Jock Straps of Old

This article was inspired by my investigator character Simon Hart, one of two private dicks in 1923 Ireland.

The  tag line for my latest 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.

wt.builder  in jock

Simon Hart is not just an investigator of private affairs; he 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.

bike jock j319In 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.

old ad jock

jock 1930 j300
Here’s an unusual photo—an actual jock strap pictured next to its original packaging of 1920. It’s easy to see how even the old jock straps, with their logical and brief construction, had an appeal for athletes and active men.
really bare 350 copy
I found this photo in my Yahoo! search engine, and I’ve been unable to name the source. Clearly, it shows two vintage fisticuff fighters in a training environment. Notice the thin athletic shoes, and the men’s leg musculature. Update: blog reader T. Bird (see comments below) ascribes this photo to Eadward Muybridge, who took this photo and others in his  motion-study work probably sometime around the turn of the 19th century. Great info! Thanks to T. Bird for the information.
mizpah 1922
vintage jocks 330
This vintage photo shows two athletes perhaps a little nonplussed by their revealing underwear.
1927 sears

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.

jocks dancers 250
These men are obviously dancers in a stage performance. The second figure from the right (kneeling) is wearing a jock strap.
tramp all day
Although all the most popular supporters were manufactured in the U.S., they were available worldwide via such venues as Sears and Roebucks catalogs. A typical price would be around 50c each, including shipping.
last ad 278
Finally, for just 10c, a man ordering the latest LANTZ supporter will also receive an “anatomically illustrated” treatise, sealed, from C.C. Lantz himself….free with order!
Don’t forget, friends, my romcom mystery Heart to Hart is available in both electronic and print versions.Heart to Hart on Amber Allure  (retro 1920s)
Heart to Hart on Amazon.com

13 Responses to “Jock Straps of Old”

  1. An entertaining and informative look at a most useful bit of clothing/protection. I had no idea it had such a venerable history. Well done!

    • Hi, Sandy Shoes, you lover of history! I, too, am fascinated by the background of everyday objects we tend to take for granted in our sophisticated 21st-century lives. Who-d-a-thunk that the jockstrap would have been used so long ago? I love the pic of those two gentlemen with their arms crossed, as though they’re cold, when a mere glance tells us nuh-uh. Gawd, I love men. 😀

  2. Inventive and informative! Great stuff, Erin – I love reading your blogs.

  3. All Kink is a long time favorite and this is not only a fine distillation of that site but a kick upside my head that I ought to be using some of this information in my own historicals. What reader doesn’t appreciate a tasty flash of under-linens?

    • Hi, Elliott,

      I agree that this kind of information enriches any book. I also agree that All Kink is a site to cherish for its treasure-trove of images and information.

  4. The third photo down, which you say you found with your Yahoo search engine, has a fairly well known source. The photograph is by Eadward Muybridge who took this photo as one of his series of motion study photographs . He published a book “The Human Figure in Motion” with these photos showing step by step, stop- action photos. The scored background was for measurement. I think these photos were made on the west coast late in the 19th century but I am fuzzy on those details.

  5. Again to T. Bird: I did find his photos, and I’m stunned by the versatility and genius of his work. Much of it was done before 1880! His work includes photos of animals, acrobats, dancers, models, runners, children. He spelled his name Eadweard apparently thinking this was the real derivation of his name. Wow, just fascinating stuff! And lots of jockey straps on those athletes, which was my impetus for looking at the photographs. Thanks! 😀

    • You are welcome, you would have come across this soon I am sure. One has to wonder though, how in his day did Muybridge [nee Muggeridge] find these models? Some of the men in the photos are particularly muscled and well defined. Did he place a classified ad, or hang out at a local boxing club, or was there a YMCA there back then? I wonder what words he used to ask men to let him photograph them naked?

  6. Note to T. Bird: YMCA a good place for him to start. See amazon.com for “Take the Young Stranger by the Hand: Same-Sex Relations and the YMCA” (The Chicago Series on Sexuality, History, and Society) – or did I lend you this?

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