They’re unapologetically bold and undeniably sexy – and while they’ve been popular in BDSM and queer culture circles for decades, body harnesses are having a real MOMENT in mainstream fashion, and are becoming more popular among those curious about kink and exploring bondage play and fantasy.
Tempted to purchase your very first body harness? You won’t regret it. Here’s everything harness newbies need to know about what body harnesses are, how they’re used in sensual play and more.
What is a Body Harness?
Body harnesses in this context aren’t like the harnesses a tradie might wear on the job for health and safety purposes. Those types of harnesses are all about function, whereas a BDSM-style body harness – while offering opportunities for restraint play – is more about aesthetics.
On its own, a body harness isn’t designed to restrain the wearer – but it may come with strategically located straps and buckles that can be utilised to restrain the arms and legs. Some body harnesses fit the entire body, some focus on particular areas of the body – such as the torso or legs – and other variations include secure openings and holds for dildos, suspension gears, and other sex toys.
Full body and chest harnesses are among the most popular options for sensual play and fashion aesthetics.
Body Harnesses cover the entire torso and are designed to accentuate the body's natural curves. They can be used for both fashion and restraint purposes, and can be worn as standalone pieces or combined with other clothing items, such as lingerie, underwear, dresses, pants or skirts.
Chest harnesses are specifically designed to wrap around the upper body, highlighting the chest and shoulder area. They can be worn by both men and women and are often used during bondage play to restrict movement and provide a sense of control.
The History of Body Harnesses in Fashion and Sub-Culture
Leather harnesses have a rich history of use in fashion and BDSM play. While they have long been associated with BDSM culture, they have also become a fashionable accessory in mainstream gay culture, and in fashion.
The harness became a mainstay of the gay leather scene that took hold in Berlin, Amsterdam and San Francisco in the 1960s, inspired by post-World War II biker culture. The accessory stormed into a world fashion in the mid-70s, after Vivienne Westwood established the punk shop ‘SEX’ and brought bondage to the boutique. By the 80s the harness had become a pillar of fetishwear, and by the 90s body harnesses were being adopted by high fashion designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, whose strap-adorned fetishwear was worn by Madonna during her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour. Michael Jackson even performed at the 1993 Super Bowl in a gold, military style harness – sealing the item’s place in pop history – and over the past three decades harnesses have experienced regular revivals in high and street fashion, with celebs such as Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Michael B Jordan, Kim Kardashian and Timothée Chalamet sporting them on the red carpet and on tour most recently.
Body Harnesses and BDSM
The harness is a versatile and alluring piece of equipment that can be used for both fashion and function, and both the risqué connotations of the harness and its shape-enhancing form are at the heart of its appeal.
Used as a symbol of dominance or submission in BDSM culture, power dynamics and role reversal, leather harnesses are still widely used in the BDSM community. Thanks to their adoption by mainstream fashion, they’re also becoming increasingly popular among people exploring their sexual interests, desires and kinks, and are a simple – and FUN – means of dipping their toes into the waters of BDSM play.
While body harnesses are not designed to restrain on their own, may styles come with strategically located straps and buckles that can be utilised for restraint play, or paired with other accessories for the purposes of restraint or dominance/ submission play, such as cuffs, collars and leads.
Why We Love BDSM Harnesses
One of the things we love MOST about body harnesses is that they’re all inclusive – meaning you’ll look amazing in one no matter what size you are, what gender you identify as, or what your personal sense of style is.
As explained by BDSM scholar Andrea Zanin, body harnesses are designed to look HOT!
“Harnesses are all about aesthetics… Unlike most leather gear, they don’t keep you warm or protect your body. Some are designed for bondage, but mostly they’re worn to frame and showcase the body, whether over bare skin or over clothing. As such they’re quite shameless and provocative… A harness is a very easy and portable way to add a kinky edge to an otherwise mundane outfit. They’re a low-risk way to flirt with a leather look.”
How to Wear a Body Harness
Whether you’re straight, queer, kinky or vanilla, the key to rocking a body harness is confidence.
The only other ‘rule’ of harness wear is to ensure you tighten your body harness straps at a comfortable level, and to always have a ‘safety first’ approach to any kind of BDSM play.
Bondage can be a thrilling and intimate experience, but it's important to prioritise safety and consent. If you’re incorporating a body harness into restraint play, remember to never leave a bound person unattended, establish clear communication and boundaries with your partner, agree on a safe word, and check in with each other regularly to safeguard comfort and well-being.