Leather Education: Leather Traditions Old and New by KinkyIrishCowboy and Miss Velvet Steele

Traditions, whether they are from the days of old or even more recent, play an important part in our lives. Traditions can be built on ceremony or held in private, and they have a place both with those who walk the leather path and those who don’t. The best part about traditions is that they connect us and strengthen our group bonds, reminding us that we are part of something special.

Our traditions are as varied as the stars in the sky, as they have grown within each community’s unique circumstances.  For instance, while steeped in history, presenting someone with boots does not have one set tradition. One can find everything from making a big show of it to a small private thing to “here are your boots, congratulations,” as they are just handed to someone.  The Dallas tradition can include community members peeing on the newly presented boots, though accommodations have been made for those who might find that overly objectionable (apple juice makes a fine alternative).  As these traditions have been passed down through time, groups and families, they have sometimes been modified to fit the individual person or group.

Many of Leather’s traditions and protocols originated with military life and later came from gay motorcycle clubs.  Protocols might have included actions showing respect, such as refraining from touching another’s leathers without permission or waiting to be properly introduced to speak to someone.

Then, as now, they varied according to locale but typically governed interpersonal questions and behavior such as eye contact, use of honorifics, deportment, and even personal care.  As these protocols thrived, they began to develop into some of our most cherished traditions.  

Among these traditions are heartfelt traditions of earned leather, which often follow a particular order:  boots first to signify you are walking your Leather path, then pants and a belt showing you are progressing and wrapping yourself in your Leather lifestyle, then a vest to show your community involvement, and finally a Master’s cover, which always goes on straight with only 2 fingers spacing between the brim and the bridge of your nose with no one touching the brim.

Public ceremonial presentations of covers are relatively new in terms of traditions – the term Master was used for experienced Leathermen whose skill, knowledge, and experience led others to call him a master of his craft without a formal “bestowing” of the title – but they can be quite moving.  In this tradition, someone is presented their cover (cap) by their community or family, and the style of presentation runs the gamut from formal to casual, from all-inclusive to intimate.  One common element of many of these ceremonies is that a covered Master, an honored member of the community, will hold the cover and give a heartfelt speech about the recipient’s accomplishments, place in the community, and their character, including what a difference they have made in the speaker’s life.  Oftentimes, several people or all present will take a turn extolling the recipient’s virtues, creating a meaningful and memorable ritual.  

Our traditions cover a menagerie of many items from covers to vests to boots, both earned and gifted.  They can be unique to different contests and families as well as to the different groups that make up our community.   Some find it useful to create their own traditions for their families or cohorts as a way to form memories and build family lore.  “One tradition that I brought with me from the military to my life as a bootblack was to pass my kit to my apprentice,” says NLA-Dallas Programs Chair KinkyIrishCowboy.  “I filled the kit up with the basic products that she would need to get started and passed it onto her.  I did that because the kit itself had history, and I wanted that history to grow with other people.”  

Bootblacks themselves have a unique tradition which began at Southwest Leather Conference SWLC in 2005.  One of the bootblacks at the event was celebrating a birthday and chocolate cake was offered.  Chaos ensued as they found a multitude of ways to share the chocolaty goodness.  Thus began a tradition, and nowadays chocolate cake is often shared in a unique way whenever a group of bootblacks gather for fun and shenanigans.  Chocolate cake has become synonymous with bootblacks, and it has become an integral part of bootblack gatherings.

Our traditions, whether they are new or steeped in history, are just that: OURS!  But in looking at any community traditions, one can often find something in it that harkens back to its military and/or gay motorcycle club roots.  Both long-standing and more recent traditions tell a story.  By carrying them on we are honoring those that have gone before, building communal memories, and creating stories for those who come after.  Article written by KinkyIrishCowboy and Miss Velvet Steele