So, you want to attend a leather event!
Stepping into a queer leather event for the first time is like entering a parallel universe where the energy is electric and the attire is leather, latex, and whatever makes you feel sexy. The air is filled with the scent of polished boots and the sound of jangling chains, while the atmosphere is a heady mix of liberation and hedonism. You can feel the adrenaline pumping through your veins as you explore this new world, wondering what new experiences and connections await you. Get ready to embrace your inner leather freak and leave all inhibitions at the door, because you’re about to enter a world where (almost) anything goes and everyone is welcome.
In a world where dedicated leather spaces are becoming more and more rare, leather events have been on the rise. From monthly leather socials to the big weekends like International Mr. Leather (IML), International Ms. Leather & Bootblack (IMSLBB), Folsom, etc., attendance at leather events is up, especially now that kinky social life has started to feel a little closer to what it was pre-pandemic.
The hotel lobby during Mid-Atlantic Leather. Can you find Waldo?
Attending a leather contest or event weekend can be an exciting and educational experience, but it can also feel overwhelming your first time. Here are my Top 10 recommendations for someone attending their first leather contest/large event:
Before attending, try and research the event online or contact the event organizers to learn more about what to expect, rules and regulations, dress code, and other important information. Or, ask a friend who has attended before; they can probably give you a few tips they’ve learned.
It’s normal to feel a little intimidated attending a leather contest or event for the first time, so it can be helpful to attend with a “local” who is familiar with the local community. Many leatherfolx love being someone’s guide during their first event, making introductions, and seeing the whole thing through fresh eyes.
Many people new to leather events can become caught up in the sexual energy of the space and make the very incorrect assumption that someone wearing something tight or revealing is an invitation to grab. Even if you see someone else copping a feel, that doesn’t mean it’s open season for anyone.
Leather is about connection, so if you’re interested in someone, have enough respect for them to talk to them and get clear consent to move forward. Many events have started instituting “consent bands” at their events that color code a person’s base level of consent. From red (don’t touch) to yellow (please ask first) to green (relaxed, but don’t get crazy), these bands help start the conversation and set some basic ground rules for the event.
Attend the event with an open mind and be willing to learn and explore. Take the opportunity to meet new people, learn about the leather culture, and experience new things.
Leather events often host workshops, classes, and demonstrations. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn and expand your knowledge, discover a few new kinks, and connect with people who are into the same stuff you are.
If it’s your first big event, you might not have all the fancy formal leathers or lots of gear yet. But fear not, unless you’re competing in the contest, there’s no big expectation that you be in “high cow” (formal leathers).
Dress in the sexy spirit of the event, and wear what gear you have or can borrow. Some events will have a requirement (see above about doing your research), but most are pretty casual for the audience. However, you will need to comply with the nudity rules for the venue, which will usually require your ass crack and front genitalia to be covered. And if you do have fancy or fun leathers, this will definitely be a space where it will be appreciated.
Bootblacks are an integral part of the leather community and are often working during event weekends. If you have leather boots or a piece of leather clothing, take advantage of their expertise in leather care.
Tipping a bootblack is a must, as their materials and time aren’t free. The amount you choose to tip can depend on several factors such as the quality of the service, the amount of time spent, and your budget. A typical range for a bootblack tip is around $10 to $20 and goes up from there. It’s important to keep in mind that some bootblacks may have their own suggested tipping range, and it’s always okay to ask if you’re unsure.
While not all local leather events are big enough to pull in many vendors, they are common at the larger events and are not to be missed. If you’re in the market to expand your gear collection, you won’t find a place with more options and the ability to actually try things on. Pro tip: Go in with an idea of what type of gear (harness, boots, leather shirt, toys, etc.) that you’re looking for. Do a full loop of the vendors looking at what options for your search they may have there before making a purchase, so you don’t blow your spending wad on the first thing that catches your eye. BUT, if you find something exceptional that you’ve not seen before and it fits just right, buy it immediately. It might not be there when you circle back.
Remember that the event is being held in a space that may not be familiar to you, so be respectful of the venue, its staff and the people around you. Events are often hosted in places that might not be that leather or kinky outside of the event, so show some appreciation that we’re being welcomed into the space.
Leather contests are typically held to celebrate the leather community, so be respectful of others regardless of their pronouns, presentation, or sexual preferences. Don’t judge or discriminate against others based on their appearance, race, gender identity, age, ability, or any other factor. And no kink shaming!
If you have questions about the event, the leather community, or anything else, don’t be afraid to ask. Many people at the event will be happy to share their knowledge and experiences with you.
Finally, don’t forget to have fun! Leather contests are a celebration of the leather community, so enjoy the experience and make the most of it.
Brian “Bolt” Donner placed third at IML in 2015 and hasn’t stopped moving since. A founding member of the Cincinnati Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Ruff Pups, President of the Titans of the Midwest from 2018-2019, and Executive Producer for the Cincinnati Puppy and Cincinnati Leather, the first men’s contest to remove the gender restriction and become a gender-neutral contest. He is a long time member of the bear, pup, and leather communities, bondage switch, alpha pup, designer, illustrator, educator, giant comic book nerd, and dad joke aficionado.