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.
Design and manufacture
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.
Use in clothing
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 slippy 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.
In popular culture
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.
- "Image of loose latex clothing". Retrieved 2011-09-13.
- Liquid Latex Costuming - Body Art
- Latex 2002 - Rapra Technology Limited - Google Books
- Latex Care Guide by Otley Run Fancy Dress (A costume and fancy dress cosplay blog)
- The Artistic Pursuits of Steve Diet Goedde (blog): Catwoman
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