Folsom Street Fair

25 September 2011. Filed under category Travel.

A history of leather

Marlon Brandon in The Wild One

Marlon Brandon in The Wild One

After World War 2, disillusioned men found solace at the biker bars that flourished in the United States during the late 1940s. Some men wanted more intimate solace, and the real cuddle monsters among them created gay biker bars.

Every gay sub-culture needs a dress code, and the gay bikers took their inspiration from Marlon Brandon’s 1954 film The Wild One. Thus the leather daddy was born, crowned with a Muir Cap.

San Francisco has always been the city of choice for deviants, including the gay leather community. By the late 1970s, they had created ‘miracle mile’, a stretch of Folsom street that featured over 30 gay leather bars and bathhouses. Miracle mile was a festering wound in the eyes of City Hall, but the leather community was a strong force in the city and fiercely defended their sanctuary.

In the early 1980s, HIV and AIDS tore through miracle mile like the ten plagues of Egypt, severely weakening the leather community. City Hall took this opportunity to push through a series of redevelopment plans that, together with AIDS, spelled the end of miracle mile as a leather sanctuary.

In a desperate attempt to keep the leather spirit alive, the pundits of Folsom came together to create the annual Folsom Street Fair, which I just happened to stumble across today dressed in the finest leather a nomad can carry.

Folsom Street Fair today

Folsom Street Fair has served the San Franciscans for 28 years. It has changed from a purely gay leather event to a celebration of every fetish under the moon, although the biggest group represented is still the leather daddies.

The street fair attracts a whopping 400,000 slaves, masters, mummies, ponies, puppies, pigs, trannies, nudists, fakirs, boot boys, jocks and  people-with-such-crazy-sexual-interests-that-there-are-no-noun-for-them-yet, all crammed into 13 overcrowded street blocks of fun.

Even if you are not a pervert (yet!), you are still welcomed at Folsom. It is the perfect eye-opener for the uninitiated and the curious. The atmosphere is playful, friendly and inclusive. Above all, it is public and thus feels a lot safer than the dungeon under the abandoned steel mill at the edge of town.

In short, Folsom is the perfect place to people watch and experiment!

The event is not just fun and games though. It is also a platform for organizations that work with issues such as safe sex, community support and charity. The latter is an important part of Folsom, which annually donate all profits to local and national charities. In 2010, the amount donated was a whopping $326,000!

Finally, the event demonstrates perfectly that the fetish community is founded on mutual respect, safety and pleasure.


SOMA is an area of San Francisco that lies South Of Market. It is also the name of the perfect drug in the famous book A Brave New World. In the story, SOMA makes everyone feel fantastic and has no side effects, which makes it the perfect tool with which the government socially shackles the population in chains of happiness.


What would you wear to Folsom Street Fair?

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  1. Debra says:

    I went to FSF a few years ago after Oracle Open World, and yes it was an education. It certainly left me more open minded but two things still make me chuckle today:

    1. The gentleman collecting money on the gate wore bumles leather chaps and some sort of belt system across his chest (apologise i do not know correct fashion terms); all this was spoilt by the high visibility vest he wore stating he was an official.

    2. Amongt the organic rope (free knots), and unusual furniture stalls, i was amased by the San Francisco Police Department recruiting stand. Only in America, but I like it.

    1. Jim hampton says:

      The police in New Orleans used to be calm during southern decadence too. And I remember a recruiting booth once. But then the got a couple Really anti gay folks on the city council for a couple years. Visitor revenue dollars sank, and they had a come to Jesus moment

  2. Brother Henrik says:

    Helo Brother seams like you gott lots of fun do you ever got time to work as an modern nomad? 🙂

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      So far, I’ve been taking my sweet time and lived like a total tourist, but I will have to change that. Soon. Maybe, just one more week…. or … two.

  3. vernon ford says:

    sounds fun! it’s cool that people can openly celebrate their fetish or any of your weird obsessions without people judging you – at least once a year.

  4. Touristing indeed! =) You should be working hard on BK-stuff right now but instead you´re out experimenting with chaps, feathers and drugs! – Shame on you Mr Andersson!

    Once you stop your super-touristing I think that your readers should be able to vote on where you head next. You decide on the alternatives and we vote (a very soft take on Dice man traveling =) )

  5. Adam says:

    I was in San Francisco the other week but missed the Folsom Street Fair by just a few days. Was sorry to miss it 🙁

  6. Phil Stevens says:

    Nicely written article Gustav, on the history and merits of Folsom. I went there on my second trip to San Francisco in 2008 and loved it, sexy, amusing, free spirited and beguiling. All that flesh and kinkster paraphenalia on display in the streets was really quite surreal, but in a good way, my camera never stopped whirring!
    In becoming more inclusive over the years it has however inevitably lost a lot of it’s grittiness and authenticity in the wake of commercialism and in being firmly placed on the itinerary of some tourists (including me).
    There is another Kink fair in SF which goes by the moniker of ‘Up your Alley’ (Dore Alley) you may well have heard of it, perhaps you have even been there. It was set up solely by gay men in response to and as an alternative to what Folsom has become and is closer to how Folsom used to be in it’s early days but with contemporary sensibilities. Apparently it is much more hardcore and outrageously ‘in yer face’ sadly I never made it there as it is held earlier in the year, big shame!
    What would I wear to Folsom? probably something similar to how you were dressed, which I have to say you looked the business in and devilishly handsome as always. What would I have liked to have worn? probably very little, the rest is >unprintable>!

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