How the bondage harness was rebranded as red carpet-wear

Michael B Jordan and Timothee Chalamet’s awards ceremony looks are straight from the BDSM scene, but erase its roots in queer culture

Awards season is not, as a rule, a terribly exciting time for men’s fashion. As women dominate the photo opportunities and red-carpet chatter with their extravagant haute-couture gowns, expectations of men have remained fixed for decades: black tie, white shirt, patent-leather shoes, and you’re ready to go.

Some variations are permitted, but usually not enough to earn more than a few seconds’ notice. Which is why Michael B Jordan bewildered onlookers at Sunday night’s Screen Actors’ Guild awards by slipping a purple floral harness over an otherwise sleek double-breasted suit. Timothee Chalamet wore a sparkly black version to the Golden Globes last month.

Both looks bring to mind the Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon’s fetishwear-inspired tuxedo at last year’s Oscars – shoulderless, so as to give suitable exposure to the leather-and-steel BDSM harness crossing his chest.

This wasn’t just a rakish Hollywood bad boy turning up without a tie, but an out-and-proud gay celebrity actively queering the carpet, brashly defying showbusiness’s prescribed models of masculinity.

Real deal … Adam Rippon at the 2018 Oscars
Real deal … Adam Rippon in a harness and tuxedo at the 2018 Oscars Photograph: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

The harness is the uniform of the once underground gay leather bondage scene, a richly coded symbol of male sexual submission and control; refashioning it as mainstream formalwear before an audience of millions was an explicit statement that LGBT sexuality is no longer something to be hidden or marginalised.

The gesture was applauded, a handful of thinkpieces were written, and Rippon went back to wearing more conventionally chic skinny suits at public events. What we didn’t anticipate was that a year later, the harness – now co-opted by Louis Vuitton – would become the accessory of choice for straight male stars looking to up their red-carpet game. Vuitton’s version strips the item of its leather-scene implications: now constructed from thick fabric, it looks like the kind of safety harness used by frazzled parents to control roaming toddlers.

Whether this backwards-Baby-Björn look strikes you as charmingly whimsical or just idiotic, it’s hard not to see it as one more item of queer culture being appropriated and neutralised by the pop machine.

You would like to imagine its straight wearers are winkingly complicit in redressing masculinity, though Chalamet’s response to queries about his outfit suggests otherwise: “I thought it was a bib,” he admitted. “I had a friend send me a thing that, like, sex-dungeon culture is a thing where you wear harnesses. I didn’t do it for that reason.”

In Chalamet’s defence, his obliviousness is testament to the fashion world’s successful rebranding of the harness as Yolo bro-wear: if best actor frontrunner Rami Malek wears one to the Oscars next month, to pick up an award for his sanitised portrayal of the queer icon Freddie Mercury, it would be a fitting gesture.


Guy Lodge

The GuardianTramp

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