Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Sports Bra

In 1972, Title IX of the Equal Education Amendment mandated that institutions receiving federal funding had to spend equal amounts of money on men’s and women’s sports programs. By the late 70’s, over 6 million women were running, hooked on the feeling of health, strength, and endorphins. In 1977, runner Lisa Lindahl was a 28-year-old graduate student at the University of Vermont working as a secretary. She started with a list of features necessary to achieve comfort and support in a running bra, and would not bind or chafe. Then she turned to her childhood friend, costume designer Polly Smith. They were working on a prototype when Lisa’s husband walked into the room and jokingly pulled a jockstrap over his head and around his chest. Lightning struck. Polly fashioned a model constructed of two jock straps sewn together. After a test run with Hinda Miller, Polly’s assistant, Lisa knew it was time to refine the idea and go to market.

Lisa and Hinda built the business up for 12 years, creating a nationally known brand, Jogbra Sportsbras. In 1990, the company was sold to Playtex Apparel, and then to Sara Lee Corp. Miller left in 1997 after serving as President of the Champion Jogbra division.

In 1999, Olympic soccer star Brandi Chastin (pictured above) made the plain black sports bra a national conversation.

Now a generic name like Kleenex, Rollerblade, and Scotch tape, Jogbra has been honored by its placement in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Museum. Sportsbras generate $500 million in retail sales and are recognized as having as big a role as Title IX in increasing women’s participation in sports and fitness.

In 2008, the sports bra was picked as an all-time top fashion innovation. "Comprising a $300 million annual industry, sports bras account for roughly 10 percent of the bra market."( April 3rd, 2009)

Nancy Howard's guide to the sports bra covers several topics including anatomy, measurement & fit, consideration of type of activity while wearing the bra, bra care and construction.

For more on the development of the sports bra, including a timeline of innovations read Kelly Bastone's article, The Sports Bra Turns 30.

Types of sports bras:

Compression Sports Bras are a one piece style that you pull on over your head ;

Encapsulated or Natural-Shaping Sports Bras encapsulates each breast in an individual cup instead of compressing both breasts together as in the previous example.;

Compression/Encapsulation Sports Bras combine the previous styles by encapsulating each breast and compressing the breast tissue against the chest.

A woman's breasts are composed primarily of adipose (fatty) tissue, mammary glands, connective tissue, and the Cooper’s ligament, which keeps the breast firm and prevents sagging. Because the underlying chest muscles do not support breast tissue, exercising in anything other than a well-fitted sports bra can stretch the Cooper's ligament, leading to greater sagging and even pain during exercise.

"The Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, conducted a study to evaluate five sports bras designed specifically for large-breasted women. Commissioned by The American Council on Exercise, the study recruited 10 women between 20 and 45 years old who played various sports, including volleyball, basketball, swimming, walking, running, yoga, cycling, hiking, rock climbing, tennis and aerobic dance. Dr. John Porcari led the study, which concluded that the encapsulated sports bra offered the most comfort and support. Female athletes’ common practice of wearing two compression bras at once produced more difficulty than just wearing one encapsulated style bra. The combination bra, she said, works almost as well as the encapsulated style, but it rates lower in comfort." (Little About) presents some additional information on the research behind women's breast health and exercise.

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