celebrity culture, is a concept he is still at odds with. «My queerness is so linked to my ties with the kink community, and all of that is an extension of who I am and my self expression as a queer person.» Johnson tells me over the phone. «So seeing people think of it as a fashion statement or trend and a passing fad that's gonna come in and out, it does feel a little bit contrived.» He says.

«But, it's also nice to see people embracing it rather than labelling people who are into kink as freaks. It's nice to see some people be a little more receptive to it, but it does feel it's a bit of a costume for them or a Halloween gimmick rather than an extension of who they are and their personal identity.» He notes.

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A brief history of leather subculture

After all, for those who are part of the kink community, identity in its many forms is paramount, especially when it is so tightly bound to gay culture.

A movement that arose post World War II, when veterans returned to America and congregated in major cities, they used the leather from their uniforms to express themselves in subcultures of society. Sociologist Meredith G. F.

Worthen, author of Sexual Deviance and Society, writes that it was partially down to the fact that these veterans experienced difficulty assimilating back into mainstream society, after their time serving had allowed them to explore homosexual desire for the first time.

«It all kind of started with the gays, so it is a very important part of queer history. Leather subculture became a very important part in the gay male scene, so it's one in the same narrative» Johnson says, which raises the question of the way kink continuously emerges into the daylight after economic downturns or major events, such as wars and, most recently, the pandemic.

Kink for COVID-19

“The re-emergence of fetish fashion is in part a reaction to lockdown,” Professor Andrew Groves who curated Undercover, an exhibition which looked back at pandemic mask wearing in public spaces, told The Gaurdian.

“For the last 18 months, we’ve all been in a strange BDSM relationship with the government,” he says, “which has controlled our bodies, forcing us to wear masks and told us who we can kiss or touch.

Adopting fetish clothing as fashion can be interpreted as a desire to switch the relationship, take back control and show them who is really in charge.”

«I think that people being forced to wear a mask all the time has definitely pushed people into looking for more creative ways to do so» Johnson says, noting that when it comes to Kim Kardashian's participation in wearing a gimp mask, it could partially be seen as a statement on how intrinsically tied our faces are to our overarching identity in the digital age. «There are so many things going on culturally that could push people to conceal their identity, and move a little more anonymously» He says, acknowledging that at the crux of it, this is the central idea of the kink community at large.

«Losing that person and seeing them as just an object is such a big part of what people practice when they put on latex and put on a gimp mask. It's about becoming anonymous and becoming another person to who you are without the mask.»

With all of this in mind, is it possible to separate a subculture that is so embedded into the history of queer folks and sex workers a, with a trend that is considered edgy? When all is said and done and Kim Kardashian ships her gimp mask back to Demna, a fetishist in his own right, will progress have been made towards the destigmatisation of fetishism and the kink community, and those who have held it close to their identities for years on the fringes of society? Or will it be discarded as a trendy blip in the fashion radar that coined terms «bondage-chic» in a thinly veiled attempt to dilute its true roots?

For Johnson, the progress lies in the conversation. «we just need an acknowledgement that this crazy fad that people are jumping on now, originated from somewhere for a particular fucking reason.

It came from sex workers and queer people who have continually been ostracised and segregated from society.

I think if cisgendered heterosexual people are going to put a mask on because they think it's fun and they think it's trendy, just having some awareness of the history would just hopefully change a few minds.» He says.

«The community as a whole continues to face oppression and continues to face hate still to this day, and sex workers very much so as well, so I just hope that conversation can be started so a few more people are less homophobic, a few more people are less transphobic, and a few more people are less whorephobic. That would be the ideal.» He says.

«Unless you're pro sex work and pro queer, take the mask off.»


Where do fetishes come from? — ABC Everyday

Can Fetish Be Fashion?

Nadia has a very specific fetish.

«A baseball cap and it has to be worn backwards,» the 40-year-old from Sydney says.

It all started as a teen, when she saw a classmate wearing one while playing footy. 

«It just kind of ignited something inside of me.»

When Nadia became sexually active, the fetish became more obvious. Seeing a man wearing a backwards cap gave her goosebumps.

«I [would] get chills. I found it really hard to resist.»

Knowing how many people have fetishes is difficult to gauge because of the sense of shame some can feel around disclosing sexual behaviour, says Dr Sarah Ashton, a sexologist and psychologist.

But Dr Ashton says there is huge diversity in fetish behavior and preferences.

Not everyone is clear on what makes something a fetish, and we can feel alone with our sexual interests in a society that tends to shame anything outside the «norm». 

ABC podcast Ladies We Need to Talk explores where fetishes come from, and why it's OK to have them.

Sexologist Dr Sarah Ashton helps us figure out what a fetish actually is, where fetishes come from and why it's A-OK to have one. We'll also find out what it's to be the object of someone else's fetish.

Read more

What is a fetish? 

A fetish involves arousal to an inanimate object or a specific target, says Dr Ashton.

«Usually a body part that's not a genital, or an object.»

As opposed to a preference for something, clean sheets or chocolate ice cream, a fetish has a stronger connection to sexual arousal.

«There is more reinforcement between the parts of our brain that are involved in arousal and orgasm, and the object or target that you're talking about,» Dr Ashton says.

«If you're talking about a preference, then the connection would be weaker.»

Dr Ashton commonly hears about fetishes related to clothing, shoes and stockings, or textures, PVC and latex.

But she says the list is long: «If you can think of it, then people probably have a fetish of it.»

A comprehensive study from 2007 on the prevalence of different fetishes found preferences for body parts or features and for objects usually associated with the body were most common (33 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively).

That was followed by preferences for other people's behaviour (18 per cent), own behaviour (7 per cent), social behaviour (7 per cent) and objects unrelated to the body (5 per cent).

Feet and objects associated with feet were the most common target.

Setting boundaries in the bedroom not only creates a safer space for sex, but a more pleasurable one.

Read more

What causes fetishes?

Staying with feet for a moment, why are they such a common fetish target?

Anisa Varasteh, a clinical sexologist based in Adelaide, says that's difficult to determine.

She says fetishes are multi-sensory experiences. And because there are so many different reasons people find certain fetishes arousing (for example, one person might feet for the visual element, another for what they represent to them) it's hard to say what the origin might be.

But one of the most commonly referenced theories is Pavlovian conditioning.

«One study [on this theory] showed heterosexual men images of boots followed by pictures of naked women,» Ms Varasteh says.

«Repeating this process over time, the men showed sexual arousal by just being shown pictures of the boots.»

Dr Ashton says fetishes can also be linked to experiences someone has had early in life.

«Because people might first experience some form of arousal early on in their childhood and they are small people, they might be close to feet and there might be some random association between their experience of arousal and feet.»

Neen has been into various forms of kink, and the bondage and discipline parts of BDSM for 30 years.

They have a fetish for shoes, which they first noticed at a kink show.

«My first attraction was the costuming, the corsets and the shoes,» the 50-year-old says.

«An incredible heel on an attractive person, but non-binary, cisgendered or not, or trans, does something to the shape of a person's body and the way that they stand and how they hold themselves.»

For Neen, it's also about the quality and shape of the shoe.

They experienced abuse as a child and used to wonder if this played a role in their fetish.

«I've had moments where I've been really uncomfortable within myself, as to why I might something.

«[But] as I've grown older and understood myself more, I've understood where the majority of my sexual preference and sexual fetish comes from, or where it's anchored, and I'm really comfortable with it now.»

Be a part of the ABC Everyday community by joining our group.

How fetishes can improve sex

Nadia doesn't always ask her sexual partners to wear a backwards cap. But it does intensify sex for her.

«I don't want to say that the baseball cap is not negotiable. For me the idea of the cap is something I to include, because I find that for me, for whatever reason, it sparks a higher sex drive.

«I'll find that most times it'll be something that can kind of heighten the process. So when I find that I'm really in that moment, I will ask them to wear it just because I think for me it adds another level of intensity.»

Some partners have quizzed Nadia on her fetish, while others wear the cap without question.

«They'll see the change in me and they'll kind of get excited by that — even though they don't understand it.»

Ms Varasteh says embracing parts of ourselves that we might otherwise push away due to feelings of shame is the first step to integrating them into our lives and «being more functional».

Everyone arouses and responds differently. ABC Everyday's resident sexologist Tanya Koens talks about a few bodies you might be curious about.

Read more

Is it OK to have a fetish?

Fetishes are only harmful if they cause distress to the individual.

That could be classed as fetishistic disorder under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

If there are other individuals involved, it's important fetishes are only acted upon with their enthusiastic consent.

Dr Ashton says if it's causing harm to you or other people, you might want support from a sexual health professional to reduce or redirect the arousal.

«For example, if someone has a fetish for denim, and every time they see someone wearing a pair of jeans when they're walking around in public, they become aroused.

«Depending on whether or not you have a vulva or a penis … that could be pretty distressing.»

But otherwise, fetishes are healthy and we should encourage people to explore what feels good for them in a way that is safe, says Dr Ashton.

«We live in a culture that doesn't really speak much about fetish and that tends to shame anything that's outside of the spectrum of what is perceived as normal.

«But really what we know about sex and sexuality and things that people find arousing is that there's just so much diversity.»

Posted 20 Apr 202120 Apr 2021Tue 20 Apr 2021 at 2:05am


A Critique to Fashion and Fetishism — Attire Club by Fraquoh and Franchomme

Can Fetish Be Fashion?

Fetishism in fashion is a big trend that started out a few years ago (around 2000 or so), but which has grown very much in recent years. While fashion itself is for many people a fetish, in a way a commodity fetish as Marx would put it, fetishism in fashion is an ongoing and growing trend.

While sexual fetishism has always been part of fashion, other types of fetishes are emerging now in the look books and collections of many brands and designers.

Defining fetishes

A fetish (the word being derived from the French fétiche; which comes from the Portuguese feitiço; and this in turn from Latin facticius, “artificial” and facere, “to make”), is represented by an object that is believed to have supernatural powers. Sometimes, a fetish is a man-made object that has power over others. It was coined in the 1800s and defines an obsessive fascination over something.

Fetishes have a twofold basis, namely a philosophical one, where the fetish gives a certain power to a person, as they believe in it (à la “The Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy’s three companions receive an object to attest that they do possess the qualities they believed were lacking them) and secondly a sociological one, where one gains power by having a certain object (recent studies for example have shown that in the USA, the primary reason why people buy luxury goods is to gain a higher social status, as opposed to Europe, where luxury goods are purchased for the enjoyment of the buyer).

In other words, a fetish is an idealization of a concept, a fascination with something or the idea of gaining value because of an item. These days, consumer goods themselves are in many cases fetishes, the best examples being cars, art and technology – people buy the latest iPhone regardless of its features.

In the non-sexual category…

In fashion, there are many types of fetishes that are used as motifs in clothes and accessories. Their role is often to give the wearer a sense of stability, direction and in some cases, righteousness.

Today in fashion, we see more types of fetishes, especially the following:

Ethnicity. Ethnicity is a very big trend these days. As the dynamic between globalism and regionalism is in a very powerful movement, ethnic identifiers make for a very big part of sartorial elements. We can often see clothes that feature ethnic motifs (such as African or South American motifs), specific fabrics (such as linen) or colors that carry symbols.

Animals. The fauna is a very big motif in fashion today. From accessories that feature the shape of birds or animals to hoof shoes and the classic animal prints and t-shirt featuring representational images of totemic animals, animals are used as a way of expressing human characteristics in a way that is obvious, yet stylized.

Flowers. Plants and flowers are also a huge motif in fashion. We very much meet it in menswear these days. As the mainstream man becomes more and more feminized, we tend to see more and more men wearing crown flowers, flowers in their beards and so on. In the case of womenswear, we see many dresses featuring colors specific to flowers or floral motifs.

Religion. In the world of the beginning of the 21st century, religion is a very polarizing part of life. In some cases, religion is extremely vulgarized and on the other hand, it is completely taboo. This dynamic creates great tension and rather bad fashion, but nonetheless little fashion, as religion is often exploited.

Science and Tech. While not a very big trend, yet but one that is sure to take off after the autumn of 2017, science and tech will be the next big thing in fashion. Everything that resembles in one way or another thing such as robots, molecules, astronauts and so on will be big thing in the seasons to come.

Mask by Jaiden rVa James

Masks. A trend that has been around for a few years and that is still trying to find a way to make it in the mainstream is the covering of the face. People today are looking to cover their faces or hide their identities for several reasons and are finding more and more ways to do it and be anonymous.

Infantilism. Many people have given up on maturity in the last decade, which makes it very unsurprising that infantilism is a very big trend in fashion these days.

Shapes, colors and proportions that are usually thought for babies and children, but also comic book elements and other childish references are used more and more.

This is a growing trend in menswear, not only in womenswear.

Knits. Clothes and accessories that look as if they were hand-made by a woman 50 years ago are also one of the things people seek out a lot. In a very hectic world, crochets, macramé and everything in between are things that make people feel more domestic and rooted into something.

Asia. While the Far East has been a source of inspiration for many artists since the late 1960s and early 70s, in recent years more and more people have looked out to the region not only for inspiration, but to a complete appropriation of Asian life. Therefore, items coming from the Far East are and will be still in fashion in the years to come.

Theater. Romantic theater and the Victorian aesthetic are still a large trend in fashion, but almost exclusively in womenswear. Regency-era styles that are being adopted in minimalistic black and white designs are often seen both on the runways and the streets of the world.

Sexual fetishes

The world of sexual fetishes expressed through clothes and accessories is far and wide, but some elements of it have entered the fashion world and are now very present in the look books of various brands. The difference between a non-sexual fetish and a sexual fetish is that a sexual fetish is defined as an element that is generally not destined to cause sexual arousal, but which it does for some people.

BDSM. The world of bondage, discipline, dominance and submission is one of the biggest and most prominent parts of the sexual fetishes world. It is so prominent that in many ways it has become mainstream.

Leather or latex clothes and fetishes, spikes, harnesses and every other accessory and wearable element have been and are continuing to be translated in many pieces and shows.

In a way, it can even be said that BDSM fashion has become a cliché.

Toddler sex. There is a growing trend in grown people wanting to have sex as babies. This idea takes infantilization to a whole different level. Sometimes, it is translated into fashion with the help of bibs, pacifiers and even diaper- clothes. This could be the reason why we also see so many clown- sexy items and other circus-derived pieces.

Glitter. Related to the toddler sex and the infantilization fetishes, glitter, sparkle and everything shiny is what seems to be on the agenda of many brands. We see everything shine, from suits to underwear and even makeup. The reason why this is a sexual fashion fetish is because it is usually used in provocative items.

The field of sexual fetishes is very complex and very complicated. It is tied to our hidden passions, ideals and frustrations.

In a way, every type of fetish does that and is meant to grant us either the overcoming of something, the dominance of something or approval and personal gains, depending on whether the fetish is a sexual one or a non-sexual one.

The critique

If we can make a criticism of the phenomenon of fetishism in fashion, we could say that there is one thing that is noteworthy almost every time one of these elements comes up in fashion, the biggest exceptions being the ethnic motifs, animal and floral fetishes.

And that is a sense of hardness, obsessiveness and immorality.

In a way, this would be very explainable: if fetishes are meant to, as said earlier, “give the wearer a sense of stability, direction and in some cases, righteousness” and because they cater “hidden passions, ideals and frustrations” it is only normal that they feature a negative aggression instead of a positive one, a very severe tone instead of a bright and colorful one and that their overall aesthetic seems to be one that is more often than not creating aversion.

Fetishes are objects that help us express our inside on the outside, they are helping us give shape to the world and to our own selves. They are meant to create a full circle, between our mind to our body, to the world and back to our mind, thus fulfilling a spiritual aspiration.

We can therefore discuss about the totemization of fashion. Clothes, while many will not want to admit it, play a very relevant and important role in society and culture.

They make the invisible – visible and communicate messages, they give ourselves a sense of who we are, where we are in our lives and much more.

Fashion is one of the most concrete expressions of life, as it has close and immediate relation to our bodies, which in the end, represent our experience of the world.

Fraquoh and Franchomme

Further reading:

Menswear trend: Couture sportswear

Tracksuits as casual wear?

Hopes for fashion

Trend forecasting: Fashion Weeks ahead (2017/2018)

Rethinking luxury

Is there a crisis in fashion blogging?

What were the most-searched for fashion questions in 2016? And how Attire Club had the answers

Fashion forward: Keywords of 2016. Where to next?

6 fashion subcultures you should know about

Carnival culture: Unmasking the world of hidden identities

The double meaning of androgyny in fashion

P.S. We want to hear from you! What do you think about fetishes and fashion? Which one do you think looks best? Which one do you not ? Share your feedback, questions or thoughts in the comments below! For more articles on style, fashion tips and cultural insights, you can subscribe to Attire Club via e-mail or follow us on ,  or Instagram!


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