The tag line for my first Gaslight Mystery novel HEART TO HART is: “Love bites were definitely how Simon should dress. Love bites and a jock strap.” Using that bit of cotton and elastic as my inspiration, I decided to write an article about the venerable groin protection that men have worn for the last 150 years.
One of my characters, private investigator Simon Hart, is also an athlete and motorbicycle rider in 1923 Ireland. His underwear of choice is the jock strap, or jockey athletic supporter, widely used since the 1880s.
Simon rides a 1919 BSA motorbike. He is also a member of a men’s athletic club, where he has learned the techniques of stick- and cane-fighting. He is an avid fisticuffs fighter. And from time to time, he likes to play a round of nine-hole golf, hugely popular in the 1920s in Ireland as well as the rest of the U.K.
For all these activities, Simon prefers to wear his jock strap. Ironically, the character of Simon Hart is one of the most uptight and reticent I have ever created. But he knows the value of groin protection! His sometimes-lover Michael is also a fan . . . as long as Simon is wearing the garment.
The word “jock” can be traced to the Scots name “John,” a diminutive of the male name so used since the 1600s. The word began to take on the meaning of “man,” and even “penis” since about 1650. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the word began to be used to refer to athletes, based of course on the popular underwear.
By the 1800s, riders of bicycles and horses began to be called “jockeys.” And by the late 1800s, jockey straps were manufactured and called such by many companies, starting in the U.S.
In the 1870s, the Boston-based Bike Company invented the Bike Jockey Strap for use by bicycle couriers in large cities. The popular underwear quickly spread to the UK and the continent, where men from couriers to horse riders to golfers soon found the new articles both safe and comfortable.
The history of male penile and testicle supporters is varied and interesting. I must note that there is a whole other branch, that of medical suspensories; and the makers of jock straps also manufactured these. (See photo of The Bike company ad above.) But for the purposes of this article, I want to talk solely about the contraptions without a rear-end that were used specifically by active men to support and protect the penis and testicles and almost universally called “jock straps” or “jockey straps.”
Interestingly, according to Wiki, Bike is still the market leader in sales of jock straps. And the Jockey company has become a universal word for the style of underwear described in this article.
Here are some vintage photos of old ads and of athletes wearing jock straps. You will see that the men range from weight lifters, to fisticuff fighters, to dancers and all-around athletes.
Photos are all from http://www.allkink.com/Vintage-Jockstraps–Memorabilia.html unless otherwise noted.
The straps themselves are those manufactured and advertised until ca. 1930.
An ad for Athletic Elastic Supporters from the 1927 Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog included the “Improved Chicago Snap Front” and “The Strap Supporter,” both made for Sears by Bike. Quoted from allkink.com, noted elsewhere on this page.