During the 1980’s the combination of the large numbers of non-leather gays in the fetish scene and the adoption of leather dress as one type of fetish look, together with the shared practice of BDSM and the slow emergence of leather groups themselves from secrecy created an intermingling of the two scenes. This was furthered by the greater acceptance of women and straight members in the leather groups themselves. Since, out of necessity, the leather groups were generally better organized the resulting mixture became known as the “leather community”. The public clubs that arose (the largest currently being the Antichrist club in London) still generally enforce a strong fetish dress code that ironically is more latex and rubber oriented than leather oriented, although both permanent clubs and special club nights at other locations often combine the terms as fetish/leather.
During the same period Renaissance Fairs and Festivals began to provide a “fetish-light” experience for a larger audience, and there remains a fair amount of crossover.
As a result of both the public clubs / club nights and the presence of fetish paraphernalia at Renaissance festivals there is more of a public awareness of the scene than in the past. The public “caricature” of the fetish/leather scene is still largely goth oriented in terms of style, and within the public’s perception of straight fetish people the dominatrix is a much more acceptable figure than the dominant male, who raises too many associations with spousal abuse with the general public.
The dominatrix as a character has been known since the publication of Sacher-Masoch’s work in the 19th Century, however the male dominated power dynamic became more common during the 20th Century, mainly because male dominated relationships ceased to be the norm with the rise of feminism, and as deviant were forced into the “alternative lifestyle” space.
The growth of the internet, of course, spread knowledge of this scene from the major centers to smaller locales, and simultaneously changed much of the terminology used differently in different places. For instance, until the 1990’s M/s was generally a term for a play-oriented relationship in Europe, while D/s referred to relationships that realized the fantasy in a more permanent and consistent way. The influence of North Americans via the internet switched this terminology around, such that D/s now meant a less extreme relationship than M/s. Knowledge of BDSM as a whole spread initially via Usenet and later via more user friendly boards, and the skills involved in pain play became coveted skills far from the major centers in which they originated.