The wearing of leather has become iconic in BDSM play over the years.

Some people have a particular fetish for wearing leather or for others wearing leather, and the material is used for a lot of fetish wear and fetish and BDSM toys, but traditionally the wearing of leather was something of a symbol for those outside of the mainstream.

The presence of leather clothing first appeared in this context within the gay community but later moved on to gain prominence within the BDSM and fetish community.

With the emergence of such materials as latex and PVC, leather is not used as much as it used to be, although in some cases it is still referred to in a historical sense, particularly through the use of the terms Old Leather and New Leather.

Old leather is relatated to the gay male BDSM community which began in the United States and Canada after WWII and was most popular primarily between the 1960s and the late 1980s; characterized by a very rigid and structured hierarchy, elaborate codes of conduct, ritualized protocol, and a strong sense of community, duty, and loyalty. Often modeled on military traditions and practices, the old leather community was almost exclusively comprised of gay men and was suspicious of "outsiders."

New leather is related to a specific part of the BDSM community which began taking the place of the old leather community in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The new leather community abandoned many of the rigid hierarchies and strict protocols of the old leather community, and welcomed lesbians and heterosexuals interested in BDSM.
The old leather community began to fade for a number of reasons, including the fact that many of its members were aging, the fact that both homosexuality and BDSM became much more mainstream during the late 1970s and 1980s (a trend which is continuing today), the fact that BDSM began reaching a wider and wider pool of interested people thanks to new communications media such as the Internet, and the effect of AIDS on the gay community in the late 1980s.

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