The History of Latex Material And Its Use In Fashion

Latex is a milky fluid, which can be found in around a tenth of the world’s plants. Technically, it’s an emulsion of polymer microparticles suspended in water, but is most commonly utilised in the natural world as a botanical defence mechanism against herbivorous insects.

Originally named ‘caoutchouc’ by indigenous Equatorial tribes, they began cultivating some of the 20,000 types of plants in which the rubber-like substance can be found. Latex rubber has a multitude of uses to mankind and has been used since as far back as the Aztecs in 1600 BC.

“Natural latex is completely vegan & highly elastic but very fragile and difficult to work with”

When taken from the Chicle & Jelutong trees, latex is used for things like chewing gum. When taken from the Opium Poppy; latex can be used in the manufacturing of opiates & heroin. And when taken from the Balata & Gutta Percha trees; latex can be used as a more conventional kind of natural rubber.

It was this conventional type of rubber that man began to find most uses for. Natural latex is completely vegan & highly elastic but very fragile and difficult to work with, so synthetic versions of latex soon began being manufactured.

Valued for its elasticity and ability to coat things, synthetic latex began being employed in the manufacturing of everything from leotards to gloves, paints to adhesives, as well as the iconic Mackintosh raincoat, in 1824. For when bonded to pre-existent fabrics, latex rubber improved the functionality of many items of clothing, and of course enabled them to become water-resistant.

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“Rubberwear fetishism was forced underground in the puritanical social environment of the 1920s”

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It was the Mackintosh particularly that elevated this most exotic of substances from mere clothing material into something far more sensual and sexual. The ability of latex to act as a shiny, tactile, sexy, second skin revolutionised sexuality within clothing. Thus, encouraging and enticing an ever-growing number of latex wear fetishists and enthusiasts.

Through the 1800’s and into the 1900’s, the community of latex / rubber enthusiasts and fetishists grew exponentially. And soon the popularity of the ‘thrill of macking’ and its increasingly perverse usages, grew too.

The two hundred year journey of latex, from the Brazilian rainforest, to secretive dungeons and onto the catwalks of London Paris & Milan, has been a fascinating one. This epitome of modern-day hypersexuality, latex & rubberwear fetishism was forced underground in the puritanical social environment of the 1920’s & 30’s, but found a resurgence in post war 1950’s Britain – primarily through British fashion designer & fetish photographer, John Sutcliffe.

This ex-RAF man who died in 1987 had a passion for fetishism and sexuality, which eventually spawned the iconic latex catsuit in the 1960’s. The catsuit was prominently featured in the 1970’s fetish magazine; AtomAge – which Sutcliffe also published. But although the popularity of his garments and publications was considerable, it did not come without detractors – Sutcliffe was prosecuted for obscenity and his stock and photography was seized and destroyed.

But the prominence of latex clothing had now been established and soon a multitude of fashion designers began incorporating this most sensual of materials into their clothing designs. Notably Malcom McLaren & Vivienne Westwood, whose ‘Gummi’ collection featured full rubber latex French maid’s outfits alongside a host of latex dresses, skirts, stockings & menswear.

Later the likes of Gucci & soon the entire world of fashion began to embrace and celebrate the sexuality and taboo of latex in their catwalk shows. Now commonplace in music, film and fashion, latex clothing is the absolute epitome of sexuality, taboo and fetishism. And when Lady Gaga shook the hand of Queen Elizabeth II wearing a fabulous red, latex Atsuko Kudo dress before the world’s media – latex clothing took centre stage in 21st century popular culture.


If you’re into latex, you might enjoy these clips:

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