Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wearing Leather Around Town

It's interesting, I was preparing a blog post in my mind about two encounters last night when I read on Straight-Acting's Blog that he was commenting on the same type of thing: wearing leather in public and what people may say or do. I have blogged about this before, but this bears repeating in a new context.

While he specifically mentioned me as being "a brave soul," (thanks, man!), I really do not consider that wearing leather while going about my daily business is as much "brave" as it is in recognition of the fact that I really don't care if other people say anything or have an opinion about the leather garments I choose to wear on my personal time. People are as much entitled to their opinions as I am entitled to wear leather in public. As long as my leather does not directly imply sex -- such as wearing codpiece leather jeans, or a jock with chaps, for example -- then wearing leather is considered something more like fashion that never goes out of style. And, as I have often said, leather garments are practical. They provide warmth, comfort, as well as style.

The encounters to which I referred last night was with two members of a club to which I belong. We met to plan out the season's schedule for motorcycle rides that the club will offer to its members. One of the guys at my table asked me, "do you wear anything other than leather?" The tone of his voice implied some form of ... I don't know ... perhaps one might say, "indignation." Not wanting to respond defensively or get into an argument with this guy, I gave him a very bright and warm smile and said, "not if I don't have to!" I was so positive about it, he stammered as if he did not know how to respond. I guess he wasn't expecting that type of "peppy" reply. He then changed the subject.

During a break, another guy came up to me and said that he was "mad at me" because he is is a big and tall man, and has had trouble finding leather gear to wear for motorcycling that fits, provides flexibility, allows for ease-of-movement, is made of quality leather, and looks good. He made his comment lightheartedly, and not with anger. He said that he had found my website and reviewed the various leather gear and boots that I own. He was "mad at me" because my gear fits well and looks good. (Implying that if it looks good on a big guy like me, then he can find leather that will fit him well, too.)

He said all of this without sounding judgmental whatsoever, which is something that I listen for when talking about leather with straight bikers. I know I am fortunate that the straight bikers with whom I ride are easy-going and accepting of having an openly gay leather-clad and tall-booted guy in their midst. I know from slams on some public forums that few straight bikers are as open-minded.

My fellow club member said that he had tried to order a leather jacket from a company whose products are made in Thailand, but was disappointed with the product when he got it. He described to me what process he went through in deciding where to order leather gear over the internet and the challenges he has encountered.

I explained that well-fitting leather gear for motorcycling is related to two main issues:

1) Fit. One size does not fit all! Sizes on the internet of jackets and pants are widely variable. The sizes of leather garments does not correlate with the size of a pair of blue jeans or a shirt. These are estimates, but not something to be used to choose leather gear purchased over the 'net. For us big and tall guys, the only way to go is to be measured properly and have gear crafted custom to fit. Having done that, as well as purchased gear estimated to be my size, I know first-hand that "going custom" is not that much more expensive. After all, you're buying something that will last a lifetime, so the investment is worth it.

2) Quality. As in quality of the hide used to make the garment. If the leather is made in a country where the skins are subjected to harsh chemicals in the tanning process and have scratches, abrasions, or holes from insect bites (after all, leather comes from a once-living animal), then the gear made from it will look bad. And, regretfully, there is a correlation between leather garment manufacturers who choose to use low-quality hides and the quality of the resulting product during production. Cheap threads, single-stitching, thin hides that stretch: all of these factors go together.

Ultimately, I explained, "you get what you pay for." If you buy cheap, expect poor quality. I don't like to slam any earnest business person in another country, but it is rather obvious from seeing leather garments made in Thailand, India, and Pakistan that the stuff is inexpensive because inferior quality leather is used in the first place, along with less attention to quality production methods when the gear is cut and assembled.

I explain all of this in my Complete Guide to Leather Gear on my website.

While I do not consider myself courageous to wear my leather investment in public, I recognize that few choose to do that for various reasons. They have concerns about what others may say or do, or how they will respond if asked or challenged, such as Straight-Acting was queried by the London Tube Police.

I appreciate the freedoms that I enjoy in the United States, where self-expression is considered a birthright. There are many pressures to conform to society's norms, whatever those norms may be. When you realize that these norms are conceived by a certain group of people -- straight people who often have very narrow viewpoints -- and then choose to ignore the norms because they are baseless conformations, it is very liberating. That truly is how I feel.

Why let others' stereotypes and self-conceived perceptions cause you to act, dress, or behave in certain ways? If you are not hurting anyone, then as they say in New York, "fuggetaboutit"... be confident, stand tall, choose your leather wisely, and wear it where you like within the limits of respect for others and the environment where you are. For example, the only leather I wear to work are boots and occasionally a leather blazer, jacket, or vest. But I do not wear leather shirts or jeans to work. It's not appropriate there. However, on my own time, out and about in my community at meetings and events, or even at the grocery store, there I am in leather... and (of course), boots!

Life is short: wear your boots and leather!

4 comments:

Straitjacketed said...

I'm flattered to have (partly) inspired an excellent blog entry! A couple of points of clarification, though:

While he specifically mentioned me as being "a brave soul," (thanks, man!), I really do not consider that wearing leather while going about my daily business is as much "brave" as it is in recognition of the fact that I really don't care if other people say anything or have an opinion about the leather garments I choose to wear on my personal time. People are as much entitled to their opinions as I am entitled to wear leather in public.

"Brave" was perhaps the wrong word. I do think, though, that it takes a certain courage - or at least confidence in oneself - to worry so little about the opinions of others. Intellectually, I agree with you entirely. On a more emotionally reactive level, I must admit I sometimes avoid wearing what I'd like to wear because I lack the confidence (or energy or patience) to deal with the quizzical looks and comments. Some days, I just want to blend in with the herd.

As long as my leather does not directly imply sex -- such as wearing codpiece leather jeans, or a jock with chaps, for example -- then wearing leather is considered something more like fashion that never goes out of style. And, as I have often said, leather garments are practical. They provide warmth, comfort, as well as style.

That's all true, but I do think that even those leathers you consider not to be directly implying sex (eg. leather trousers that are neither codpiece nor chaps) are considered by some people to have somewhat sexualised connotations. Eye of the beholder, I guess. I agree wholeheartedly with your conclusion that this reflects a range of fairly narrow stereotypes - but, as I've said, I sometimes lack the resources to challenge those stereotypes. This is perhaps why I admire people like you, who do so daily.

While I do not consider myself courageous to wear my leather investment in public, I recognize that few choose to do that for various reasons. They have concerns about what others may say or do, or how they will respond if asked or challenged, such as Straight-Acting was queried by the London Tube Police.

I appreciate the freedoms that I enjoy in the United States, where self-expression is considered a birthright.


Heh, I feel I have to defend London's bobbies a bit here, as it sounds a little like me being stopped by UK police is being contrasted with US freedom of self-expression.

To further clarify: I don't think I was stopped by the police because they had any sort of problem with my wearing leather. They were apparently carrying out a random stop-and-search as part of the London Met's anti-terrorism measures (although the cop who took my details was quick to reassure me, "which is not to say I think you're a terrorist, sir").

I have no idea why he randomly chose me, but speculated that it might have been the incongruity of seeing someone fully dressed for motorcycling travelling on public transport. Or perhaps he was a bit of a closet leatherist himself... ;)

Thanks again for the long blog entry. I really like these discussions.

Anonymous said...

"Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one." Eleanor Roosevelt

Whatever helps to define you as an individual and gain a better sense of self, is a good thing.

--Kevin

Booted Harleydude said...

Straigjacketed said, I feel I have to defend London's bobbies a bit here, as it sounds a little like me being stopped by UK police is being contrasted with US freedom of self-expression....They were apparently carrying out a random stop-and-search as part of the London Met's anti-terrorism measures.

A clarification or explanation, however you wish: if this were done in the U.S., there would be a huge ruckus from all sides of the political spectrum from those who believe in a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution's provision against "unlawful search and seizure."

Actually, the law enforcement agency that patrols the DC Metro floated an idea of doing "random" searches of bags brought on the subway by passengers, and I am surprised that you didn't hear the yelling about it all the way over there in the U.K. Needless to say, they abandoned the idea.

Our problem, as is yours, is that since the attacks in our respective countries (ours on Sept. 11, 2001, and yours on July 7, 2005), everyone is so worried about terrorists that they engage in delaying regular public transit riders when they know that if someone really wanted to cause trouble on public transit, the evil-doer could easily find ways to bypass such screening. It is documented that screening of bags on public transit is more for show to gain support of an unwitting public than to prevent terrorism.

Thanks for the comments. I, too, appreciate the dialogue.

Straitjacketed said...

Actually, the law enforcement agency that patrols the DC Metro floated an idea of doing "random" searches of bags brought on the subway by passengers, and I am surprised that you didn't hear the yelling about it all the way over there in the U.K. Needless to say, they abandoned the idea.

Different history, I guess. The 9/11 attacks were on air transport, and it's been my experience that US airline security (and, to an only slightly lesser extent, airline security everywhere) has been considerably tightened. Several of my colleagues are now unable to enter the US. The UK's equivalent, 7/7, took place on the London Underground, hence our own security tightening's most been visible (if not necessarily most effective) there. I agree with you that it may be largely for show.

The reactions of our respective countries to terrorist attacks - and how those reactions reflect national psyche vis-a-vis self-expression - is a potentially huge subject...