The history of sexual fetish is one that is tricky to pin down. Most people look back to Freud- as his interpretations were some of the first to really address the issue. However, the real origins of fetish date back a lot farther. When European travelers were first starting to colonize Africa they would take many pictures of the “natives.” (implicating photography as a quite colonial practise) These pictures were seen by Europeans as being highly sexual in nature and served to create a homogenized look that combined many different tribes to create the “African Woman.” Since sexuality was fairly repressed at home, the European men tended to eroticize the African woman. The pictures that went home of the often bare-breasted African women were found to be extremely erotic. People in Europe thought that the women were naked, when according to their culture they were fully dressed. Anthony Shelton says, “…it was European men who explored, invaded, administered, and worked Africa. Some historians have even argued that the propelling force of colonialism was a redirected sexual energy, away from the hearth, home, and country to the impenetrable and dark heat of distant continents.”
Around this time people started making black masks, bustles, and other so-called fashion accessories for European women. The black masks were used only in private, mostly by prostitutes. It was thought that with the right technology, the European woman could be as erotic as the African woman(!)
One must also note that the tribal African art of this time period was heavily invested in what Europeans call “fetish dolls.” This is where the name “fetish,” came from to begin with. These dolls were very important to many tribe’s beliefs in the supernatural. The Europeans gave them this name in a condescending way, due to their belief in the superiority of their own beliefs. The Europeans could not believe the attention that the African’s gave to these little objects. (I can’t believe the hypocrisy of this when I think about European’s obsession with art about the suffering of Christ. And actually- it has been hypothisized that the original image of nails being driven into the body came from African people co-opting the power of the Christ story from missionaries... but I'm not sure about my history here.) It is also interesting to note that these objects were formed in likeness of the human body and often had many nails driven through them. This lines up with piercing and metal studs that so often adorn fetish gear these days. The combination all these things are at the root of the contemporary fetish scene.