Note from Jeanna: Lingerie trends, especially those in recent years, have been heavily influenced by bondage, and brands like Agent Provocateur regularly borrow from the BDSM scene for their advertising and marketing. However, there has been very little public discussion of the intersection of kink and lingerie, and virtually no industry acknowledgment of the connection.
I am thrilled to share this guest post with all of you. The author is a dear friend of mine who is actively involved in the scene; she is also a lingerie aficionado. Basically: she's the perfect person to talk about this, and I'm honored to have her on the Bluestockings Blog.
Hello! My name (as far as this blog post is concerned) is AltBronte, and I am a kinky bi lady and budding lingerie enthusiast.
When I say I am kinky, I mean that I enjoy various aspects of BDSM (Bondage, Dominance/Discipline, Sadism/Submission, and Masochism) and participate in related activities in my relationships and at kink events. I’m a switch, which for me means that I both top and bottom when playing – I can be either the person tying, flogging, etc, or the person receiving the above. Most of my regular partners are also switches. I am in a D/s relationship where my partner is dominant to me and I am (somewhat) submissive to him. We still switch within that relationship. It’s complicated, but fun!
My engagement with kink started a few years before I got interested in lingerie, but the two definitely intersected early on, and I started noticing how lingerie operated within the scene.
In this post, I am going to focus first on the way lingerie is used to code dominance and submission in women on the scene, and then continue on to talk about how I, as a switch whose primary play involves rope, choose my lingerie to be practical for my play, affirming of my identity, and generally awesome-looking. I’ll finish with a list of lingerie trends I would love to see on the scene and ways other people are creating really distinct styles for their identities.
A few caveats + definitions
I’m not going to really touch on fetish materials like latex or leather, as those are kink subcultures I’m not really a part of. But take it as read that the aesthetics I’m talking about later are reproduced in those materials within the D/s imagery I discuss. “Women” absolutely includes both cis and trans women, and also nonbinary femfolk who wear the lingerie I’m talking about, but I’m not including cis males who cross-dress in lingerie.
On Bondage-Inspired Lingerie
As you all have probably noticed, bondage-influenced lingerie has been really popular for the past 3-4 years. From strappy bras and panties at all the big brands to the be-ringed leather harnesses of Creepyyeha and the high-end bondage accessories of Fraulein Kink, the lingerie industry embraced (or, some might say, appropriated) a bondage aesthetic. That this trend coincides with the popularity of “50 Shades of Grey” is probably not a coincidence.
However, I see very little of this kind of lingerie on the scene. I thought people would be all over the likes of Hopeless, but at the most I see some fancier Victoria’s Secret and occasionally some AP [Agent Provocateur]. Mass-market “spice up your bedroom” level products are very common; indie brands are much less so. On the one hand, this means I get to evangelize for indie brands I love; on the other… it’s sort of boring.
Editor's Note: Agent Provocateur's advertising frequently borrows from and alludes to BDSM
You see, for all our bluster about how unconventional we are compared to the “vanillas,” there is a lot of status-quo maintenance in the scene. The imagery of submissive women tends to revolve around feminine lingerie designed to expose – a favorite is garter belts and thigh-highs with no panties, or see-through bras. Pieces that leave the genitals and breasts bare are pretty popular, or (in cases where that isn’t allowed), traditional “sexy” fabrics like lace and satin are common. Soft, traditional femininity, decorative potential, and sexual availability often direct this lingerie style.
Compare this to the imagery of dominant women, which while often different, is no less male-gaze-oriented. Dommes, as they’re called, are often stereotyped as being cold, distant, and sexually unavailable, while still being very sexually desirable. Skintight full-coverage is the predominant imagery – keep the breasts and genitals covered while still displaying the body. The Catwoman bodysuit? Yeah. Think along those lines. This imagery tends to be less overtly feminine, while still not being what I would call androgynous.
Oddly, corsets are a common theme among both groups (in addition to the corset fetishists). For subs, corsets can feel like constant bondage, almost comforting in their restriction, while allowing them to create a “pleasing” body shape. For Dommes, corsets add to a sense of streamlined discipline; coupled with slick, straight hair and knife-sharp winged eyeliner, a corset implies that they exert control over their body in the same way they control their subs.
Now, how does all of this affect me, in my little cis-female switchy-but-submissive rope-slinging corner? It means I’m dressing for practicality as well as aesthetic. The rope bondage I do is called shibari; it’s a Japanese practice that originated in takedown and torture ties used by Japanese law enforcement, and has over the past century been developed into an erotic and performance art. It includes both ties on the floor and suspension bondage.
Me, tied by my partner at a performance in San Francisco. Breasts and genitals had to be covered, so finding outfits was tricky! My boobs are trying to escape the wire-free bandeau “bra” I’m wearing under the dress.
On any given night, I might be tying or getting tied. So I need outfits that a) allow the freedom of movement to do that or are easily removable, b) aren’t made of materials that will be damaged by rope or impede tying, and c) still look hot and/or fulfil any dress code the venue has (fetish wear, no exposed breasts/genitals, a theme, etc.). Sometimes what “looks hot” is up to my dominant partner, depending on what he has planned. That could mean quarter-cup bras, something pretty that might get messed up, or even a normal dress. All of this influences what I’m wearing to the local play party.
What Not To Wear, Rope Bottoming Edition
To start, I don’t wear corsets or anything with a lot of boning. Underwire bras are discouraged when being tied, as many rope harnesses use the chest for support and can be uncomfortable or even break the underwire. If I can go topless entirely, great! But sometimes I can’t. Also, I’m a 30G. You full-busted folks will understand the difficulty of finding non-underwired tops that still provide some shaping and support. The struggle is real.
Other practical stuff: slick stockings mean rope can move, delicate lace can get snagged and torn, garters are not comfortable under a hip harness… Basically, I have yet to wear a lot of my expensive/indie stuff when getting tied because I am SO WORRIED about it getting damaged.
So what do I wear?
Socks are the best
Thigh. High. Socks. Yo. Kinky folks LOVE fancy socks. I don’t know how we haven’t bought out SockDreams. Socks are tougher than stockings, keep feet warm and clean, and look adorable. They also go real well with my footwear of choice, Doc Martens. Still sexy, still comfortable, they can go feminine or masculine or anything in between (seriously, my male partner and I own the exact same pair of purple thigh-high socks.) Rope won’t rip them, and they make things like ankle cuffs much more comfortable. Sometimes I even wear them over stockings.
Another favorite is a lacy bodysuit that I picked up at New Look. It ticks most of my boxes for feminine submissive nights: comfortable, sexy, tie-able, and, well, the snap crotch has its uses... Add the abovementioned socks or some sturdy, not-too-slick stockings, and I am good to go.
My Kiss Me Deadly Vargas Dress definitely has a place in the femsub rotation as well (exposure, hello), but the garters aren’t ideal for a lot of rope bottoming. Any fairly sturdy panties round out the outfit.
When topping, I vacillate between a comfy andro aesthetic and more feminine and overtly “sexy.” I love the Foxers lace briefs and Playout boxers; both go great with boots, and I got tons of compliments on the lace boxers. Any of my bottoming outfits are also fine for topping; I enjoy doing both in one evening, and I especially love surprising people when I go from sexy sub to sadistic top. Comfort and movement is still key for topping.
What I’d love to see [on the BDSM scene]
Fancy loungewear. I have some jersey playsuits from Rose Ver’Shel that I dearly want to top in from a comfort point of view; the thought of being mean to people while I’m dressed in comfy loungewear makes me giggle. It would be fantastic to see fem tops wearing comfy, pretty things that still look dressed-up, like slips or rompers.
One well-known performer called Tifereth often ties while wearing stunning vintage dressing gowns, which looks amazing and really elegant. I’d love to see submissives wearing less traditional lingerie (maybe more androgynous stuff) and femfolk of all orientations discovering the huge range of underthings that can let them really express themselves.
We in the kink scene often have lingerie as outwear, and as Jeanna has written about, lingerie even as underwear can be incredibly identity-affirming. Stereotypes can be so limiting, and in this subculture where we’re supposed to be “outside the box,” I’d love to see more people bucking them. Of course, many people are totally happy with being lingerie-clad subs or catsuited Dommes, and that’s okay, too! I just want everyone to know about the more unusual stuff out there and see if any of it calls to them.
Personally, if I could find interesting, androgynous wire-free tops for my size, I’d be a happy camper!
Bio: AltBronte has been in the rope and kink scene for nearly five years now. She plays, teaches, performs, and opines freely about issues within the community, including feminism, diversity, lingerie, and safety. She’s happy to talk to anyone about rope, if this post has intrigued them! Find her on twitter at @AltBronte and tumblr at other-bronte.tumblr.com (NSFW; 18 and older only, please.)