The Oxford English dictionary definition of Latex originates from the 17th Century Latin term Latex;, meaning liquid, fluid. It is a milky liquid taken from several plants that coagulates when exposed to air. The most popular tree for this natural source of rubber is the Hevea Brasiliensis (Rubber tree) also known as the Sharing Tree, as the name suggests, it originates from Brazil. Natural rubber is completely biodegradable.
Rubber corsets were certainly available from the beginning of the 1900’s. On the right is a famous advert from the USA in 1909, for a corset. History is a little vague on how the Victorians developed rubber for clothing.
1940’s. After WW2 panydex girdles were widely advertised, manly in the USA.
1960’s. This period saw a boom in rubber, synthesised from plastics. Polyurethane plastic foams were used a lot in general clothes.
Catsuits and unusual (BDSM) clothes were being made throughout the 1960’s, without much secrecy, just discretion.
1970’s was when designs from the likes of Vivienne Westwood started to influence the fashion industry, that led to latex clothing becoming more widely available.
1980’s and 1990’s the popularity of latex clothing really increased. The fetish Scene seems to have grown organically, hence it is difficult to pinpoint any particular dates, locations or styles that encouraged latex clothing of a fetish nature.
Now it’s your turn to shape the future of latex clothing.
The Hevea Brasiliensis (Rubber) tree which grows in tropical climates.
Contrary to popular belief rubber is not the sap of the tree. It is actually found in the fluid that fills damaged areas just underneath the bark (cambium).
The Tappers have to be skilled at cutting to just the right depth, cutting too deep may damage the tree and it will cease to grow. However, when done correctly the process has no ill effect at all. The rubber drips into a container and solidifies into a white rubber ball. It can be harvested for several years.
Pre 1600 BC The first users of rubber were the Olmecs, of Central America (Mesoamerican). The name Olmecs is a Aztec word which means ‘rubber people’. The latex came from the Castilla elastica tree, a type of rubber tree which they named Caoutchouc meaning Weeping Wood. Later influenced by location the Hevea Brasilensis was used, the tree originates from Brazil.
They used hard rubber balls to act as ball bearings in order to help move their great stone pieces for their astonishing monuments. Rubber was hardened by mixing it with a type of local morning glory, laid out into strips and then rolled into hardened balls.
Noting the wonderful properties of rubber, they invented a ball game, the original rules are not confirmed but it is known that it had a ritual purpose. It is still played today, in some parts of Central America and is called Ulama; this is a Aztec name for a ‘game played with a rubber ball’.
Circa 1600 BC. The knowledge was passed from the Olmecs to the ancient Mayans who continued the knowledge and ball game.
Moving to more modern times . ..
1736. Frenchman, Charles Marie de la Condamine, was credited for introducing rubber to the Académie Royale des Sciences. Rubber remained in southern European countries, until the British Navy became powerful enough to steal it from the French.
1770. Englishman, Joseph Priestley named the material rubber, when he noted that it extremely good for rubbing off pencil marks on his paper.
1791. The first commercial application of rubber was initiated when an English manufacturer, Samuel Peal patented a method for waterproofing cloth by treating it with a solution of rubber in turpentine.
1800’s. For most of this period rubber was sourced from the Amazons of South America, despite it being difficult to harvest.
1818. Commercial use of rubber clothing started when Scottish medical student James Syme, discovered that a substance obtainable from coal tar could dissolve rubber, which could then be used for waterproofing clothing, Thomas Hancock devised methods for mechanically working rubber so it could be shaped.
1820. James Syme built England’s first rubber factory, a British Industrialist Mr Nadier whom produced rubber threads then attempted to use them in clothing accessories. James Syme used his process to waterproof cloth in order to make the first raincoats.
1823. Scotsman Charles Macintosh developed and patented the process for waterproofing fabrics.
1839. Charles Goodyear discovered a way of processing natural rubber to improve it’s elasticity. This had obvious advantages if applied to the manufacturing of condoms.
1844. Thomas Hancock, an English scientist and engineer, was the first to patent vulcanisation of rubber. A British patent. Three weeks later Charles Goodyear took out a patent in the USA. Charles Goodyear claimed to have discovered vulcanisation earlier; he accidentally spilt some sulphur into some rubber and not cleaning it up, left it over night and in the morning found he had hard rubber. This changed the face of industrial products.
1855. The first rubber condom was produced.
1876. Englishman, Henry Wickham, transported an amazing 70,000 seeds from Brazil to Kew Gardens for germination, a few were successfully grown and the seedlings then sent, for production, to colonies of the British Empire. Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Indonesia, Singapore, British Malaya (Malaysia), India and Pakistan, Congo Free State, Liberia, Nigeria.
1909. The first synthetic rubber, polymerized methyl isoprene, was manufactured by Bayer laboratories, Elberfeld, Germany.
1912. Polish inventor Julius Fromm developed a new, improved manufacturing technique for condoms: dipping glass moulds into a raw rubber solution.
1920. The production of latex condoms, where you dip your moulds into a latex solution suspended in water, was invented and has remained virtually unchanged from this date; although no longer done by hand!
1940’s and beyond. Rubber was developed for many uses and has boomed ever since. See Clothing above.
Up until 100 years ago Africa was the main source of natural rubber, it was brutally extracted using what was basically slave labour. Today South-East Asia produces the most rubber, Thailand, Viet Nam, mainly Indonesia and Malaysia. The motor industry has encouraged the commercial production of rubber on an industrial scale. More than 80% rubber produced is for the car industry.