A black jockstrap isolated on a white background

Anyone who has stuck their nose into a gogo bar, Pride party, gay Instagram, or underwear catalog will likely see jockstraps to and fro. But it didn’t use to be like that, no ma’am.

In fact, no one ever saw a jockstrap until 1874. That’s when a man named C.F. Bennett invented a “jockey strap” to protect bicycle jockeys (deliverymen, messengers, etc.) from knocking their genitals against their bike seats when riding over cobblestone streets; paved streets were still a hot new invention at the time.

Bennett initially developed these garments for the Chicago sporting goods company Sharp & Smith. But in 1897, he formed his own Bike Web Company and began mass producing the “Bike Jockey Strap,” selling them as “athletic supporters” for guys who played all sorts of sports. Bike jockstraps still sell today (though the brand was purchased in 2003 by the Russell Athletic company.)

Bike, vintage ad, history of jockstraps

As the garment gained popularity, “jockey strap” was shortened to “jockstrap,” and the athletic men who wore them came to be known as “jocks,” according to one source.

As jockstraps gained popularity in the early 1900s, retailers and medical professionals began recommending them, not only as a way to avoid athletic injuries, but also as a great supportive garment for men recovering from non-sports injuries as well as guys who had undergone genital surgeries for things like hernias and hydroceles (excess fluid in the testicles–EEK!).

One particularly kooky health-nut version of the jockstrap, the Heidelberg Electric Belt, claimed to fix all sorts of medical issues. It was a battery-powered belt with electrodes along the front and back of its waist and one for the genitals. (YOW!) The company claimed its belt could cure “weakness,” impotency, back pain, poor circulation, kidney and liver diseases, and “all nervous disorders.” But… yeah, no.

History of jockstraps, Heidelberg Electric Belt
If your jockstrap requires batteries, you should probably just skip it

Interestingly, in 1935, a company called Coopers Incorporated introduced a new style of men’s underwear brief called “the Jockey” which, they claimed, offered support like a jockstrap. The briefs quickly became popular in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. The company renamed itself Jockey Menswear in 1971 and still sells its trademark Y-shaped fly briefs to this day.

Around the 1930s, the Guelph Elastic Hosiery company also began adding pockets at the front of their jockstraps so that athletes could slip in a protective cup to help shield their genitals from direct hits. This was especially helpful to boxers who experienced the occasional “below the belt” hit, but protective cups became more widely used in contact sports of all kinds.

From the 1920s through the 1960s, jockstraps also became very popular amongst gay men who enjoyed seeing them in erotic drawings (like Tom of Finland’s) and softcore adult magazines like Physique Pictorial. These “fitness magazines” skirted anti-obscenity laws by ostensibly giving men workout tips while showing flexing bodybuilders, their man-bits barely covered by g-strings, bikinis, and jockstraps (whose tight straps made an impressive display of men’s butts).

History of jockstraps, male vintage magazine, Physique Pictorial, softcore
A model from a vintage 1920’s physique magazine

Jockstraps temporarily fell out of fashion in the 1980s and 1990s as athletes turned to form-fitting spandex compression sportswear that helped tuck their junk while preventing chafing and rashes.

Though jockstraps remained available in sporting goods stores throughout the end of the century, men looking for more stylish pairs had to look in “male lingerie” catalogs like International Male, a publication that — while ostensibly marketed to women — had a huuuuuuge gay and bisexual male readership.

In the 2000s, mainstream brands like Calvin Klein, Versace, and Diesel began incorporating jockstraps into their underwear designs, subtly embracing the queer subculture, athleticism, and sex-positivity that jockstraps represent. These days, jockstraps are a mainstay of numerous gay-affiliated apparel brands like Andrew Christian, Papi, Pump!, Addicted, AussieBum, C-IN2, and Cellblock 13. Even Lady Gaga sold a Chromatic jockstrap to mark her 2020 album’s release.

Some gay historians and fashionistas say that jockstraps are popular now because they represent both conformity to a male fitness ideal and a subversive sexual take on men’s undergarments (especially since they accentuate the bottom, a sexual position that has long been ridiculed as “passive” and “feminine.”) To that sexy and gender-bending end, some companies are even selling Jillstraps (or Jills), jockstraps designed for women, in an attempt to remove the classically male-gendered association with the garment.

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