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Jockstraps are a staple when it comes to fashion in the gay community, frequently used in parties and even daily wear. Ask any gay and they’d probably have at least one or two pairs in their underwear drawer. But have you thought of how jockstraps came to be one of the most quintessential parts of our community? No really, why do we love them so much?
Well, the first-ever jockstrap was invented in 1874 by C.F. Bennett of Sharp & Smith, a sporting goods company in Chicago. Bennett saw a need for a supportive pair of underwear specifically for bicycle messengers and delivery men, also known as Bike Jockeys. They had to endure the regular groin discomfort of bouncing all over Boston’s uneven cobblestone pavements on their bicycles (the thought of that alone is already making me uncomfortable).
In the early 1900s, jockstraps became massively popular garments for men involved in contact sports as the jockstrap offered protection and comfort. Depending on the sport, jockstraps were customized for specific needs. For example, baseball players had a plastic cup inserted in their gear to shield their manhood from fastballs. Football players added padding to the pouch to soften the blow of a hand strike. Wrestlers opted for lightweight and loose for greater flexibility.
Unfortunately, the commercial use of the jockstrap was rather short-lived. In the past few decades, athletes began bailing on jockstraps for their protective purposes. Citing that it no longer felt like it was built for comfort as it rubs and chafes causing great discomfort. Naturally, as jockstraps began to falter among athletes, fewer people were encouraged to wear them. Eventually, as more supportive forms of athletic underwear became available starting in the ’90s, jockstraps were mostly phased out among athletes.
Now you must be wondering, “soooo, how does this tie in with gay culture?”
Well now that we’ve covered the general history of jockstraps, here’s how it became such a sought-after piece of garment amongst gay men.
The jockstrap first entered our community during the ‘50s, when gay fashion adopted an overtly masculine style. As mentioned in the book written by Shaun Cole, Don We Now Our Gay Apparel, “[Gay men] adopted a manly demeanor and attire as a means of expressing their new sense of self, and in adopting this look, they aimed to enhance their physical attractiveness and express their improved self-esteem.” These outfits often included clothing associated with the masculine figure such as bomber jackets, leather jackets, chaps, military uniforms, and, of course, jockstraps.
In the same way that jockstraps were slowly phased out among athletes, the opposite energy surged through the gay community in the late ’70s. Eventually, jockstraps were being worn on a regular at gay bars, different brands started sending go-go boys in their jockstraps as a promotional tool, it even started appearing in pornography. This continuous exposure eventually secured the jockstrap as a mainstay in the gay man’s wardrobe. Around this time, “Jockstrap Nights”, a night where patrons appear in nothing but their undies, became a regular occurrence at gay bars all across the world! Well... up until the AIDS crisis that is.
The gay community has popularised jockstraps because they allow the wearer to elicit a powerful sense of confidence. Jockstraps make you feel sexy and give off a peek-a-boo fantasy when you’re wearing them; there’s a sense of power that comes with that. It makes sense that as the garment’s purpose evolved, that the garment’s design changed to better enhance the ass and package.
In the early 2000s, “Jockstrap Nights” started to reappear. The comeback is largely credited to gay nightlife promoter and owner of Slide nightclub in San Francisco, Daniel Nardicio, who was looking for a way to get more people to visit his bar during the slow season. Ever since then, he’s made a career out of throwing underwear-themed events. In fact, he’s thrown well over 1,000 events, which contributes to the garment’s lasting influence.