Fashion And BDSM Are Not The Same

Not everyone who wears leather pants is into BDSM, and not everyone who is into BDSM wears leather pants. Unfortunately there are cases where the mainstream or popular media confuses BDSM and fashion. I encountered two specific articles recently that have troubled me quite a bit. One was from the August issue of Cosmopolitan magazine and the other was a movie review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from the New York Times.

Korin Miller’s Cosmopolitan article Whips, Chains, Cages. . . Whoa says “Incorporating S&M into fashion is one way for us to show we’re badass without venturing too far into taboo territory.” Manohla Dargis’ movie review describes the protagonist from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander, as “. . . a geek girl for starters, a computer hacker who would have downloaded this flick before it even hit theaters, and whose fetish wear and shiny boots suggest that she’s into BDSM, as they say in bondage, discipline and sadomasochism circles.” Both statements seem to be making the mistake of assuming that BDSM is mainly about the clothes people wear or the accessories people use.

It is difficult to make broad generalizations about BDSM because it encompasses a wide range of activities. Some of it involves fashion certainly, but not everything. BDSM isn’t even 100% about sex. However, for the most part, BDSM is about relationships and particular ways in which people can interact. It generally involves a lot of communication and often a lot of work to master particular skills. Understandably, after putting in the time and effort into working on these relationships and skills it is frustrating to encounter those who think it is just about the clothes one wears or the image one presents.

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  • Amazon Syren

    Okay. While, yes statements like “incorporating bdsm into fashion” are… a little off — it would have been more accurate to say something like “incorporating bdsm fashions into our wardrobes” or something — I’m not expecting much nuance from Cosmo.

    It’s true that fashion and BDSM aren’t the same thing, but I would argue that – like any other subculture – kinksters have ways of flagging each other, of getting each others’ attention through how we dress.

    As such, yes, that character’s “fetish wear and shiny boots” *would* suggest that she’s into BDSM. It wouldn’t necessarily be an accurate suggestion, but it would be there.

  • http://twitter.com/foxyfolklorist Jeana Jorgensen

    You raise some good points, Amazon, but I think that the poster’s point was that the levels of nuance required to discuss the intricate connections between a person’s values and fashion statements are missing in mainstream accounts of fashion + BDSM. For instance, would a person who’s not a member of the subculture even be familiar with the idea of flagging or coding through wardrobe? Or would they be more likely to make the (mistaken) assumption of a one-to-one correlation between BDSM wardrobe item and BDSM tendencies?