In terms of emerging trends, designers, celebrities, influencers, and laypeople alike have come around to normalizing what once were considered pretty “out there” styles. From embracing an in-your-face country western aesthetic à la cow print and cowboy boots to fully bringing corsets to the forefront of street style, fashion continues to push its own boundaries. But there's one trend that has the power to deter even the biggest fashion risk-takers: latex — which, interestingly enough, has risen up from the celebrity world rather than from the runway.
With roots in fetish culture, latex has made quite an appearance in mainstream luxury style in recent years. Seen on many a Kardashian-Jenner, and often worn by some of today's biggest pop stars on their world tours and in music videos, latex has solidified itself in the world of high fashion. More recently, Addison Rae stepped out in a red latex halter dress by Saint Laurent, and Hailey Bieber posed with her hubby while flaunting a baby blue Versace latex dress. At the 2021 Grammys, Doja Cat performed “Say So” in a futuristic Jean Paul Gaultier hooded black latex catsuit.
Sporadically appearing in runway collections and going through several upgrades throughout recent years, latex fashion has the ability to be incredibly versatile when used creatively, according to celebrity stylist Tiffany Briseno. After all, it’s just a fabric. “I love latex because it gives any garment instant textural interest — it has a great way of reflecting light, which gives your look depth,” Briseno tells NYLON. “One of my favorite latex pieces that keeps coming around is a great latex trench coat: Seeing this ultra luxe shiny material done in structured, more practical garments like a trench coat is such a statement.”
Admittedly, latex clothes are pretty intimidating by most people’s style standards — but, truthfully, you don't have to be a Kardashian to wear the fabric. To prove it, NYLON turned to the experts to get their advice and tips on how to conquer this material and transform it from something risqué to totally regular.
How To Style Latex
The first you might be wondering: Is latex right for me? The answer, of course, is yes (duh). "Fashion is all about self-expression, and what better way to express yourself while being sexy and bold?" says Wilford Lenov, the fashion stylist behind NYLON’s April 2019 cover story with Bebe Rexha (which featured a lot of latex). "Latex can 100% be a high fashion statement, and I've actually seen a few brands doing amazing things with it. However, to the everyday consumer, it can be scary and odd to be wearing an oversized condom for clothing. Being called 'sexy' should be embraced, not feared."
On the other hand, Atsuko Kudo, who has her own namesake couture latex label, feels that latex doesn't always have to be sexy. "I have always thought that latex can be for everyone and can potentially be worn in any situation," she tells NYLON. "It is, of course, a highly sensual fabric, but our senses are complex and are not only just 'sexy.' Though, of course, latex is a fetish fabric, I have always designed entirely with latex, and I design every type of garment." You'll see Kudo's designs everywhere from the red carpet to the bedroom.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice, founder of latex label Vex Clothing, agrees that latex has begun to lose its fetish reputation, which is the reason she began her label in the first place. "I think that over the past couple of years, latex has made a splash and is now being associated with high fashion and streetwear, which I think is amazing. It's the whole reason I started working with latex — I wanted to see more fashion pieces in this amazing fabric."
So, how can someone begin to work this magical fabric into their own wardrobe? When it comes to her own clients, who include Shawn Mendes and Catherine O’Hara, Briseno would opt for something a little more bold. For her celebrity clientele, she’d choose something like a large statement coat or blazer, or perhaps even a head-to-toe full latex outfit in a neutral color, she explains, to balance out the use of the material.
For the average person’s closet, however, she recommends a lighter touch. “The best way to integrate a trend subtly is to do it through your accessories and footwear,” Briseno says. “Instead of going for your staple black leather boots for fall, try them in a latex finish, or perhaps a latex beret or headband.”
In a similar vein, Lenov suggests starting with layering in pieces, making sure there is a bit of balance between latex and non-latex. "For example, try a cute latex bra layered over a button-down with a pair of denim jeans and booties," he says. "Also, I would recommend pairing statement pieces with more neutral pieces for balance, such as a latex skirt with a crop top, or a pair of latex pants with an oversized T-shirt or jacket. You always want to make sure it's balanced to avoid the look of trying too hard."
In general, opting for a simple, essential piece (rather than, say, a full catsuit or a ruffled gown) is also a great way to start playing with latex. "I always recommend a basic piece, like an accessory or a pencil skirt," says Petrielli-Pulice. "For men, a T-shirt or a tie — pieces that are easy to mix with items that are already in your closet." Remember, a fabric is only intimidating if you let it be.
How To Care For Latex
There are different kinds of latex materials used in clothing — namely shiny and matte, according to Lenov. If you're just heading for drinks and not a full-on party, he suggests opting for matte, not only because it's a bit more subtle, but it's also much easier to wear and care for. "The shinier latex requires special lubrications and can be more difficult to deal with other fabrics, and just the feeling on your body may feel uncomfortable," Lenov says. "Whereas the matte latexes are much easier to wear with other clothing and will avoid damaging other layered fabrics."
In general, you should go into buying a latex product knowing that it requires special care and can't just be tossed in the wash with the rest of your clothing; it requires upkeep. It also takes some practice to get it on your body. But never fear — there are steps that will make putting on your latex a smooth process, such as applying talcum powder and lube (yes, lube, but not your bedroom K-Y Jelly). Talcum powder helps with matte latex, while lubricant oils work for shiny latex, Lenov explains.
If you're working with a shinier latex, you'll need a polish to keep it looking fresh. Kudo stresses the importance of this step and even has her own polishing formula that keeps the latex moisturized the same way a lotion would moisturize the skin. "We recommend opting for a latex polish that doesn't leave a residue and treats latex like a skin moisturizer," says Kudo. "It's water-based, as oils damage latex. It also helps with the cleaning process, helping to remove talcum powder and dirt."
Your latex pieces will need to be washed in between wears, but note that you cannot machine wash, dry clean, or do any kind of heavy wash. "Wash it in warm, soapy water — preferably Palmolive dish soap — which takes off oil and helps preserve and clean the fabric," says Lenov.
It's also important to keep in mind that UV rays can have an impact on latex clothing. "UV rays can damage latex, so you'll want to keep it out of the sun when you're not wearing or enjoying your piece," says Petrielli-Pulice. Additionally, she recommends opting for a UV-protected polish if you are wearing your pieces in the sun.
But the most important tip of all is to simply have fun with it. According to the experts, you can (and should!) wear latex any time you feel like stepping up your style game. "Wearing latex is like wearing glitter, or something that's loud and bold," says Lenov. "It's not something you can wear every single day, but on the day you feel like you want to make a fashion statement for whatever, adding latex to the mix will spice up your look."
Keep in mind, though, that opting for a full latex look during the summer, particularly on a sweltering day, might not be the best idea. "There really isn't a way around it, heat and latex do not mix," says Lenov. "But, if you are bold and ambitious, lubricant is essential for shinier latex, and matte latex just needs a prayer; sweat will be inevitable."
Below, find some of NYLON’s favorite wearable, "everyday" latex pieces.
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