What Was Leather Fashion Like In The 1950s?
With no internet and few shops selling leather clothing in the 1950s, it is hard to imagine that being a leather lover was easy back in those days. Wearing leather (especially if you were a woman would have been seen as very kinky and any woman doing so was obviously a loose woman!
And yet it was the fifties when the world of leather-wearing really began to take shape and become a fashion choice available to many more people, both men, and women.
Men Wearing Leather
The 1950s were a great time for Men to wear leather. Even more so than today!
Thanks to the end of rationing and better economic times after the fallout from the war years a lot of men began having some leisure time and the hobby of motorbiking really took off. Helped on by the movies of the day, especially Marlon Brando in The Wild One featuring his iconic motor jacket biking turn as a biking gang leader, made leather jackets even more popular. And of course, the main part of their outfits was the famous leather motorbike jacket. These became popular with many younger men everywhere (and a few girls). See blog post: Why Do Bad Guys Wear Leather On Screen?
It was also around this time that the male gay community grew massively and again motorbike gangs were their thing and wearing a leather jacket was essential. The association with leather being worn by gay men has continued to this day.
The other big leather turning point was the rise of Fetish burlesque models beginning to wear leather in photos, homemade movies, and some clothing catalogs. These were often filmed by famous fetish producers and photographers such as Charles Guvette, Bunny Yeager, Irving Klaw, his sister, Paula Klaw, actually took a lot of the photos particularly of Bette Page (she also saved many of the negatives before Irving allegedly tried to destroy them pending a court case-but more about that in another post). )
Its hard to believe that back in the 1950s these images and films were seen as pornography. And the producers were prosecuted and even had to destroy their work, otherwise face lengthy terms in jail. Luckily, for us, a lot of the material did survive and by today’s internet porn standards seems very tame. But I still love the fun and sexy naughtiness of these old clips. And I am surprised at the many gorgeous leather items the models did wear. Obviously knowing what an effect leather had even back in those days!
In fact throughout the fifties most of the leather fetish wearing was kept very much underground and only seen by ‘a few’. With pictures, magazines and film only being available on the black market. So not easy to come by.
Both Bettie Page, Tempest Storm and Tana Louise didn’t ever quite make it into the mainstream at the time -probably because of their associations with these underground ‘pornographic’ shoots. Therefore their leather clothing, worn in their shoots didn’t reach a wider audience and as a consequence never made it onto the high streets of the time But of course, in later years and to this day their influence over fashion and leather-wearing has been enormous.
In many ways it’s this very secretiveness and image of only bad people wearing leather that actually led to its increase in popularity. What better way to appear a tough or kinky sex kitten than to wear a leather jacket. Or even more scandalous, a full head to toe leather outfit!!
Lets take a look at a few of the most infamous? leather wearing pinup fetish models from the fifties:
Bettie Page is probably the most famous of all the fifties fetish pinup girls. Her notoriety only rose in secret over the 1950s and throughout the 1960s. By the time we get to the 1980s through to the present day, her style and look are copied everywhere.
Famous fashion icons such as Dita Von Teese, Joan Collins, and Madonna were all using her looks and copying her fetish pinup style. It wasn’t long before movies and documentaries were made of her life and times
These days she is known worldwide as the ‘cute’ bondage loving gal with the dark hair and panther-like demure from all her early black and white images of her usually in stockings and suspenders with leather boots and long leather gloves getting tied up and gagged.
A few movies have been made about her and whilst being ok they never really caught the true feel of those times. Or the sexual chemistry she eluded in those grainy old pictures. The other thing I always found odd was how little leather they used in those films. There have been many Betty Page impressionists and copy cats over the years. And her reputation as a sex kitten has grown. Partly enhanced by her sudden disappearance at the height of her fame back in the 1960s. It’s not totally clear whether she gave up the modeling to have a family, had a religious conversion or a mental breakdown. But either way, as the famous showbiz saying goes always leave ‘em wanting more. This worked well for her and her reputation.
Bettie Page certainly is a true icon of the fetish birth of the 1950s. Those now-famous black and white photos and short home movies of her being gagged or tied up, wearing just a corset, long leather gloves, and stilettos or high heel boots remain part of leather fetish history for all to enjoy. Much of it to today’s eyes perhaps seems rather tame and innocent but Betty will always be in my fetish hall of fame because she showed us that burlesque and some leather clothing go together so well and can be extremely sexy, without needing total nudity to be so sexy as it seems many models do today in our more modern world.
How To Get The Bettie Page Look
The fifties were all about the hour glass figure for women. Anything that reduced the waist and emphasised the boobs was the order of the day. Along with suspenders and stockings for the legs. Bettie took this fashion and added her own sexy fetish slant to it. So Long leather opera gloves, a corset or basque and ofcorse stockings and suspenders were her goto outfit. She also wore impossibly high heels and she had that iconic black fringed har style. You too can dress as Bettie and still turn heads even in today’s world.
Tempest was perhaps more of a traditional stripper or burlesque artiste with few images of her wearing much leather. But she was obviously very much involved with the underground fetish photography scene back in the 50s . She regularly did her stripteases in clubs and filmed with Bettie page and others.
She does let Bettie Page dress her in some gorgeous opera length leather gloves in the youtube clip above And if you think she looks familiar, just take a look at Jessica Rabbit from the movie Roger Rabbit all those years later!
How To Get The Tempest Storm Look
Any easy look to copy-you just need the Jessica rabbit look. A long evening dress tight at the waist, opera length leather gloves, some high heels and of coarse a huge mane of red hair!
If you wondered who started the leather wearing back in the 1950s. Then I think you need look no further than the sexy bad girl of fifties leather – Tana Louise. She wore lots of leather-everywhere. Not just a pair of leather gloves or kinky boots like Bettie Page. But the full on head to toe leather outfits that I d love to wear today!
Like most people I think of 50s and 60s pinup girl Bettie page when I think of the first images of models wearing some leather in black and white photographs. And yet Tana was actually far more into her leather and being a bad girl than Betty ever was.
Now if Bettie page was the dark-haired version of Marilyn Monroe with a bit more kinkiness then Tana was the real bad girl of the leather scene. Tana Louise was in fact pictured wearing far more leather than Bettie back in the 1950s. She also wore high heels, platform heels, and boots in most of her pictures. She became notorious in the underworld of fetish magazines. Not just because she was pictured in them but she married famous fetish entrepreneur Leonard Burtman. He was so taken with Tana that he not only married her and used her as his primary model but he also made her a contributor to articles in the notorious fetish magazine of his, Exotique.
This magazine ran for over 3 years in the 50s. Unfortunately so to did their marriage as it ended sometime in the late 1950s.
During the fifties, she was publisher Leonard Burtmas main go to fetish model (as well as his wife). She certainly kept up the reputation of leather girls are bad girls. She became briefly known as the “Cincinnati Sinner” after she allegedly clubbed dancer Emerald Forest in the head while she was sitting in her dressing room, A claim she always denied. (read the ‘bumps and grinds’ headline- published by Billboard in 1950).
Louise’s bad-girl persona fitted in perfectly with Exotique magazine and the whole leather look she had going on. The assault story only helped enhance that aspect of her appeal. Exotique publisher Leonard Burtman, considered by some to be the father of the modern fetish business, was so impressed by Tana that he not only made her the primary model for Exotique but also had her contribute articles and stories. Quite a rare position for a woman back on those days.
After the fifties and her divorce, Tana became somewhat overshadowed and forgotten. With others, such as Betty Page and ofcourse Marilyn Monroe, stealing the limelight. by the ’60s she had virtually disappeared
There was a brief reappearance when she and a friend (Mara Gaye) started to publish a mail-order catalogue. These sought after catalogues offering clothing for sale-some of it featuring sexy leather items. These were highly collectable due not only to the clothes but being able to see the sexy outfits being modelled. The problem was that, allegedly, Tana and her friend didn’t seem to actually have any of the items on sale in the catalogue. But it could be bought for $2 and was enjoyed for the pictures within
How To Get The Tana Louise Look
Dressing like Tana Louise is just a case of wearing leather and more leather. Faux leather works just as well and is a cheaper alternative. Something I am guessing Tana had wished she could get back in the day!
She also loved heels. The higher and kinkier the better
Oh and having a bad girl attitude lol
Further Reading On Tana Louise
Dangerous Minds Article – FIFTIES FETISH MODEL TANA LOUISE AND HER SKY-HIGH SHOES
Handbag Fetishist – TANA LOUISE: EXOTIQUE
Javas bachelor Pad – Femme Fatale: Tana louise
If I had been around in the 1950s I would definitely have been into the burlesque and fetish model scenes.
I’d love to have done a shoot with Tana and maybe had a drink or 6 with her after. Both of us would have been dressed in full leather and no doubt given many of the guys around heart attacks lol.