International Mr. Leather 2019 Fashion

posted by Madame Bubby

I passed by a booth at the leather market, and I noticed witches' hats. Yes, the kind with the peak. I heard a woman cackling. No, I am not making the above up, and I am not recounting a surrealistic dream.

And this booth was also selling a particularly hot item at the mart, a leather crown (for Baby Boomers like me, it resembles the head gear of the character Jughead in the Archie comics).

jughead leather crown

To be honest, I've noticed changes in the types of items sold at the market over the years, but this one was certainly, let's just say, interesting. The leather market is no longer solely a gay male space, or for that matter, a “traditional” gay cis leatherman space, with guys wearing the iconic Village People gay macho gear.
 

Village People

Through the years, as a diversity of genders have competed in various contests, the overall inventory of the mart and those who attend it has changed to reflect a more fluid, self-defining identification with and practice of kink.

Thus, the witches' hats could reflect, however superficially, a Wiccan influence, and many gay leathermen have rejected traditional monotheistic religions in favor of other forms of spirituality, often veering toward transmutations of beliefs and rituals prominent globally before Christian domination and colonization. In fact, the polyamorous life of many leatherfolk meshes well with a fluid polytheism.

Other kink/fantasy trends that have integrated themselves into International Mr. Leather include costume play. Think Renaissance fair, think Lord of the Rings, think Game of Thrones. Opera masks, capes, pirate boots with the cuff.
 

Renaissance men's clothing

I also noticed a couple of furries, though the fox had to take off the head (the mart tends to become hot and claustrophobic).
 

Leathermen and furries at IML

And, surprisingly, because I had thought it was not trending, steampunk fashion. I noticed a couple of guys with this gear attached to their hats.

One of the events this year was a discussion of the superhero fetish; this event makes sense, as the culture is replete with multiple constructions, reconstructions, and deconstructions in this genre. The line to get into Avengers: Endgame merges with the line to get into the mart.
 

Men in superhero fetish attire at IML

Even the conventional leather gear is taking on the colors of the rainbow. No longer black and red leather shirts: I noticed bright yellow and a green that somewhat resembles a lawn turf.

Uniforms composed of cloth are now composed of leather. I noticed a boy scout uniform produced completely in leather, and a couple of leather football shirts. Leather for those who can afford it or who want to combine looks and textures, while the cloth will fulfill the fetish/fantasy on its own terms.

Overall, dizzying! A traditional Old Guard type might lament the diffusiveness and lack of authenticity he sees in these fashions, while a millennial might rejoice that she can find something that fits her sensibility and budget. Leather gear has always been expensive. In fact, I noticed substantive price increases all around), and I am not trying to perpetuate the broke millennial stereotype, but the traditional leather scene has tended to attract older, established guys who possess the time and money to be kinky.

But who can really determine not just how to appear non-normative, but be non-normative? The leather kink world thrives on the tensions between hierarchy/freedom, appearance/reality, norm/taboo.

Perhaps the kaleidoscope of colors and textures shows this tension as the scene embraces generations who assume sexuality develops on a spectrum, and for whom reality shifts at a dizzying pace between a cyberspace primarily visual and private: pics, gifs and memes, and the physical, public space of the mart invaded by all the senses: the smell of leather and sweat, the sound of boots, the touch of meaty hands and moist tongues.

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Streaking Anyone? Robert Opel at the Academy Awards

 

I remember when I was growing up in the seventies talk of streaking; and given the penchant of pubescent boys of lying about physical (and sexual) exploits, several of my classmates claimed to have streaked. I'm pretty sure their only streaking may have been running wet and dripping from the shower to their bedrooms. 

But given my sheltered upbringing, I knew nothing of the legendary Robert Opel Academy Awards streaking incident, not that the Academy Awards was forbidden television viewing in a household which banned Maude because the character had an abortion. 

(Little did the Catholic household I grew up in know that streaking occurs in the Bible See Mark 14:50-52 for the famous naked youth in the Garden of Gethsemane; also go here for more information. Of course, the blog urges one to run from temptation. I would rather run toward it.) 

According to Leigh Rutledge in The Gay Decades

“April 2, 1974 Having inexplicably fascinated the nation for roughly six months, the fad of “streaking” reaches its apogee with gay photographer and former advertising executive Robert Opel, thirty-eight, plunges naked across the stage during a live broadcast of the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. Opel's “streak,” almost certainly the most witnessed stunt of its kind, occurs during the most popular part of the telecast, the announcement of the award for Best Picture, thus guaranteeing him an estimated audience of more than one billion television viewers worldwide.” 

 

Robert Opel streaking


Yes, this really happened; here's a link to the true story

But there's more, and it's even more shocking. 

Robert Opel was murdered by an intruder at his art gallery who demanded drugs and money in 1979. Opel was famous for publicizing the works of gay artists Robert Mapplethorpe and Tom of Finland. 

Opel was a well-known leatherman as well. 

 

Portrait of Robert Opel by Jack Fritscher, 1979


His nephew -- Robert Oppel -- created a documentary aiming to find out exactly what happened. 

The film, Uncle Bob (now on DVD), is an innovative fantasia filled with vintage clips, interviews, and segments with the young Oppel playing at being his uncle while re-creating his filmmaking, his TV appearances, and even his bloody death. 

Streaking, leather, nude young men in the Bible, the Oscars: what a gay combination! 

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