In BDSM, a dress code is a policy of appropriate dressing for social events such as fetish clubs and play parties. It specifies how guests have to be dressed to be admitted into the event. Dress codes are usually enforced.
What to wear
The most important rule in a BDSM dress code is that guests' attire should be erotic and/or fetishistic; denim jeans, T-shirts or streetware are usually a no no. There are two reasons for having a dresscode. One is to discourage people not in the BDSM scene from entering the event solely to ogle at the guests, and another is to raise the event's atmosphere by ensuring that guests are dressed excitingly enough to attract others' attention.
Dress codes are usually fairly standard between clubs but the types of dress worn by clubbers does vary depending on the type of club. Dance orientated clubs, such as Torture Garden have a "see and be seen" attitude to them, and the clubbers' attire tends to be much more individualistic. Play clubs on the other hand are generally more conservative, with a focus on the more classic fetish stereotypes of rubber and leather.
What kinds of attire a BDSM dresscode includes varies slightly from club to club but usually follows a general guideline:
- Rubber, latex and leather clothes are considered "safe bets".
- Military uniforms are usually allowed, especially for men. They do not have to be from the guest's own country, any country's uniform is allowed. The only major exception is Nazi Germany. Especially in Germany and in some places in the United Kingdom, wearing a swastika is absolutely forbidden, even without a purposeful connotation to Nazism.
- School uniforms from countries that mandate such uniforms, for example United Kingdom or Japan, are allowed in some places, especially in countries that do not themselves mandate specific uniforms for schools.
- Formal dress wear (black tie for men, long evening dress for women) is allowed in some countries. Historic dress wear (for example, from the 18th century) is usually preferred to contemporary dress wear. Usually, formal dress wear by itself is considered too neutral, so it is given a more daring edge with accessories. Such accessories might include a whip (if the person is dominant) or a collar (if the person is submissive).
- Crossdressing is nearly always allowed, and sometimes even stretches to more casual wear than would be allowed for the "right" sex. Overly feminine clothes, like ballgowns, are allowed for men, and "macho" clothes like construction worker uniforms are allowed for women.
- Exposing the more erotic parts of the body aids towards inclusion (although this usually favours women over men). At least in Europe, women may partially or fully expose their breasts, but bare genitals are usually forbidden, regardless of sex. However, note that the emphasis still has to be on the clothing - entering an event naked or clad only in underwear is taken more as exhibitionism than fetishism.
- Skinhead gear is popular in some gay clubs.
- Medical uniforms
- Nun's habit and other religous imagery
If you are planning your first visit to a fetish club, PVC clothing is a safe bet. It is relatively cheap, easy to put on, comfortable to wear, and you will always look the part in it!
Criticism of dresscodes
Not everyone in the BDSM community agrees with mandatory dresscodes. Some common criticisms are:
- Dresscodes are ineffective against unwanted outsiders. A normal vanilla guest wanting to enter a BDSM event solely to ogle at others merely has to invest in kinky clothing, he/she does not have to actually have a kinky mindset.
- Dresscodes favour some fetishes above others. Rubber and leather fetishes are the most common, but other, much more unusual fetishes also exist. Some people are even attracted towards woolly jumpers, but wearing such a jumper would never get past a dresscode.
- Dresscodes sometimes favour women over men. Even in the mainstream, women enjoy a greater deal of variety in their formal dress than men. This is emphasised in the BDSM scene, where a woman merely has to show enough of her body to get past a dresscode.
- Dresscodes seldom allow "streetwear" even in the context of another highly formalised look - typically skinhead, where the wearing of denim is completely central to one of its forms, and where wearing anything else (such as rubber) is totally inappropriate - unless it is a specifically gay or fetish event.