As any fetish man into leather knows, it can be an expensive kink. Leather needs care and maintenance, especially boots, which is where the art of bootblacking comes in. Let's get to grips with this traditional fetish craft.
What is bootblacking?
Bootblacking is the act of cleaning and polishing leather boots. Like an old-style shoeshine, a bootblack works on the boots of others usually while they're wearing them, making it a social exchange as well as a service. Using traditional kit – saddle soap, tinned polish, horsehair brushes etc – bootblacks can breathe new life and shine into leather boots and gear. Despite the name, bootblacks don't necessarily restrict themselves to caring for boots alone; many will turn their attention to all types of leather gear, from trousers to chaps, leashes to collars.
Most bootblacks take an extraordinary amount of pride in their work, often born from a love of leather and its fetish status. They've been a staple in leather subculture for decades; many leather clubs have their own resident bootblacks on hand to care for the leathermen's leather.
Bootblacking, leather culture and fetish
Leather has long been an integral subculture in the world of gay fetish, so it's no surprise that bootblacks have their own special niche. After all, they're the ones with the skills to make leathermen look their best.
Since the later 1940s, gay men have worn leather to consciously create their identities, signalling a cultural shift that reframed homosexuality in comparison to mainstream thinking. Even before the first gay leather bars existed, fetish men gathered under the guise of motorcycle clubs, taking a culture that already occupied the fringes of society and redefining its meaning for themselves. Leather became an important representation of virility and masculinity for fetish men, in stark contrast to the more 'effeminate' images of homosexuality in popular culture at the time. Leathermen invest a good deal of time and money into their gear and wear it with pride, and bootblacks play a vital role in helping them maintain it.
Many bootblacks identify as leathermen themselves, for some it's how they come to take up the craft. While bootblacking itself isn't a turn on for every bootblack, it certainly is for a number of guys in the community. As an act of service, bootblacking can have elements of power play, but most bootblacks think of themselves as being in service to the leather community as a whole, rather than any one individual.
International Mr. Bootblack
Since 1993, bootblacks from around the world have competed for the title of International Mr. Bootblack, a contest held during the International Mr. Leather (IML) weekend in Chicago. Bootblacks vie for ballot votes from IML attendees, as well as approval on their technical skills and on-stage charisma from a panel of expert judges.
Despite the competition, bootblacks are a tightknit community. For most bootblacks, the love of leather and the craft comes before any title, and they are usually happy to demonstrate their skills to anyone with leather to care for.
If you've never had your boots blacked yourself, we highly recommend heading along to a leather night near you and discovering for yourself what makes the experience so special.
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