The Appropriation of Fetish Wear

A pervasive issue within popular culture and fashion.

French luxury brand Balenciaga have apologised for depicting youngsters holding teddy bears clad in bondage gear in a recent gift shop advertising campaign. 

Using children dressed in the Balenciaga kids line is of course fine, but the fetish and fashion industry alike are in agreement that the inclusion of fetish gear in the images crosses the line of taste.

Sex workers are murdered and assaulted, and our work uniform is paraded on the Met Gala carpet as a gimmick.​

Following heavy criticism, Balenciaga were swift to apologise and remove all posts connected to the campaign. The photographer, Gabriele Galimberti, said the photographs were part of a project series called “Toy Stories.” But the incident spotlights a pervasive issue within popular culture and fashion: the appropriation of fetish wear.

This is a particular disturbing instance of fetish wear making its way into mainstream fashion, but is nothing new. Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren opened a shop selling sex and bondage wear in 1974, and over the years it has made its way onto the catwalks of numerous fashion houses including the offending brand themself, who have recently dressed Kim Kardashian in latex gowns and gimp masks.

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Fetgear has been worn by sex workers for decades, intrinsically linked with their identities. They face discrimination and stigmatisation on a daily basis because of their jobs, yet it’s used as a trendy accessory by people outside of those communities. Celebrities, fashion brands and civilians wear this clothing without an understanding or appreciation for where it comes from, what it signifies, or the discrimination that the members of these communities face. 

We can’t open business bank accounts, and can’t travel to many countries: depending on where you live, sex work is illegal.

In an interview with, stylist Kurt Johnson says “It’s nice to see some people be a little more receptive to it, but it does feel like it’s a bit of a costume[…]rather than an extension of who they are and their personal identity.”

This appropriation of the aesthetic will go out of style and be back in a few years like all fashion trends do, but the ostracisation and “othering” of the people whose identities are linked to those clothes will continue. So if you’re not a sex worker, take the Pleasers off. Return the Shein chest harness, and wear something else.

The sad reality is that people who inspired this get erased from the public, while people who kind of appropriated it get to keep existing” –  Mistress Iris (2022), Dominatrices Weigh In on Fetish-Core’, The Cut.

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