Latex rubber is used in many types of clothing. Rubber has traditionally been used in protective clothing, including gas masks and Wellington boots. Rubber is now generally being replaced in these application by plastics. Mackintoshes have traditionally been made from rubberized cloth.
Latex rubber as a clothing material is common in fetish fashion and among BDSM practitioners, and is often seen worn at fetish clubs. Latex is sometimes also used by couturiers for its dramatic appearance. Latex clothing tends to be skin-tight. There are several magazines dedicated to the use and wearing of it. Less commonly, latex clothing can be loose-fitting.
There are a handful of companies around the world which manufacture latex rated as suitable for contact with human skin. These firms supply sheet (in the vast majority) to a larger number of smaller fashion clothing companies. In the past, some marketplaces suffered from de facto monopoly supply conditions, where a sheet supplier could impose restrictive ordering requirements. Only being able to order half-kilometre long batches of sheet in the colour and thickness they wanted, meant that designers and clothing producers often had to co-operate, or face long delays in supplying their customers, if they wanted to be in the rubber clothing business.
Since 2000, however, the sheet market has been exposed to competition from international suppliers courtesy of the Internet. This has produced an explosion in cottage industry scale latex fetish clothing manufacturers.
Latex sheet based clothing is constructed by a three-stage process. First a pattern for a specific garment is selected, and adjusted carefully to suit the measurements supplied by the customer. Then the sheet latex is cut out on a flat board, by hand: lastly latex glue (generally rubber cement solvent based adhesives) is used to join seams together. Skilled latex makers can build a stocking, shaped to match the contours of a specific person’s leg, made from latex only 0.2mm thick, in under an hour. It is possible to use water-based glues such as Copydex to make latex clothes; however, the long-term durability of items made this way is somewhat dubious.
Latex moulded clothing is produced by dipping a mould into a vat of liquid rubber. Dealing with raw liquid latex is more difficult because of the extra effort that must be put in to keep the thickness of the latex itself consistent. Because of this, improper molding techniques can lead to inconsistent thickness in the latex, causing it to fail at the weak points faster than items made from sheet latex. This has led to a major stigma against molded latex garments, in favor of sheet latex versions. Unfortunately, this stigma has been detrimental to those few latex providers who have proper mold-making techniques. When done properly, a molded latex garment is just as durable as sheet latex, and it is a preferred method for skilled individuals making items with heavy contours like hoods or gloves.
Despite any attempt to use sheet latex to make hoods and gloves, it is impossible to get solid sheets to fit complex contours as well as a molded latex item can. The belief that all sheet latex is superior to all molded latex is completely false, and ultimately it depends on the abilities of the creator, as even poorly made sheet latex can fall apart easily. Sheet latex is the preferred method for items like catsuits, that do not need such perfect form fitting, and are easier to create with sheets compared to the large molds required for body suits.
While there is little difference in latex clothing made from liquid latex versus sheet latex in the hands of a skilled artisan, it should be noted liquid latex is cured via air drying while sheet latex is cured by being vulcanized. This does make the two forms slightly different. Due to the difference in curing, liquid latex can be applied to sheet latex clothing to add unique patterns and designs which can be peeled off the sheet latex afterwards.
Neither moulded, nor sheet-based, latex is amenable to large scale mass production. Skilled manual artistry is an integral part of the process; this means that made-to-measure and special designs are much more accessible to the general buyer, in looking at fetish latex, than is the case with regular textiles.
Latex has been used to make leotards, bodysuits, stockings and gloves, besides other garments. Latex is also often used to make specialist fetishistic garments like hoods and rubber cloaks.
Latex clothing is generally made from large sheets of latex which are delivered in rolls. The “classic” colour for fetishistic latex clothing is black, but latex is naturally translucent and may be dyed any colour, including metallic shades or white. It can come in thicknesses which generally range from about 0.18 mm to 0.5 mm. Instead of being sewn, latex clothing is generally glued along its seams.
Because latex sheet is relatively weak, latex clothing needs special care to avoid tearing. While latex can be repaired using materials similar to those provided in a bicycle repair kit, the result is rarely as attractive as the original appearance of the garment. Latex clothing is often polished to preserve and improve its shiny appearance.
Putting on latex clothing can be difficult, because latex has high friction against dry skin. To make it easier to put on, wearers often use talc to reduce friction against the skin when putting the clothes on; then, because stray talc is very visible against the rubber, wearers generally polish off any visible talc. Another method of dressing is using lubricant (or ‘lube’) which provides a slippery surface for the latex to glide over. A third method of reducing or eliminating the high friction of latex when dressing is to chlorinate the rubber. Chlorine in gaseous form is generated by the reaction of hydrochloric acid and sodium hypochlorite. This chlorine bonds to the first few molecules on the surface of the isoprene (latex) and transforms them into neoprene. This process affects metallic colours, but does not affect strength.
Latex may also be painted directly onto the body as latex in liquid form, which is also sometimes used to close seams in the creation of latex clothing. Removal of a painted on liquid latex garment can result in painful hair removal. Wearers avoid this by preparing the skin by prior hair removal, the use of release agents to prevent the latex adhering to the hair, or using products such as orange oil to weaken the latex during removal.
The outfit of Catwoman, a cat burglar, in Batman Returns is mostly made of latex. Also in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, one of the “angels” is shown at the start of the film infiltrating a building by cutting the window glass while wearing a skintight catsuit of metallic silver-coloured latex. A latex body suit is prominently featured in the FX television show American Horror Story.
American pop artist Lady Gaga has used latex clothing in her act. During the 53rd Grammy Awards, she wore a latex bra and skirt to perform her 2011 hit “Born This Way”. She also used latex during her Born This Way Ball tour. During “Born This Way” she wore a latex dress, while for “Black Jesus + Amen Fashion” she sported, once again, a latex bra, skirt, and cape.
Care of Latex Clothing
Latex is a natural material that requires special care not necessary for fabrics. It is sensitive to many external factors that may ruin the garment due to tearing, discoloration or weakening. This guide will offer instructions for proper care of latex garments, leading to many years of enjoyment.
Things to Avoid
Oil: Oils will degrade latex. Avoid any contact with oil-based lubricants or solvents, hand creams, grease, leather, etc. Always handle latex with clean hands, as body oils will also damage latex.
Metal: Latex will react with copper, brass and bronze resulting in unsightly brown stains. This includes contact with pennies. Handling of these metals before touching light colored latex may also result in discoloration.
Sunlight, heat and humidity: Exposure to sunlight or other UV light sources will cause “blooming” white patches where the colour has been bleached; dark colours are particularly prone to this. Exposure to heat and humidity may result in discoloration or degradation. Latex is flammable and should not be exposed to raised temperatures; do not dry on radiators, by heat sources, or tumble dry!
Sharp objects: Any sharp object can puncture or tear your latex. Use special caution if dressing with long fingernails.
Flame: Latex is flammable!
Ozone: Produced from oxygen by UV-radiation from (industrial) type fluorescent lamps. Thus, prolonged storage without a protecting bag, likely in a non-specialised shop, will lead to damage not unlike sunlight: discoloration and turning brittle.
When dressing in latex clothing, patience is the key. A dressing aid is necessary to help the latex easily slide over skin. When preparing to put on a latex garment you can use powder or lubricant, depending on personal preference. Simply powder or lubricate the interior of the garment with unscented talcum powder or lubricant. Corn starch has been used as an alternative to talc, but should be avoided as it has been proven to play a role in latex allergy promotion. These dressing aids may also be applied to the body to make dressing easier. Chlorinated latex (see Chlorination) does not need to be coated with a dressing aid, and should slide on more easily.
Now start putting the garment on. Do not pull hard or use excessive force or you may damage it. Slide your hand flat between the garment and your skin. Pull away with your entire hand and shift the latex as you do so. Repeat this movement until your garment is in place. If it is difficult to get the garment on, it is likely that you are not using a sufficient amount of dressing aid. Some people may prefer to wear cotton gloves to protect the latex from long fingernails.
Latex can be worn in matte or polished finish. To achieve a shine, coat the garment in a silicone lubricant or other latex polish. It can be sprayed or spread onto the latex with bare hands or a soft, lint-free cloth. Do not rub too hard, or the latex may be damaged. When wearing transparent latex, using a lubricant on both the inside and outside of the garment can increase the transparency.
Cleaning Your Garment
Latex should be cleaned shortly after wearing to remove any body oils that it has been exposed to. Rinse the garment well in warm water. Some manufacturers recommend using a mild soap, while others suggest only water. Hang on a plastic or wood hanger to dry, or lay flat to dry. The garment can be wiped gently with a soft towel to decrease drying time if desired. When one side is dry, turn inside out and let the other side dry as well. When completely dry, separate any latex that has stuck together and lightly dust the garment with talc to prevent any further sticking. Some will use a small amount of silicone dressing aid instead.
Storing Latex Garments
Prepare your latex garment for storage by washing, drying and lightly powdering as previously described. Keep the latex in a black plastic bag in a cool, dry place. The garment should not be stored still covered in silicone lubricant, as the lubricant will leach into the seams and may cause them to come unglued. It is not recommended to store light and dark pieces of latex in direct contact, as this can cause discoloration of the lighter latex.
Even with the best of care, latex may sometimes rip or tear. These damages should be repaired when the problem is small, as this increases the chance that the garment can be salvaged. Adding a patch can repair small rips or tears. This can be done at home, or by sending the garment to the manufacturer or to another latex company that offers this service.
A short explanation of how to patch a latex garment can be found at the website of Nimue’s Latex. A summary of this article follows here.
What you will need:
- Rubber cement
- Medium grain sandpaper
- Rubbing alcohol
- Small latex or rubber patch
Clean both surfaces that you are gluing together with rubbing alcohol. All rubber conditioner and lubricants should be removed beforehand with soapy water. Lightly buff both surfaces with sandpaper to enhance bonding. Start with a small part of the patch; attempting to glue the entire patch at once may result in an unsightly repair. Apply a small amount of glue to both surfaces. The latex will initially curl, and then gradually uncurl as it begins to dry. While the glue is still tacky, press the two pieces together. Use a brayer or roller to remove any air bubbles. Let the patch dry overnight before testing.
Putting on Latex:
Some people use talcum powder, but you may prefer silicone lube. Do not pull too heavily on one spot of the latex, as it can rip/tear/discolor. Most items is to lube the inside of the piece and then the intended body part, with special attention paid to joints. Some items you’ll find you won’t need as much lube, but for harder items like catsuits and pants it makes it a lot easier! When putting on pants or a catsuit, sit down and pull the legs as much like you would do with a pair of stockings.
Latex is normally matte, particularly when new. For that lovely high gloss shine that so many of us adore, its all about the silicone lube and/or shine spray. Slap it on there and rub it around. Grab a friend for some fun wink The newer a piece, the more lube it will absorb. A piece that has been worn several times will begin to retain some shine and will be soft and supple. Be sure to keep lube on hand during wear for when you need more.
Tend to wash your latex in the shower immediately after wearing it out or when you have sweat a lot in it. Otherwise try to wash your latex as soon after wear. yo may use a mild soap like baby shampoo and warm water, being sure to get the inside and outside. Once done, you may hang it to dry on a plastic hanger without any of the pieces touching each other (this is particularly important for white and transparent latex).
Latex should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place. You may use gallon ziploc bags and fold/store each piece individually. Then put the bags of clothing into a bin and keep in the closet or under your bed for organizational purposes. Do not store latex in sunlight! If you don’t plan to wear a piece for few months, a light dusting of talcum powder does help. Be sure to store white, light colored and transparent latex carefully and separate from other colors. Even with the best of care, these colors will eventually discolor and stain very easily.
Lube to use
Silicone. As for specific brands, everyone has their own preference. I use Pjur, but have heard good things about Gun Oil, Vivishine, and Turtle Wax F21 (shining, use a sponge). I use Wet Platinum in a pinch as well.
Whether to use talcum powder
No, that is entirely up to you and if you choose to use it. If you use talcum powder, make sure it is unscented!
When buying latex
If you are in a store purchasing latex, look at the seams. Are they even and neat? Was there too much glue used so that its creeping out of the seams onto the outside of the garment? Or was there not enough glue, with seams flapping and starting to come apart? Are the edges neat and/or reinforced? Are any button holes neatly cut and/or reinforced?
Is zipper reinforced? A quality piece is neatly glued and put together. High stress areas are either expertly put together and/or reinforced. Look for any discoloration, stains, rips, and tears from someone else trying it on/ shipping and storing. When purchasing online, research the brand and/or seller. You can also ask what latex sheeting they use to make their clothing, the two common and popular quality brands being 4d and Radical Rubber.
What’s gauging and what does it have to do with latex?
Latex sheeting thickness is measured in millimeters, and that is it’s gauge. Most garments are between .33 and .5mm thick. A thin gauge is under .33mm thick and is very delicate. A heavier, thicker gauge can run up to 1mm and 1.5mm. What gauge you want to buy depends on the garment and your personal preference. A heavy 1.5mm gauge is great for corsets, but a .2mm probably wouldn’t hold up. I prefer a thin gauge on gloves and hoods. Some people prefer the very thin, delicate gauges, while others like a very thick, heavy rubber. If you’re not sure where to start, start in the middle, around .4-.5mm
Size to buy
If you want the typical skin tight look, always buy smaller than your actual size. Having your exact measurements helps tons in selecting the right size piece. Generally look for an inch or two below your actual size. Latex does stretch, but only 10-15% Sizing varies between designers and manufacturers, and many have their own measurements to equal sizes 1-5, or S-L. When in doubt, ask the seller. Many are more than happy to help you!
When wearing latex outside and need to wear sunblock
Many people simply forgo wearing sunblock while wearing latex outside as sunblock immediately and permanently damages latex. After some experiments I found that using a spray sunblock and letting it dry COMPLETELY before dressing is the way to go. Make sure the latex piece is fully lubed so there’s a thin layer between the latex and the sunblock on your skin.
Chlorination is a relatively new finishing process for latex that isn’t very common yet. It induces a chemical change to the surface of the latex that makes it permanently smooth and silky. There is no more need for dressing aids, and shining is optional. No sticking, no mess, and best of all, the ability to mix and match latex with other fabrics. This opens up a whole new world of latex design, and also makes latex available to those who aren’t interested in the hassle of traditional latex (lengthy dressing times, silicone based lubricant, etc). The chemical change is permanent to the latex. The latex becomes slightly stiffer, but still has the stretch and flexibility (approx 15% in all directions). Chlorinated latex does have the tendency to wrinkle more, but that is easily taken care of with a bit of steam and hanging up. The only draw back that I’ve found is that repair is much more difficult. Some latex purists are against it, and it’s not common due to the process being new and difficult. There are a handful of companies world-wide who offer chlorination as a service. I personally offer chlorination services through my brand of latex clothing.
Caution Regarding Care of Latex
Latex is a very sensitive material, which burns easily. For this reason, you may wish to carefully avoid storing or hanging your clothing near heaters or heat sources, avoiding fire, flame, and cigarettes/cigars. Similarly, avoid storing clothing in damp spaces or in direct sunlight or fluorescent light to avoid fading and deterioration of the latex material. Fingernails, watches, and sharp edges on jewelry can catch and tear your clothing. Metals such as copper, brass, and bronze will stain your clothing if permitted to come into contact with one another. Makeup and perfume may stain or even break down the latex material and should also be avoided. Lastly, avoid oil-based products when wearing your latex clothing and opt for non-harmful water-based ones.
Recently, latex clothing is becoming more and more popular. Wearing latex clothing is equivalent to a fashion trend. Let us all dare and learn to wear latex clothing actively; you can be a foothold in the fashion industry.