Canadian Fashion Connection – The Jockstrap, A Canadian Invention?

(Originally blogged August 4, 2010)

Clinging scene at beach, c. 1900

Okay, so this isn’t exactly fashion… but you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t interested! The jockstrap is a bit like the brassiere and sewing machine because it was not the invention of one person but rather the result of a series of innovations, patents, and improvements.

As men took up team sports in the 19th century, they adopted knitted cotton and wool jersey garments because the material allowed freer movement. However, when costumes made of these materials were worn for swimming, little was left to the imagination when bathers emerged from the sea in what was essentially a wet T-shirt. Women’s bathing costumes were voluminous and usually made of woven rather than knitted material so they did not cling like men’s bathing costumes. Men sometimes took to wearing bathing girdles underneath their jersey bathing suits. These apparently resembled artist model posing pouches and were worn to minimize bulging even though most beaches were segregated in the 19th century, with women using an adjacent beach.

Weight lifter posing in jockstrap, c. 1950s

More men began adopting the modesty girdles for support beneath their knitted tights and jersey sports uniforms. An American improvement in 1874 resulted in a style specifically designed to avoid chafing for bicycle riders. These were sold as ‘bicycle jockey-straps’ but by the turn of the century were simply known as ‘jock-straps’ or athletic supporters.

However, as every man knows who has ever played sports, even just once, a jockstrap might be fine for keeping things out of the way, but it does not protect anything from a puck or cleated shoe. The Guelph, Ontario company Guelph Elastic Hosiery made an improvement to the jockstrap in 1927 when a hard cup was added for protection. The jock strap was sold for years under the appropriately homophonic name ‘Protex.’ The inventor of the cup and owner of Guelph Elastic Hosiery died in 1957 and the company was sold the following year. Eventually the company ceased making anything but jockstraps and the company was renamed Protexion Products in 1987, but all manufacturing of Protex has since ceased at the Guelph Ontario manufacturing plant.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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2 Responses to Canadian Fashion Connection – The Jockstrap, A Canadian Invention?

  1. jock strap says:

    The fascinating history of the jockstrap… We have to go all the way to the 1870s, including a Mr. Bennett of Chicago, who had been clearly *very* troubled about the damage which cobbled avenues did to cycling courier’s nuts. All that uncontrolled bouncing about kept him up at nighttime. Poor Mr. Bennett. But fortunately for the bicycle messengers (and also ‘jockeys’), Mr. Bennett had a thought, and that he referred to it as after these individuals. The ‘jock strap’ was created. Fast-forward fifty years to the 1920s, and a young Canadian called Jack Cartlege. Jack adored his hockey *almost* just as much as he cherished slipping on his most liked jock strap, but it wasn’t until one fateful day in 1927 that Jack realized (the hard way!) that his jock strap was no rivalry for any hockey puck inside groin. Jack wasn’t massively keen on duplicating the experience, and who blames him, so he arrived up with the ingenious idea of slipping a hard cup on the top of his jock strap. The design was rapidly copyrighted and production started off. Males will no longer had to live in fear of a stray puck, ball or studded boot. Jack’s combo of jock strap and shielding cup has become the mainstay of boys’ school athletics equipment the world over through out the twentieth century, right up until lingerie makes like Andrew Christian, C-in2 and Addicted began reinventing the timeless style. Away went the ugly shade of off-white and the ugly waistbands, and in came a fresh collection of innovative cuts and designs, and fun shades. These modern jock straps will be the perfect balance between trend and functionality – as great around the track or in a fitness center because they are under a pair of jeans, or suit trousers if you’re game for it. Business right in front, party in the back!

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