Borderstan welcomes Scott Thompson to its team of contributors. A Louisville native who moved to DC in 2006, he says he is an embarrassing Anglo- and Franco-phile. Thompson is generally seen Bikeshare-ing the streets of Borderstan in search of the next best Pimm’s Cup or glass of Côtes du Rhône. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at [email protected].
In high school, I owned a Jansport backpack.
It was dark green and had a Mary Poppins-esque ability to carry my TI-83, my French book and my insulated lunch box, with room to spare. Most importantly, my Jansport had a 2-inch beige suede leather strip that ran along its bottom edge.
I loved my backpack. But many students shied away from leather Jansport bags. Some did so for price reasons. Others worried about the effects of moisture. A large number of students simply found the conspicuous use of leather strange and unnecessary. I disagreed. To me, that leather strip expressed my personality as no other fabric could.
This weekend, I recalled those emotions as I examined a leather-studded ball gag at the Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend. For 41 years, the Members of the Centaur Motorcycle Club have hosted an annual weekend to celebrate all things leather. They gather in DC over Martin Luther King Day weekend. Not a “purse sale,” as one of my girl friends innocently asked, but rather, leather goods of a more adult-oriented variety.
I admit, other than joint trips to an ALDO boot sale, my dating life has remained leather-free. But many men and women incorporate leather goods into their lives in a more innovative fashion. On Saturday afternoon, I paid a visit to the Washington Hyatt Regency to learn how.
In many aspects, the festival reminded me of holiday shopping trips to Nordstrom with mom — with a few slight alterations. A shirtless man with assless chaps greeted me instead of Santa. Disco music replaced Vince Guaraldi. And rather than a customer comment card, I had to sign a waiver that said, “If you are hurt or maimed today, it is not our responsibility.” Yes, it’s true — and when I saw some of the items available to try on or test, I realized why.
But the bustling atmosphere and jovial interaction between customers, vendors and friends was the same.
In the sling room, I met “Boy S” as we shall call him, a sales representative from Atlanta. He explained to me the merits of his company’s slings — how to sit, how to move, how to nail it into the ceiling properly. He was professional, friendly and persuasive — an expert salesman.
Every booth and room contained similar professional vendors. In fact, when I attempted to try on a dog collar, a salesman stated that I was not allowed to unless I removed my corduroy blazer and sweater. He sensed that I was simply window-shopping and I respected his admonishment. I returned the collar to the rack and thanked him for his time.
As I walked between the various rooms, I perceived a distinct sense of community. A festival volunteer named Chris told me, “The sense of camaraderie here overwhelms me.” His description was palpable. At its core, Leather Weekend is a time to mingle, to laugh, to purchase merchandise that fits your taste — to be yourself.
At the end of my stay, I ordered a beer at the bar, where I asked a Hyatt employee what she thought of the festival. She responded, “To each his own. I’m enjoying myself. I treat and respect everyone here like I would any other guest.”
Her answer encapsulated my opinion of DC Leather Weekend. I may not necessarily use a harness when I entertain a guest, and men and women like “Boy S” may not wear Argyle to dinner. But freedom of expression is a beautiful thing — and it’s a freedom Americans should carry around with pride.
Ideally, in a Jansport backpack.