Work & play: Is underwear practical equipment and/or a stylistic choice?

When people mention underwear for gay men, thoughts may inevitably turn towards unconventional garments, such as those seen on BDSM practitioners or professional dancers at gay nightclubs. While being gay doesn’t necessitate more risqué underwear just as being straight doesn’t doom you to mundanity in your pants, there is an undeniable proclivity amongst LGBT individuals towards less mainstream underwear.

Here we explore the practical and stylistic history behind popular underwear for gay men:


Jockstraps were originally fashioned as a type of protective gear for bike jockeys doing their delivery rounds on uncomfortable vintage bicycle seats. With the addition of a hard plastic cup to shield the front, jockstraps were then used as protective gear in contact sports for a few decades, from baseball to hockey to wrestling, eventually evolving into the modern-day groin guard. The modern version is a lot more secure and durable, offering much better protection. A little etymology: the muscle-bound American ‘jock’ of today is slang that actually derives from the term ‘jockstrap’ (rather than the other way around), which in turn was a contraction of ‘jockey strap’, used to describe the supporting garment that those jockeys wore to protect men from the bumps of the uneven streets they traversed.

The jockstrap enjoys a dual life as both a symbol of traditional hyper masculinity, mired in the testosterone-filled arena of adolescent sports, as well as popular underwear for men. Although it can be seen as a kind of subversive appropriation of something quintessentially masculine, it’s not exactly hard to see why the jockstrap garnered popularity among some LGBT folk. Its base design is an aesthetic plus, highlighting both the cupped groin as well as the exposed behind, especially if you wear jockstraps in striking colours that stand out against your skin tone. Meanwhile, the straps that go underneath the seat draw attention to as well as support the butt itself, similar in function to a push-up bra, helping an individual show off their assets as flatteringly as possible.

Nowadays, jockstraps also come in a veritable host of designs and textiles, showing less or more skin depending on what the wearer would prefer as well as accounting for personal preference for the feel of such an intimate article of clothing. Some wear it for the look, some wear it for freedom and comfort, whatever the reason, the jockstrap suits a myriad of individuals, all while harbouring a surprising history.


Mens harnesses may initially inspire images of people tripping over complicated nylon loops as they attempt to step into safety gear for an outdoor activity, or pets struggling against their leashes and trying to asphyxiate themselves in their excitement. All that being said, the incarnation of the harness that is most relevant to the current discussion emerged in the 1960s, inspired by the post-World War 2 biker scene, though it only became a mainstay in the gay leather scene in the 1980s. The leather harness thus came to symbolise the at-odds marriage between submission and masculinity. Similar to the jockstrap, besides being a clothing choice representing particular notions one might like to broadcast, harnesses have the added benefit of just looking good. Their stark lines help to accentuate the body parts they frame, segmenting and splintering the human figure into something fractal and artfully beautiful, while still visually signalling as a tool of containment and control.

As the years trundle on, what would’ve once inspired whispers and judgement is slowly slipping into the mainstream, the harness comfortably among their number. Increasingly a fashion statement, K-pop idols style strappy leather over bold stage outfits at the same time as kink practitioners don complicated black lines and silver loops and little else. To accommodate this rising demand, differing designs now abound, varied in complexity, intended placement as well as material, as people look for the perfect statement-piece harness to incorporate into carefully crafted outfits. More understated than other binding techniques like Japanese shibari, leather harnesses fit neatly into modern styles like tech wear and street fashion, a point that further elevates their wide appeal.

At the same time, the sexual associations of harnesses add an edge to outfits when worn externally. Practical applications of harnesses still abound, especially in activity performed at great heights like rock climbing and construction work high up, but uses like weapon holsters straddle the line of bedroom and battlefield. Think along the lines of gun holsters tucked discreetly under a suit jacket or nestled up against some impressive pectoral muscles; it’s not hard to understand why there were superhero-themed events at International Mister Leather 2020. Whatever the association, it’s clear that harnesses say something about the person wearing them, and in this age of heightened self-expression, its popularity is skyrocketing.

The crossover between work and play, professional and casual bleeding over into each other seen in the two accessories highlighted here display a unique aspect of clothing preferred by queer individuals, particularly gay and bisexual men. A crossover of the practical and the playful, the serious and the flirtatious, instigating a jostling tug of war between polarised associations that excite the mind. Even if you prefer more traditional underwear, you can’t deny that they carry a certain allure, both in their background and what they’ve evolved to represent.