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. He was the founding curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, and the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. He has amassed a collection of nearly 8,000 items dating from the mid 17th century to the present, and has written various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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