Gird your loins! Jockstraps are still holding up after 150 years


NEW YORK — Happy 150th birthday, dear jockstrap. How far you’ve come from your modest but mighty days of protecting the precious parts of bicycle messengers as they navigated the bumpy cobblestones of Boston.

Invented for that purpose in 1874 by C.F. Bennett, who worked for a company now known as Bike Athletic, the strappy little staple of yore has become a sex symbol of sorts with a reach well beyond the athletic world.

Fashion designers have fancied them up for catwalks and store shelves. Kristen Stewart recently pulled on a Bike jockstrap for the cover of Rolling Stone, earning barbs from some conservatives. Some athletes, both recreational and professional, still reach for one. And the jockstrap owes a debt to the gay men who have embraced it since the 1950s, when a hyper-masculine aesthetic in gay fashion was in vogue.

“They’re very coquettish. They reveal, they conceal. It’s like a push-up bra,” said 53-year-old Andrew Joseph in New York.

While many athletes and others with a need to keep things safe and secure have traded out jockstraps for compression shorts and other teched-up alternatives, Joseph draws from his extensive collection to don one every day.

Sean McDougle, 55, a queer nudist-naturist in upstate New York, owns about 40 jockstraps.

“There’s a certain feeling of freedom,” he said. “I remember as a child the first time I wore one and thought, what is this thing? They give you this thing, you know? But the look and feel is just somehow really alluring.”

Jockstraps are all things to the people who love them. For some, they’re just utilitarian, part of the gear for sports and exercise. But for others, they’re comfy little secrets under clothes. They’re cheeky, two ways, with their butt-exposing leg straps and wide waistbands and pouches peeping out from shorts and trousers. And they’re worn with or without leather gear at one of the world’s numerous bars that host jockstrap nights.

To date, Bike Athletic has sold more than 350 million jockstraps worldwide. Tom Ford, Versace, Calvin Klein, Thom Browne, Emporio Armani, Tommy Hilfiger and Savage x Fenty have put out jockstraps.

Browne included them on the runway for his spring/summer 2023 menswear collection. So did the French label Egonlab. John Galliano showed fur coats and jocks in 2004. Four years later, Miuccia Prada had black, red and blue jockstraps peek out over waistbands of her menswear collection. Niche sellers are all over the internet and in queer boutiques.

“It’s evolved almost into kind of male lingerie at this point,” said Alex Angelchik, who bought Bike Athletic with other investors in 2019. “From the ’70s through today, it became kind of a cult favorite within the gay community and expanded to the metrosexual urban community.”

Today, about 70% of Bike’s customers are gay men, he said. The company’s top seller is a jockstrap that’s been around since the beginning, the No. 10. It’s the one Stewart wore in the March issue of Rolling Stone. Kim Kardashian got there first, showing off a jockstrap in the September 2022, Americana-themed issue of Interview magazine.

Overall, Angelchik said he sells several million dollars worth of jockstraps a year, primarily in boutiques and Urban Outfitters stores.

Like so much in fashion, the jockstrap had obvious antecedents (the medieval codpiece among them), said Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

“Once it came in, it had the potential to become an eroticized piece of male underwear, which was unusual because it was really women’s underwear, predominantly, that became eroticized because women were thought of as, you know, THE sex and things were seen from the sort of heterosexual male viewpoint,” she said.

“But this period, in the late 19th century when the jockstrap was supposedly invented, was right when women’s lingerie was becoming much more elaborate,” Steele added.

Working out of Chicago, inventor Bennett set out to solve a problem in Boston for its so-called “bicycle jockeys” when they rode on the city’s uneven streets. In that day, “loose britches” were the norm, offering little in the way of support.

From there, the lowly jockstrap found massive success as the men’s underwear industry grew.

The slip-in cup came later, as the little piece of fabric and elastic moved into the sports world, around the 1920s. Now, some compression shorts also can accommodate a cup, and help with chafing.

“I guess the biggest change is when I started playing, we had steel cups. In fact, I still have a couple of those around the house and my grandkids didn’t know what they were. Now they have made things a lot more comfortable for the players,” said baseball’s Bruce Bochy, the Texas Rangers manager who guided his team to a World Series championship last year.

Nostalgia is in play, Angelchik said.

“When I first bought the brand, I talked to a lot of my cousins and friends, guys that were in their 50s, 60s, some of them in their 70s. I was shocked how many of these guys kept their jockstraps from high school and college, and still had them in a drawer or somewhere in a box,” he said.

The variations of jockstraps today are endless, said Timoteo Ocampo, a Los Angeles-based designer who sells them online and in boutiques around the globe. His company, Timoteo, puts out men’s underwear, swimwear and other clothing.

“There’s detachable fronts, zipper fronts, colors,” he said. “Some companies are doing diamond chains on their jockstraps. … People get very creative. It’s more personal and showing who they are and being proud of that.”

Mark Mackillop, an actor-singer-dancer in New York, is a jockstrap enthusiast. In 10 years, he has raised nearly $400,000 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, a nonprofit serving those in need in the theater industry around the U.S.

He’s done that primarily through the auctioning of underwear, jockstraps included, for the organization’s annual Broadway Bares. Broadway Bares is a burlesque-esque show that features, you guessed it, jockstraps, along with other gear and lots of peekaboo nudity. Mackillop, who is gay and the show’s top fundraiser, also performs in it, wearing a jockstrap.

“Things like Kristen Stewart wearing a jockstrap are making them more mainstream,” he said. “But I know gay men are the reason that there is a jockstrap industry in the underwear world today.”

Bike Athletic is the largest sponsor of the Atlanta Bucks, a rugby team that plays under the International Gay Rugby umbrella. Another sponsor is the Eagle bar in Atlanta, where there are frequent jock events.

“There’s definitely an integral history between Bike and the gay community,” said the team’s president, Jonathan Standish, who’s also a player. Do he and his teammates prefer jockstraps?

“A lot of people, me included, will do both. We wear jockstraps as a way to have support without having too much fabric, and put compression shorts over to take care of chafing. I have thick thighs,” he laughed.

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Freelancer Jack Thompson in Surprise, Arizona, contributed to this story.



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