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"Clothes don't make the man. In fact, if I had my druthers, we wouldn't wear clothes! I prefer people butt naked, their skin and muscles exposed to my cruising eyes."

Getting Past the Front Door
by Jack Rinella

Clothes don't make the man. In fact, if I had my druthers, we wouldn't wear clothes! I prefer people butt naked, their skin and muscles exposed to my cruising eyes.

Unfortunately, I'm not going to get my way anytime soon. The best I can hope for is string bikinis at the beach or jockstraps at the local bar's full moon night. Of course, get'em back to my bedroom and the clothes will come right off. But as I said, clothes are here to stay and we'd best make the best of them.

One of the objections I hear repeatedly by those who profess to want to know more about leather but can't figure out where to start is that they can't or won't go into a leather bar because they don't know what to wear. I think that that objection hides deeper, unstated fears. Let me, though, answer it on its face value.

To get past the bouncer at most leather bars, one has only to be wearing clothes as simple as levis and a flannel shirt. Boots help, of course, but if you don't have any, don't worry about it. If it's too hot for flannel, try a solid dark or plain white tee shirt. Stay away from cologne as well, and you'll fit in with no problem.

The truth of the matter is that bars are in the business of selling alcohol and they want your money. Dress codes aren't as strict as you fear. Even where dress is more stringently monitored, most places have a front bar where almost any kind of clothing is acceptable. In those places, the heavy leather look is needed only to get into the back bar.

In those circumstances, simply removing one's shirt often suffices to satisfy the "leather look" and gain one admission to where the real action is. If you're still undecided about what to wear, do a little bit of research. Stop at the bar you're thinking about, early on a weekday night. At those times you'll find it relatively empty and the dress code will be very much relaxed, if not entirely ignored.

Once there ask the bartender to explain the dress code to you. Tell him what you'd wear and see if it "passes muster". You see, it never hurts to ask. Even if getting to the bar mid-week is impossible, you can call on the phone and ask the same questions. It's not as hard as you think.

Even "dress codes" though leave us a wide range of options. In fact, dress codes vary a great deal from bar to bar as well. One bar might be more relaxed, simply looking for its patrons to have a leather or levi look, devoid of sweaters, alligators, and cologne. Another might require a "significant" piece of leather apparel, i.e., vest, pants, harness, or a uniform. Nothing says you can't borrow some leather either.

My usual bar attire is less defining: bare chested, levis, boots. Sometimes I wear a vest, sometimes not. But that is a signal as well. My tastes are more versatile, less closely defined. That is obvious by what I wear, or by what I'm not wearing.

I don't carry a hanky in either pocket, since I'd have to stuff them full of every color in the book (well, almost every color). I like to keep my options wide open and get into the other guy's fantasy. In actual practice, hankies are not worn as often as they once were, except by those into fetishes such as fisting or water sports.

At a recent Novice Night Brett, a handsome man in his mid thirties spoke up. He's six foot two or so, beefy but not fat, clean shaven. He came dressed in a cowboy hat, leather jacket, levis and boots. A hot looking top for sure.

"My problem," he said, "is that everyone thinks I'm a top, when in fact I really prefer the bottom role. What gives?"

What gives is that Brett didn't understand the signal value of the clothes he was wearing. Clothes communicate to the world where we are and what we want to be. Everyone in the room agreed with me. They each had taken one look at Brett and figured out he was a top. They were telling the book by the cover.

We discussed what was going on and unfortunately Brett didn't quite get the idea. Seems he liked the clothes he was wearing and he liked the feelings he felt when he wore them. Eventually though we convinced him to exchange hat and jacket with the guy standing next to him. He traded the hat for a leather baseball cap, the jacket for one in levi, somewhat torn and shabby.

The visual transformation was instantaneous. Sure he was still tall and handsome, but now he looked ready to serve, once again demonstrating the signal value of what we wear.

The leather community is diverse. When this subculture meets, either in bars, at parties, or at club meetings, the visual signals of the sub-culture are obvious. Understanding and using the "language" is one of the ways to fulfill your own desire and to tune to the desires of others.

Here we run into a unique contradiction: leather is filled with men and women who are individualistic, iconoclastic, and self-determined. Relative to general society, they are independent renegades, non-conformists par excellence. But when assembled for their "leather rites" their common attire speaks volumes about their common unity, their need for acceptance and belonging, and their prevalent desire for things "masculine."

Opinions about dress and "dress codes" are not monolithic throughout the leather community. Personal preferences still emerge, though it is always within the context of the sub-culture.

I suppose I'll get myself into a lot of trouble for saying it, but leather isn't fashion, it's attitude. I trust it's not the put down, put off attitude of exclusivism and separatism, but rather the mind set that says it's acceptable to be who you are and to be so proudly.

There's more to leather than just a self-accepting attitude. There is a subculture of trust with its own signs and symbols, clothing, fetishes, and activities.

Yet I have to return to the reality of "dressing for success." We've got to be able to communicate our attitude and our fantasy to others. As leather folk we do that within the context of "leather" itself. And so we have to know and practice the style appropriate to the roles we wish to experience and the men we wish to attract.

Somewhere here, then, there's a balance: we conform to be understood. We stand out to be ourselves. In any case, we end up back at finding ways to signal with our clothes what our fantasies are for that night.

One of the secrets to success is knowing what you want and dressing accordingly, that is, dress for yourself and the partner you searching for.

Wear your leathers, your levis, your hankies, your "whatevers", but wear them proudly, not with attitude but with recognition you of your own true value. The result will be success, even if in the end you're undressed!

opyright 1999 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact mrjackr@leathermail.com

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