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Latex rubber is used in the manufacture of many types of clothing. It has traditionally been used to make protective clothing, including gas masks and Wellington boots. Mackintoshes have traditionally been made from rubberized cloth. However, rubber has now generally been replaced in these applications by synthetic polymers.
Latex rubber as a clothing material is common in fetish fashion and among BDSM practitioners, and is often worn at fetish clubs. It is sometimes also used by couturiers for its unusual appearance. Several magazines are dedicated to its use. Latex clothing tends to be skin-tight, but can also be loose-fitting.
Design and manufacture
A handful of companies around the world manufacture latex suitable for contact with human skin, and supply it 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. Being able to order only half-kilometre long batches of sheet in the colours and thicknesses they wanted meant that designers and clothing producers often had to co-operate, or face long delays in supplying their customers.
Since 2000, the sheet market has been exposed to competition courtesy of the Internet, producing an explosion in cottage industry latex fetish clothing makers.
Sheet-based latex clothing is made in a three-stage process:
- A pattern for a specific garment is selected and adjusted carefully to the measurements supplied by the customer.
- Sheet latex is cut out by hand on a flat board.
- Glue (generally rubber cement or a similar solvent-based adhesive) is applied to join the seams.
Skilled latex makers can build a stocking, shaped to match the contours of a specific person's leg, from latex only 0.2 mm thick, in under an hour. It is possible to use water-based glues such as Copydex; however, the items' durability is usually affected.
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 required to keep its thickness consistent. Inconsistent thickness can cause latex to fail at its weak points faster than items made from sheet latex. This has led to a stigma against molded latex garments, to the detriment of those few latex providers who have proper mold-making techniques. When done properly, a molded latex is just as durable as sheet latex, and it is the preferred method for the skilled crafting of heavy contours such as hoods or gloves. Is impossible to get solid sheets to fit complex contours as well as properly molded latex can. The belief that sheet latex is superior to all molded latex is completely false; ultimately, a garment's success depends on its creator's abilities, as even poorly made sheet latex can easily fail. Sheet latex is the preferred method for items such as catsuits that do not need perfect form fitting, and are easier to create with sheets compared to the large molds required for bodysuits.
While there is little difference in latex clothing made from liquid latex versus sheet latex in the hands of a skilled artisan, liquid latex is cured via air drying while sheet latex is cured by being vulcanized. This makes 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 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 (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.
Use of latex clothing has been popularized by media appearances, such as the outfit of Catwoman, a cat burglar, in Batman Returns or the outfits in The Matrix which are mostly made of latex, like popular celebrities Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga, Kylie Jenner, Pamela Anderson, Shania Twain, Eliza Dushku, and Emma Watson has worn latex in publicity events or hangouts.
Use in fetish community
Latex clothing is a popular feature of the BDSM community. Latex or rubber fetishists sometimes refer to themselves as "rubberists". One reason why latex or other tight shiny fabrics may be fetishised is perhaps that the garment forms a "second skin" that acts as a fetishistic surrogate for the wearer's own skin. Thus, wearers of skin-tight latex or PVC garments may be perceived by the viewer as being naked, or simply coated in a shiny substance like paint. Latex can also be polished to be shiny and can also be produced in bright colours, adding further visual stimulus to add to the physical sensations produced by the material. The tightness of the garments may also be viewed as a kind of sexual bondage.
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