The harness: A brief history

Boomer Banks. Tim Kruger. Timothee Chalamet. Terry Crews.

What do all of these men have in common? 

You’ve probably seen them in a harness at some point. 

Although the red carpet versions aren’t overly sexualised, the garment has deep roots in gay men’s bondage-wear.

The harness has many variations, and we’ll be focusing on the harness that sits across your chest (see below). This is the most common variety, and also serves as the anchor for additional restraints. You’re more likely to see a moustache-leather-daddy sporting one of these than their full-body counterparts.

Leather & War

The history of the bondage harness isn’t as well-versed as other fetish-wear like the jockstrap. However, there are heavy links with the leather subculture that emerged across Europe and the US, post-World War II.

It was a strange time in the world.

Thousands of military men had seen all the bad things the world had to offer, but also all of its pleasures. They came home and started something new. In particular, San Francisco and Los Angeles adopted the emerging ‘biker’ cultures’ love of leather. It was hyper-masculine, so gay men were quick to fetishise it. Leather pants and jackets were the initial influence, until garments such as the harness were worked into the leather scene. From here, the harness quickly transformed into a symbol of sexual expression, becoming a fetish-wear mainstay in the 1980s. Often paired with leather chaps and caps, it was a staple in every leather outfit. 

“The [harnesses] function in a bondage context includes suspension, restraint, and being able to pull on or lead someone”

Noah Barth, Archivist at the Leather Archives and Chicago Museum.

Swimming in the mainstream

Image provided by The Selvedge Yard, 2010

One of the harnesses first deliberate foray into more mainstream culture was Vivienne Westwood’s 1974 collection at her London store ‘SEX’. Westwood has had some form of harness throughout her collections over the decades, bringing an exposure to the garment, but in recent iterations, not necessarily acknowledging its fetish roots.

An earlier example of the harness in mainstream culture is Edgar Rice Burroughs popular 1930s & 1940s novel series “John Carter of Mars”. Its titular character is almost always sporting a bondage harness over some very well-drawn pecs. Don’t you just love inconspicuous homo-eroticism?Even though its popularity was initially synthesised by gay leather culture, the bondage harness is informed by much older design influences.

Design & Utility

Surprisingly, the typical design of a harness is based on Japanese rope bondage. The form and placement of the harness mimics ropes and restraints that are pulled tight across the body to hold your chest and arms in place. It accentuates the natural lines of the body, especially men, as it focuses on broadening your chest and shoulders.

Keeping with the same design, variations of the harness have also popped up in Japanese streetwear as a utility item in the last decade. These are aptly named for their Batman—esque ability to hold or attach multiple items. We’ve got our own version here, and it’s pretty damn sexy. It’s got an attachable pouch for your circuit-party tickets, cock-rings (3 included just for you), and a little poppers pouch. It’s got everything!

Then vs Now

From a sexy night at the club to the red-carpet, wearing a harness is a power move. It’s also a tradeoff for going shirtless – you’re wearing something, but still bringing in all the right attention. You can find multiple variations of size, materials, and quality to suit you, so take the time to find the perfect fit. Some see it as a casual flex for having a hot body, a restraint for your endless sexual appetite, or something to hold on to when you’re getting pounded. Just like the jockstrap, the main benefit of wearing a harness is the confidence and sexual empowerment from showing off your goods. I really hope this great example of BDSM’s influence on contemporary fashion isn’t robbed of its sexuality by going too mainstream.

Stay sexy!

References:

Barth, Noah, “How the Harness went from BDSM to Streetwear”, https://hypebeast.com/2020/1/harness-streetwear-history-alyx-helmut-lang-louis-vuitton

‘Bondage Harness, S/M Black’, https://www.viviennewestwood.com/en/unisex/accessories/belts/bondage-harness-s%2Fm-black-black-8201001840148N459.html

Gayle Rubin, “The Catacombs: A Triumph of the Butthole”, in Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice, Alyson Press, 1992,

http://punkflyer.com/seditionarieshistory.html