Who can deny the awe-inspiring effects of a corset induced wasp waist? Or the sensuality of fine silk lingerie, the elegance of bejeweled kid-skin gloves, the erotic power of perfectly fitted hip hugging leathers and the desire that these sensual materials incite? And finally…the finishing touch of a pair of dangerously high heels, designed to imbue the wearer with a sense of superiority and fragility all at the same time?
I stumbled upon Sweet Gwendoline and the aesthetic of fetish (not to mention the joys of “different” kinds of loving) in 1982 while rummaging through what was certainly a secret stash of girlie magazines. I purchased the whole lot of worn and torn Wink and Bizarre at a yard sale for 1$. The lady who took my crinkled dollar bill seemed as relieved to free herself from her deceased husband’s coveted collection as I was to become its new owner!
The corner of every page that was graced with Sweet Gwendoline’s extreme beauty was tattered from turning. A sure sign that John Willie’s aesthetic inclinations had excited the previous owner of these magazines as much as they were now informing and exciting my own imagination. I was sweet 16 and Sweet Gwendoline became my fashion and life-style aspiration.
Not long after I had acquired this erotic treasure trove, I found a part-time job in a vintage clothing shop that carried a fine selection of clothing and accessories as well as a rare collection of bondage gear and English leathers: fuck-me pumps, thigh high lace-up boots, brothel creepers, metal-studded bullet bras and belts, buckled boots, handcuffs, masks, chaps, harnesses, whips, and other accoutrements of the closely aligned worlds of alternative fashion and BDSM.
Like every 16-year-old girl, I was eager to learn and even more eager to explore my burgeoning feminine self. Part of my job at the store was to work a look that was representative of the shop’s aesthetics. The first time the owner of the boutique offered to lace me into a breath-taking boned Victorian corset, I accepted. The shift it generated in my energy and in my attitude was immediate–I had never felt more self-confident! I also discovered a distinct power in being constricted, or was it the momentary lack thereof? Paradoxically, the resulting restriction of my movements also instilled in me an enhanced sense of freedom. Because I could no longer bend at the waist and do it myself, my boss went happily onto his knees and proceeded to lace my stocking clad feet into a beautiful pair of 6-inch kid skin boots. I felt excited, dare I say aroused, and though I could barely walk, I was empowered by the power shift that took place almost instantly. Yes, my boss had suddenly become my subordinate, and the experience would change my life forever.
Sweet Gwendoline taught me to not only to lean into this experience, but to love my curvaceous body. Thanks to the weekly thrift shopping sprees that I did for the store manager, I amassed a significant personal collection of corsets and silhouette enhancing girdles and to my dear mother’s dismay, black lace, vintage lingerie, seamed stockings, and torpedo bras became the essence of my wardrobe. Following John Willie’s queue, I assumed the sensuality therein, and outerwear became my only wear for many years to come.
Was it Fetish? Or was it Fashion? I was too naïve to ask myself this question at the time, but my sexy personalized style, or depending on your perspective, my anti-fashion aesthetics, reflected my emerging political and philosophical beliefs, not just my blossoming sexual identity. All I knew then was that I was more than happy to wear anything that confined and defined my own, dare I say, dangerous Sweet Gwendoline curves.
I remain as obsessed with Sweet Gwendoline’s silhouette and outstanding elegance today as I am with any material or garment that can hug my body tight enough for me to feel free. Being constricted and therefore slightly restricted happens to make me feel even more present, aware, and tuned into myself, and therefore to others.
Whether you share the same delectation for constriction and all things Fetish or not … If you are preparing to sip a Cocktail made with Sweet Gwendoline Gin today, we share a similar love and appreciation for the finer things in life.
Cheers to you and yours… bottoms up!
Betony Vernon is author of The Boudoir Bible, designer of Paradise Found fine erotic jewelry — celebrating 30 years in Sept 2022 with a picture book by Rizzoli nyc.