Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Everybody in Leather (Bomber) Jackets

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #161, July 27, 2001)

Are you in the mood to buy another leather jacket as an alternative to your black leather biker jacket? Perhaps you’re a uniform aficionado who values authenticity, or maybe you just want a jacket that fits well, looks great, and exudes masculinity. Maybe what you’re looking for is a leather bomber jacket.

The quintessential black leather biker jacket that we all know and love became popular after Marlon Brando wore one in the 1953 film classic “The Wild Ones.” The leather bomber jacket’s history notoriety goes back much further, almost to the dawn of aviation. The rigors of open-cockpit flying called for a leather jacket and often a leather helmet with goggles. (Early motorcycle riders adopted the same apparel.) During World War I many a French, British, German or American military pilot was photographed wearing his leather jacket standing beside his plane, looking every inch the glamorous (i.e. homoerotic) war hero. Actually, it worked for women, too; the few women fliers of the day wore the same outfit and still retain their status as lesbian heartthrobs.

The United States Army Air Corps standardized the design for its Type A-1 “Summer Flying Jacket” in 1927 and for the more famous Type A-2 in 1931. These are the jackets seen on American fighter pilots in photos from the World War II era. The fit was trim and snug (and flattering) in both torso and sleeves. The leather was usually horsehide, although some A-2’s were made with other hides, including goatskin. Horsehide is extremely strong and durable and, unlike other hides, is naturally waterproof.

The early 1940s saw the U.S. military abandon these leather-shell jackets for newer cloth-shell designs. The U.S. Air Force started issuing A-2’s again in the late 1980s, but these modern jackets have a fuller and less flattering fit and are made of lesser-quality leather. (Horsehide jackets are rare today because in the 1950s the U.S. government banned the slaughter of horses for leather; the only way to get horsehide leather today is from an animal that has died of natural causes.)

If you’re looking for a leather bomber jacket you have a wide array of choices. Fueled by “Greatest Generation” nostalgia, the subculture that has grown up around these jackets and other WWII-era clothing and memorabilia is truly amazing.

For around $200, you can buy a version of the modern A-2 made by Cooper, Avirex, or one of many other manufacturers. It won’t have the trim fit or quality of the original, but it will be serviceable.

At the other price extreme, you can search for a genuine original A-2 and own a piece of history. Sources include military-equipment collectors’ shows and Ebay; some of the manufacturers of reproduction jackets listed below also buy and sell originals. Depending on the manufacturer, condition, artwork, patches and traceable history, you can expect to pay $500-$4,000 or more. Once you’ve paid that much, though, you might not want to wear it on a regular basis. And unless your stature is on the small side, you might have a hard time finding an original jacket that fits you.

Some specialty mail-order manufacturers make what are billed as reproductions of the classic A-2 or A-1 (or British and German styles of the era), but the quality and accuracy of the reproductions vary widely. For example, Eastman Leather ( in the U.S. and Canada, everywhere else) makes its own generic version of the classic A-2 jacket as well as strict replicas, down to the smallest detail, of A-2’s manufactured by various Army contractors at various times (even using new, unused Talon zippers manufactured in the 1940s).

Eastman, based in England, provided the leather jackets seen in this summer’s blockbuster, “Pearl Harbor,” and they’ll be happy to sell you a special “Pearl Harbor” edition A-2, A-1, or RAF Battle of Britain Flying Jacket as seen in the film—as well as a Type B-1 Wool Flying Cap or Type A-3 HBT Mechanic’s Cap to go with it. Other manufacturers of reproduction WWII-era flying apparel include Aero Leather Co. (, a brand of Transatlantic Clothing Co., based in Scotland) and Real McCoy’s (Japanese-owned, based in New Zealand).

A wealth of information about original and reproduction A-2’s and other jackets (the shearling-lined B-3 Winter Flying Jacket, the M-422A, the B-10, etc.) can be found at, which appears to be a non-commercial hobby site. You’ll find a fascinating and detailed history of the A-2 and other military wear, evaluations of various A-2 and other reproductions, and listings of manufacturers and sources for original and reproduction garments.

Even if you don’t want to spend $500 or more on a reproduction A-2, uniform enthusiasts will want to spend $10 (plus $2.50 postage) for Eastman Leather’s Golden Book of Authentic Vintage Flight Apparel. Yes, it’s a sales brochure, but it’s also 110 pages of profusely-illustrated full-color reference information (presented in a great 1940s graphic style) on topics such as jacket production, leather tanning and dyeing techniques, collector data and previously-unpublished private and archival photos. Close-up comparisons show dozens of original jackets (and compare them to Eastman’s reproductions, of course). Order it from History Preservation Associates by phone at 856-489-8103 (Visa or MC) or by mail: P.O. Box 8344, Cherry Hill, NJ 08002-0344.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Friday & Saturday, July 27 & 28

Easy Rider—the classic motorcycle movie of all time—will be playing for two nights only at the Plaza Maplewood theater. Showtimes are 10 PM and Midnight on both days. The theater is located in Maplewood, one block east of White Bear Ave. & Larpenteur. Tickets are $5, a portion of which will be donated to charity. Call for details and directions.

Friday, June 15, 2001

Web Extra: Stefan Mueller is International Mr. Leather 2001

(Leather Life column published on Lavender Magazine website, Issue #158, June 15, 2001)

The 2001 International Mr. Leather (IML) contest was held in Chicago on Memorial Day weekend (May 25-28). 2001 marks the 23rd year for the contest. Stefan Mueller, Bavarian Mr. Leather 2001, became International Mr. Leather 2001, winning over a field of 63 contestants from 7 countries. Darrell Moyers, Mr. DC Eagle 2001 was selected first runner-up; Mr. San Francisco Leather 2001 Houston Davenport took second runner-up honors.

Mueller is from Munich, Bavaria (Germany), and was sponsored by MLC Munchen and Spexter Erotic Store. He is 37 years old and is a Coordinating Manager at Nuernberg-based Sebald Druck und Verlag. Since 1989, Mueller has co-organized gay events, benefits, fundraisers and dress-code events through Bavaria, and he coached the Nuernberg gay volleyball team to win the gold at the 1996 Eurogames in Berlin.

First runner-up Moyers is from Washington DC, and was sponsored by DC Eagle, Inc. He is a Technical Trainer. Second runner-up Davenport, from San Francisco, CA, was sponsored by The Powerhouse Bar and Stompers Boots and is an Independent Certified Sign Language Interpreter.

This was the tightest contest in history of IML. There was a three-way tie for third place and two two-way ties, one for eleventh place and one for thirteenth place.

The International Mr. Leather contest truly was international this year. IML 2001 had 63 contestants (one more than last year’s contest). Fifty-one contestants came from the United States, four from Canada, three from Australia, two from Germany, and one each from Holland, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Twelve of the United States contestants came from one state: California. Michigan provided four contestants, and New York, Missouri and Ohio each provided three. Other states with multiple contestants were Washington, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Colorado with two contestants each. Minnesota was represented by Steven Due, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2001.

It is also worth noting that another recognizable demographic group, the deaf leather community, seemed to have a high profile at this year’s contest. Judge Philip C. Rubin holds the title of International Mr. Deaf Leather 1991. Contestant Miro Civin (Mr. Leather Holland 2001) was deaf, but during Saturday night’s physique-and-personality competition his deafness didn’t keep him from communicating to the audience what kind of porn film he would like to make—even for those of us who don’t know sign language, his signing spoke very eloquently. As mentioned previously, IML 2001 second-runner-up Davenport is an Independent Certified Sign Language Interpreter and signed many of his speeches throughout the weekend.

The Contest Preliminaries

The IML weekend’s opening event was the contestant introduction, at which all 63 contestants were introduced alphabetically and drew their numbers to determine the order in which they would be introduced for the rest of the weekend. The contestant introduction was held in the Palmer House’s Grand Ballroom—a large, majestic space that was used to good advantage. The setting was impressive, and I especially appreciated the fact that the audience was seated (as opposed to the last few years where the crowd had to stand).

The actual process of introducing the contestants and having them draw their numbers, though, didn’t go quite as smoothly as might have been desired. There seemed to be a higher level of nervousness among the contestants this year than in past years, and a wobbly microphone stand that kept threatening to tip over didn’t help matters. But the awkward moments faded into insignificance when all 63 contestants made their final appearance by lining up on a balcony stretching across the entire front wall of the ballroom. It made a magnificent panorama and a spectacular finale.

Saturday night’s “Pecs and Personality” was also held in the Palmer House’s Grand Ballroom. This was a chance for the contestants to show how good they looked wearing as little as possible. In addition, each contestant was asked a question based on their biographical data that was read while they were strutting their stuff. One of the more memorable responses to a question was from Mueller, who would go on to become the new International Mr. Leather the next evening. Since this was his first visit to the U.S., he was asked what he thought of the people here. He replied that he couldn’t tell us, he had to sing his answer. He then serenaded the crowd with “You Are So Beautiful To Me,” the song made popular by Joe Cocker.

(Tip for next year’s contestants: Last year Bob “Puppy” Peder sang “Amazing Grace” during his IML speech and finished second-runner-up. This year Mueller sang and became IML. And at his farewell “roast” this year, IML 2000 Mike Taylor ended the evening by singing “One For My Baby and One For The Road.” So all you contestants for next year, find a vocal coach and start those voice lessons now.)

The Contestant Interviews

While most IML attendees were able to spend their days shopping the Leather Market or sightseeing, the judges were busy interviewing all 63 contestants (one of whom, I am told, showed up for his interview in the nude). For the second year the judging went on via e-mail prior to the actual contest weekend, so by the time judges and contestants met face-to-face they were already familiar with one another, and the judges already knew many of the contestant’s stories.

Judges and contestants discussed issues contestants have faced and dealt with: childhood abuse; sexual abuse; domestic abuse; substance abuse; living with HIV and other illnesses; losing a partner to HIV; and parental issues ranging from reconciling with them to losing them. Many of those topics also came out in the contestants’ speeches during the contest Sunday night.

With all those intense topics to talk about, Chief Judge Thom Dombkowski told me after the contest was over that this year’s judging had been emotionally exhausting. Dombkowski used one word to describe the contestant interviews this year: “healing.”

This year’s judges were:

—Chief Judge Thom Dombkowski, former Program Director for the Chicago Department of Public Health

Mike Taylor, International Mr. Leather 2000

—Judge Emeritus Marcus Hernandez, award-winning leather columnist for San Francisco’s Bay Area Reporter

Jack McGeorge, co-founder and current president of Black Rose, a pansexual BDSM group in Washington, DC

Bob Pesce, a member of the Board of Directors for GMSMA (Gay Male SM Activists) in New York City

Philip C. Rubin, International Mr. Deaf Leather 1991

Jim Raymond, treasurer of the Centaur Motorcycle Club of Washington, DC and American Leatherman 1997. (Widely known for his electrical play, his nickname is “Jim Ray-O-Vac.”)

Jill Carter, International Ms. Leather 1996

Laurie Lane, long-time Australian leather activist, currently secretary of Melbourne Leather Pride Association (dubbed the “Aussie Tornado” by the late Tony DeBlase).

The Contest and Show

Sunday night’s contest and show took place at the Congress Theater on Milwaukee Avenue. This year’s set was a factory-type interior with a continuously spinning ventilation fan front and center.

The show’s opening number was choreographed to a disco version of “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. During the opening IML 2000 Mike Taylor and his runners-up Scott Bloom and Bob “Puppy” Peder made an entrance and were greeted with a standing ovation from the audience.

Then, after a welcome speech by contest founder and Executive Producer Chuck Renslow, the 63 contestants were introduced by emcees Joe Gallagher (International Mr. Leather 1996) and Tom Stice (International slave 1995). The field of 63 contestants was then narrowed to 20 finalists, based on the scores from the contestant interviews and Saturday night’s “Pecs and Personality” show. These 20 finalists then competed in the final two judging events of the contest: Speech/Leather Image and Physique, also known as the “Jock Walk.”

Interspersed with these competition segments was the announcement of the winners of the International Mr. Bootblack 2001 contest. This portion of the evening was emceed by International Mr. Bootblack 2000 David Hawks, who started by giving a short but moving speech about bootblacks and their important place in the leather community. Then he introduced the seven International Mr. Bootblack 2001 contestants:

Paxsen, from Denver, sponsored by Centaur MC of Washington DC and CJ’s Leather

Boot, from Nashville, sponsored by Conductors Levi/Leather Club and The Chute Complex

Arthur Funni, from Cleveland, sponsored by Trident International, Laws Leather, The Tool Shed and Crossover Bar

Gregory Hjort, from Decatur IL, sponsored by the Flashback Lounge

Michael Lanzini, from Salt Lake City, sponsored by Club Blue

Spanky, from Springfield, Missouri, sponsored by the Ozark Mountain Men

Fido, from Chicago, sponsored by Eagle Leathers

Awards were presented by International Mr. Bootblack 1999 Bob Ehrlich and International Ms. Bootblack 2000 Michael Ann. The Brotherhood Award (chosen by the contestants themselves, this is the one contestant who most exemplifies the spirit of the competition) went to Boot. Second runner-up was Michael Lanzini, first runner-up was Arthur Funni, and the winner and new International Mr. Bootblack 2001 was Paxsen.

Outgoing IML 2000 Mike Taylor started his farewell speech by repeating, word for word and inflection for inflection, the speech he made at last year’s competition and continued by saying: “After the most amazing year of my life, I stand here again and all I can think to say is—I think I got it right the first time.”

Taylor also brought IML 2000 second runner-up Peder and IML 2000 first runner-up Bloom to the stage. Taylor and Peder knew each other before last year’s competition, and Taylor and Bloom discovered that love really did “bloom” during their title year. At Taylor’s “roast” the evening before, Bloom said to the crowd, “They told me IML would change my life . . . ” and it has—Taylor and Bloom are partnered now and Taylor will be moving from Ohio to California to join Bloom. He will also be joining many other men who have recently served as International Mr. Leather: 1992 (Lenny Broberg), 1994 (Jeff Tucker), 1996 (Joe Gallagher), 1997 (Kevin Cwayna), and 1998 (Tony Mills).

While the final judging scores were being tallied, entertainment was provided by the fabulous Thelma Houston, who sang many favorite Motown songs (and got the audience singing along) before winding up with “the song that gave me a career” (and won her a Grammy), “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” (For those who don’t know, singer and diva Whitney Houston is her niece.)

Finally, it was time to announce the judges’ decision. The crowd went wild and the theater erupted in a frenzy of camera strobe flashes as a jubilant Mueller bounded to the front of the stage and leapt onto the center of the winner’s podium, where he was flanked by Moyers and Davenport.

Other IML Weekend Activities

In addition to the contest events (and shopping at the Leather Market), there were plenty of other activities throughout the weekend. The Leather Archives and Museum had special hours and new exhibits. A Leather Leadership seminar dealt with recruiting, motivating and retaining the volunteers that are so essential to the functioning of the leather community. A Mental Health Professionals discussion group addressed “Issues Kinky Clinicians Encounter in working with Leatherfolk.” There were gatherings of boys, leatherwomen, and cigar smokers. TheChicago Hellfire Club, the longest-running S/M club in the United States, held a 30th-anniversary celebration party. The Metropolitan Community Church held Sunday worship. Throughout the weekend a total of seven “Leather in Recovery” generic 12-step meetings were held.

A special feature of the weekend was the DeBlase-Charles Art Sale to benefit the Leather Archives and Museum. Held at the Palmer House, the sale featured original art (some of which appeared in Drummer Magazine or other publications) from the collection of the late Tony DeBlase and his surviving partner, Dr. Andrew Charles. Purchasers could buy the art for themselves, or the art could be bought and then donated to the Archives.

With 152 vendors, this year’s Leather Market was huge and diverse and offered seemingly every leather/fetish toy and accessory one could ever want—even leather-scented soap. But when I tried shopping for a plain, classic motorcycle jacket I found very few. (It was explained to me that they’re heavy and bulky, so it doesn’t make sense to haul them in.)

This Year’s IML Host Hotel—Chicago’s Palmer House

The host hotel for this year’s IML weekend was Chicago’s world-famous Palmer House Hilton, the longest continuously operating hotel in North America. The hotel is big (1,640 rooms), lavish and rich in history. I was told it was quite an accomplishment for one group to be able to fill the Palmer House, but IML filled it and still needed to use secondary hotels.

For the last six years IML has been hosted by The Congress Hotel, a hotel that’s about as old but hasn’t been kept up as well. The slightly seedy, decadent atmosphere somehow seemed a perfect backdrop for the event. Service was slow, however, especially in the restaurant, and rooms started getting a bit expensive during the last few years. But, at least during IML, it was a fun place.

The Palmer House, by contrast, is a palace. Nothing seedy or decadent here—everything shines thanks to an ongoing restoration program (the Beaux Arts lobby ceiling was restored by a Florentine artisan who also worked on the Sistine Chapel).

The atmosphere of the Palmer House is grand yet insular, much like a Las Vegas casino/hotel. With no windows in the public areas to let the outside world be a distraction, the totally-controlled environment is the same day or night. The public areas of the hotel are a maze of hallways, balconies and alcoves that are charming but sometimes hard to navigate.

A Palmer House press release touts the pool and complete fitness club, which it said provides guests “with the opportunity to pursue ‘the sporting life.’” But it turned out that the management of the Palmer House didn’t want us leatherfolk to be pursuing our version of “the sporting life” on their premises. A letter handed to each guest upon check-in informed us all that “as we ready for the upcoming summer season, we are in the midst of renovating our swimming pool, sauna, jacuzzi and steam room, as such, they will be out of order for some time. We hope that you can return and enjoy these facilities after June 10th, when the work will be completed.” What perfect timing for a renovation! And if the pool and fitness center were, in fact, going to be out of commission “for some time”, I thought it strange that the hotel management didn’t take down the many placards throughout the hotel (and in many of the elevators) encouraging folks to visit the fitness center.

Next Year And Beyond

Next year’s 24th International Mr. Leather Contest will be held on Memorial Day weekend, May 23-27, 2002. The expanded weekend’s events will start a day earlier next year, on Thursday. For information call Box Office Tickets at 1-800-892-6560 or visit

Next year’s host hotel will be the Hyatt Regency Chicago on Wacker Drive, a hotel that is the exact opposite of the Palmer House. It’s new, bright, open and airy—contemporary opulence as opposed to the classic opulence of the Palmer House. If you plan to come to IML next year and want to stay at the host hotel, right now would not be too early to make your room reservation.

And what number comes after 24? The 25th International Leather Contest will take place in Chicago on Memorial Day weekend, 2003. Host hotel will be the Palmer House. According to IML Coordinator Bill Stadt, preparations for a “normal” IML begin 18 months prior to the actual IML weekend. But the 25th IML is going to be so huge, planning for it has been going on since last February. That should give us all something to look forward to.

High Holy Days—A Multicultural Odyssey

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #158, June 15, 2001)

As I write this I have just returned from the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest in Chicago. Last year, contest founder Chuck Renslow called IML “the high holy days of the leather community.” I am now looking forward to two more High Holy Day-type events, the Twin Cities GLBT Festival of Pride and Minnesota Leather Pride.

I recently saw a poster called the “2001 Chronology of World Cultural Events” which is currently on employee bulletin boards at many of Minnesota’s best-known corporate offices. Produced by the Minnesota Cultural Diversity Center, this worldwide listing of celebrations and festivals is culturally diverse enough to include the fact that June is Gay Pride Month in the U.S.A.

Every culture has High Holy Days. Although the word “holy” connotes religion, even cultures that don’t revolve around an organized religion have some form of High Holy Days. For instance, Jews observe Passover to remember and celebrate their escape from the oppression of slavery in ancient Egypt. For Christians, Easter takes the Passover metaphor and extends it to humankind’s emancipation from the oppression of sin and death, as symbolized by Jesus’ resurrection. American blacks remember and celebrate their emancipation from slavery during Juneteenth. Americans celebrate the anniversary of their independence from England on July 4. Mexican Independence Day is Cinco de Mayo (May 5). And gay pride festivals everywhere commemorate 1969’s Stonewall Rebellion and the birth of the modern GLBT-rights movement. One might say Stonewall was the start of the GLBT community’s own exodus out of the oppression of the closet.

Other holidays (a word derived from “holy days”) commemorate leaders and heroes. Christians celebrate Christmas as the anniversary of Christ’s birth. U.S. government holidays celebrate great civic leaders: Washington, Lincoln, Martin Luther King. St. Patrick’s Day began as a Catholic feast day for the patron saint of Ireland (although nowadays it might as well be called Irish Pride Day). And the International Mr. Leather contest is about selecting the leather community’s leader and spokesman for the next year.

It’s interesting to note that the International Mr. Leather contest always takes place on Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day (originally Decoration Day) is the U.S. holiday set aside for remembering and honoring soldiers who have died in war. But the day takes on added significance for the leather community as we remember all the community members we’ve lost to AIDS—especially this year, as the community mourned the passing of one of its giants, Tony DeBlase. A signboard on a restaurant across the street from this year’s IML host hotel proclaimed “Remember our fallen heroes!” Wow, I thought to myself, it’s great that they put that sign up for all of us attending IML. Then I realized that they were talking about America’s fallen war heroes, not about the leather community. Well, I thought, they can interpret it their way and we’ll interpret it our way.

Although we sometimes don’t want to admit it, we humans are more alike than different. Humans of all cultures have the same needs and impulses, which are expressed in ways that are often remarkably similar (see chart, “Handy Multicultural Guide to High Holy Days”).

What do we do on High Holy Days? We remember our struggles and sacrifices, and we celebrate our victories. We celebrate in every way possible, because every culture appreciates a good excuse for a party. We don our most festive clothes. We prepare special foods. We make pilgrimages. We have parades. We make speeches. We have special entertainment. We greet each other with special greetings of the day. We reaffirm and reinforce our values. We expend time and effort beforehand planning and preparing; afterwards we feel gratified, ready to let our regular, “normal” life continue.

And always, as the Thanksgiving hymn goes, we gather together. Sometimes we travel great distances to be with our family or our tribe. We see people who we may not see any other time of year, whether that means running into someone in Loring Park at Pride, getting reacquainted with someone from another city at IML, or shaking hands with someone who only attends church services on Christmas and Easter.

All cultures and communities have High Holy Days because all cultures and communities need them. This year, as you enjoy GLBT Pride and Leather Pride, remember that these are our High Holy Days—they belong to us. Happy Pride, everybody!

WEB EXTRA: International Mr. Leather Contest 2001

Stefan Mueller, Bavarian Mr. Leather 2001, was recently chosen International Mr. Leather 2001, winning over a field of 63 contestants from 7 countries. Darrell Moyers, Mr. DC Eagle 2001 was selected first runner-up; Mr. San Francisco Leather 2001 Houston Davenport took second runner-up honors. For complete coverage of IML 2001 visit the Lavender Magazine website at

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Sunday, June 17, 6-10 PM: Daddy’s Day Picnic with special appearance by porn star Bobby Blake. Free food, cheap tap beer and soda. $5 at the door ($4 with 2001 Twin Cities GLBT Pride button). As the kick-off to this year’s Leather Pride celebration this will be your first opportunity to get your 2001 Minnesota Leather Pride Dogtag.

Friday, June 22: Come get a Great Big Bear Hug at the Bear Beer Bust at Trikkx (St. Paul). 2001 Minnesota Leather Pride Dogtags will be available.

Friday, June 22, 9-12 PM: Scorch Friday Night at the Minneapolis Eagle. $1 off entry with your 2001 Minnesota Leather Pride Dogtag, or buy one here.

Saturday, June 23, 9-12 PM: Scorch Saturday Night at the Minneapolis Eagle. $1 off entry with your 2001 Minnesota Leather Pride Dogtag, or buy one here.

Sunday, June 24, 11 AM, 3rd & Hennepin: Twin Cities Pride Parade steps off. Come help carry the Giant Leather Flag (be there by 10:30 AM).

Sunday afternoon, June 24: Scorch Sunday at the Minneapolis Eagle. $1 off entry with your 2001 Minnesota Leather Pride Dogtag, or buy one here—LAST CHANCE!.

Friday, June 1, 2001

Shiny Sharp Shaving Things: The erotic uses of razors and shaving

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #157, June 1, 2001)

Sex and shaving in the 1960s: In a classic television ad for Noxema Medicated Shaving Cream, pouty Swedish model Gunilla Knutson gave the command: “Men—take it off! Take it all off!” Then viewers were treated to a good-looking man shaving his face while David Rose’s “The Stripper” played in the background. Back then, that commercial was considered risqué.

Sex and shaving in 2001: On a recent Saturday afternoon in St. Paul, nationally-known knife maker Cristo Webb presented a seminar called “Shaving: From Pleasure to Terror” which dealt with the erotic uses of razors and shaving. How times have changed.

For many people shaving is anything but erotic. Men traditionally shave their faces every morning either without thinking about it or cursing the drudgery of it all. Women in our society are faced with the more delicate tasks of shaving their legs and underarms; while they may feel it makes them more attractive, it’s usually not something they look forward to.

But certain elements of society are increasingly playing with non-traditional areas of hair in non-traditional ways. Many more men are shaving their heads. Bodybuilders shave their body hair to better display their physique. Many men prefer the look and feel of a shaved scrotum or shaved pubic hair. Some men, instead of shaving, prefer to trim body and pubic hair neatly (“topiary,” as my friend in New York City calls it). Certain BDSM practices, such as fire play and wax play, are made safer and more comfortable by removing body hair.

Shaved skin can provide many wonderful and ever-changing sensual experiences. Whether you’re touching your own newly-shaved skin or letting someone else touch it (or even if you’re touching newly-shaved skin on someone else), the sensations are incredibly intense. As the hair grows out you are treated to a series of new sensations: first stubble, then bristle, then velour, and finally silk.

The experience of being shaved by someone else can be very sensual. First comes a hot towel on the area to be shaved, maybe an exfoliating scrub with a warm loofah sponge (to prevent ingrown hairs), hot lather to soften the hair and lubricate the skin, and a soothing or bracing lotion applied after shaving. It’s nice to receive this kind of pampering, and it’s also a nice experience to be able to give. According to Cristo, “Shaving and using a straight-edge can be a wonderful service and an important skill for a bottom or submissive to learn.” Whether shaving Mistress’s legs or doing a daily shave on Master’s face or head, “learning to shave in a sensual manner can leave the person being shaved feeling relaxed and refreshed.”

On the other hand, being shaved with a straight razor can be terrifying, or at least intimidating. The thought of such a sharp piece of metal (sharper than almost any knife) so close to the neck, face or pubic areas—and with no safety guard—can take shaving to new heights of excitement and stimulation. As with knife play, a shaving scene with a straight razor is a multi-sensory experience: the sight of light glinting off the blade, the smell of shaving cream, the rhythmic sound of the razor on the sharpening strop, the feel of the cold, sharp blade and the scrape and vibration as the razor is dragged across the tightly-pulled skin.

Straight razors are hard to come by these days, but they’re still available if you know where to look (start by talking to Cristo). A close substitute is a hair shaper with a removable blade; these are used by beauticians for razor hair cuts and are available at beauty-supply outlets. With both a straight razor and a hair shaper, the blade folds into the handle when not in use. (A tip from Cristo: Always allow your razor to dry in the open position to prevent rusting, pitting and weakening the blade.)

A dull razor will pull, not give a clean shave and can nick or cut the skin. It can also cause rashes and aggravate ingrown hairs. A straight razor’s edge is maintained by the use of a strop, preferably a two-sided strop consisting of a strip of canvas on one side and a strip of leather on the other. The canvas puts the edge on the blade and the leather hones the edge. (Hint: You can also hone the edge on your leather jacket or the leg of your chaps.)

We’ve all seen a strop being used on TV or in the movies—usually incorrectly. Here’s the right way: Hold the razor flat against the strop and drag the edge away from you. When it’s time to change direction, turn the razor over by rotating it on its back, not by flipping it over on its edge as you’ve probably seen on TV. Never raise the back of the razor off the strop while it’s moving; doing so will rake off the edge.

Besides straight razors and hair shapers, other types of razors include the traditional double-edge safety razor, newer multi-bladed types (Cristo’s favorite—and mine—is the Gillette Mach 3), disposable razors (use them for only one shave), and electric razors, either plug-in or battery-operated. Electric razors pull hair and won’t give a good clean pubic shave—but according to Cristo, they’re wonderful for genitorture!

All the safety rules about not sharing knives apply equally to razors: Unless you can autoclave a razor without ruining it, don’t share it. Here are some other safety tips relating to razors and shaving:

• Razors are very sharp and dangerous objects. Never become complacent with a razor, especially a straight razor. While shaving, pay attention to the entire length of the blade.

• Treat razors gently. The blades are so finely tooled or machined that the metal is brittle. Don’t drop them. If a razor’s blade becomes nicked or damaged, don’t use it—it will mutilate whatever (or whomever) you’re shaving.

• Always be in control of the razor, the person you’re shaving, and your surroundings. Make your shaving area as sanitary and controlled as possible. In a bar or at a party, rope off an area so the person being shaved doesn’t get jostled by passersby.

• Have a first-aid kit handy with a tube styptic or styptic pencil for minor cuts and nicks.

• Limit your play partner’s movement during shaving—especially during pubic shaving.

• Feedback and communication with your partner is very important to get full enjoyment out of a shaving scene.

• Cristo likes Lubriderm lotion as a shaving cream for sensitive skin. There’s less lather, which makes it easier to see what you’re doing. Cristo also likes a men’s shaving cream by Aveda.

If you’ve never used a straight razor, practice on an inanimate object and perfect your technique before trying to shave someone. The television cliché is to lather up a balloon and practice removing the shaving cream with a razor. Cristo doesn’t like that approach for two reasons: 1) if you make a mistake, the balloon startles you when it pops; and 2) because the balloon just popped, you can’t even see your mistake, let alone correct it. No, Cristo ended the workshop by having us use straight razors to shave the fuzz off—no, not a peach—a kiwifruit. I did better than I thought I would, although I won’t be trading in my Mach III for a straight razor any time soon.

(Cristo’s website is He also invites you to e-mail knife- or shaving-related questions to