Thursday, September 3, 2009

You're man enough to play hockey, but are you man enough to wear women's underwear?

A couple of weeks after I was dumped as a reporter from the Newspaper Whose Name I Shall Not Speak, my buddy Scott and I had a revelation: since I was now unemployed, it would be absolutely criminal if I didn't use some of my severance pay to purchase hockey equipment.

So, on a sunny Monday, Scott and I visited Play It Again Sports in Torrance, which as I mention in an earlier post carries a decent variety of both used and new hockey equipment. Little did I know that by day's end I would be parading around the house in a garter belt and boasting about it.

As I ventured into the store, it's fair to say that I knew absolutely nothing about hockey equipment. I had never before suited up in full gear -- I was still taking skating lessons. I had never even contemplated hockey equipment. Sure, I went to plenty of Kings games last season. But it's not like I was sitting there wondering how defenseman Jack Johnson kept his socks from bunching up.

At the store, Scott helped me pick out new shin guards, elbow pads and hockey pants to go with the used gloves, used socks, used jersey and used helmet he already scavenged for me from his league teammates (more about the joy of used gloves in a future post). Then Scott vanished into an aisle and emerged clutching both a pair of intensely bright yellow shorts and an athletic cup.

I quickly grasped the purpose of the cup, of course -- protect the ol' Ding Dong from getting Ding Donged. But the shorts were a mystery, particularly because there were four garter straps hanging from them.

"What the fuck are those?," I cheerfully inquired. "I haven't checked in a while, but I'm pretty sure I still have a working penis."

"It's a garter and a jock," Scott said. "Everyone has one."

"Hockey players wear garter belts?"

"Yep. Do you want the small jock or the extra small one?," Scott replied.

All this was, I must say, a bit of a revelation. And there was this little indignity I was trying to absorb: the first garter belt I would ever snap or unsnap would be on me. At a skating rink. In front of a bunch of guys. This is what happens when you favor jeans-and-T-shirt type of women.

Aside from that, the shorts were a fascinating little piece of athletic apparel. The shorts basically serve, pun intended, as a multipurpose tool. Inside the shorts are a jock strap, complete with a little kangaroo-type pouch for the athletic cup. The garters hung from the outside -- not a true garter like Scott and other players wear (as shown in the photo at right). The shorts themselves looked like the kind of running shorts that are too short and you may not want to wear, at least in public. All that rolled into one $30 package. Again, pun intended.

I went home that night and practiced putting on the gear. Then I plopped down on the floor and to the strains of Bruce Springsteen's "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," began playing with my new garters. Getting the hooks secured on the socks took some practice – I couldn't get them to grab the sock fabric -- and certainly wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to attempt publicly until I was proficient.

It was a disturbing and intriguing enough ordeal that I couldn’t resist telling a friend of mine about it when I ran into her at the gym that evening. She dubbed the shorts my “Daisy Dukes,” and has since inquired about them on a disturbingly frequent basis.

A couple of weeks later my skating coach commanded me to show up for next week’s lesson in full gear. My skating was faster and my falls were correspondingly more violent. He wanted me to both get used to skating with all the crap on and also ensure that I didn’t kill myself. The Pasadena rink doesn’t have a real locker room so I put the Daisy Dukes on under gym shorts, unaware that one of the garters wasn’t tucked in.

So, if you happened to see me walking around Pasadena one April Sunday morning, the answer is yes, that was me with a garter belt flopping in the wind outside my shorts. You got a problem with that? Like I'm the only guy wearing a garter belt in Pasadena!

In the months since I’ve discovered that the Daisy Dukes and garter belts are a bit old school. Here’s a great explanation of the hockey garter I found in an review of a Pro Guard garter from a reader named puckmugger, who also gets credit for the witty headline on this post:

Garter belts are filled with amazing high tech design features fresh from the turn of the century . . . well the turn of the 17th century perhaps. Interestingly enough the wearing of stockings was reserved entirely for men. It wasn’t until the mid - 1600s that women infringed upon the right of men and took away our honored privilege. Frankly we haven’t protested too often because the ladies look much better in stockings than we men do. But I digress, we were talking about how the garter belt works.

Garter belts, as the name implies are essentially a belt. Unlike a normal belt, designed to keep the pants from falling down, or to turn a fan in a automobile, the garter belt is worn as an undergarment. Four adjustable straps hand down from the belt – one at the front and another at the back of each leg. On the end of each strap is a metal hook with a sliding rubber piece that hooks to the socks. This keeps the socks from falling down.

As puckmugger explains in a related sock review, hockey socks aren’t really socks as they have no feet. “They are open at both ends to cover the player’s shin guards,” he writes. “Hockey socks are in fact more like leg warmers (gasp!). Wait, maybe [calling them socks] isn’t a conspiracy but an attempt to separate hockey gear from dance gear and popular women’s fashions of the 80’s . . . Leg warmers? Socks? You pick which one sounds manlier.”

So there you go, ladies and gents. Hockey, one of the manliest of all sports, is weirdly affiliated with women's fashion.

Now that I’ve been taking hockey class and attending stick time sessions I've noticed that garter belts no longer rule the day. Many players have switched to athletic shorts with Velcro on the legs – the socks stick to the Velco. In hockey circles, Puckmugger notes, the garter is thought to have a longer lifespan than the Velcro but Velco and its convenience appears to be winning the favor of most younger players.

“Still there is some level of respect that I automatically grant to any man who is brave enough to wear a garter in this day and age.” Puckmugger adds. “I mean I just look at the guy and think, ‘Wow, old school! I bet this guy is good.’ Point is, that you don’t have to be afraid to wear a garter, really.”

Well, no one who saw me wipe out in front of the goal I was trying to defend during last night's hockey class -- there wasn't anyone within 15 feet of me -- would label me as "good." But until I wear out the Daisy Dukes and must ponder a replacement, I will proudly carry on this strange tradition. In a Manly Man way, of course.

--Steve Hymon

Related post: What the hell is this blog about?

Coming soon: Jack Johnson, man or beast? Does it matter?

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