January. The month of adopting new habits in the hopes of reinventing yourself into the “new me.” Veganuary, RED January, Dry January, National Hobby Month and the list goes on. Whatever the challenges you choose or don’t choose, there’s always that one resolution you promise to yourself every new year. I’m hitting the gym, I’m going to get fit, nothing’s going to stop me (*ahem* until next month). Whilst, we won’t be visiting our local gyms anytime soon, that won’t stop a lot of you nor Chloe Ting or Joe Wicks for that matter. And as every wannabe gym buff who happens to also be a bra wearer knows, possessing a sports bra is an absolute must.
The humble sports bra. It’s more than just a giant flag for me to say, I’m looking cool, I’m looking fit, I’m out on a run. It actually has a function that is there to support your breasts during high impact activities. In fact, of all bras, for designers and bra fitters alike, it is probably the most difficult type of bra to get right.
Why? Here’s the thing, womxn have always participated in sports/athletics. In ancient Greek and Roman culture, sports played a massive part in their society. Roman womxn were also involved in athletics/acrobatics according to a mosaic originating from Sicily 4AD where a group of ladies are seen wearing a breast band made of cloth and leather.
Care for a bit of ball, Octavia?
During the Victorian era, the emphasis on wearing the right type of undergarment became even more vital in a time where wearing a corset was all the rage. But, in 1887 in Wimbledon’s Centre Court, these corsets were more reminiscent of a cage for the womxn tennis players. It became almost impossible to play with the corsets restricting the majority of their movements while cinching their waists to an inch of their lives. Eventually, a special bar was installed at the Centre Court above a stove in the locker room to hang the literally bloodied contraptions to dry.
Fast forward to 1977, here came the birth of the modern sports bra invented by Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith in collaboration with designer and runner Hinda Miller. This bra was created by sewing two jockstraps together while the material brought “everything close to the body.”
Jockbra/Jogbra. Talk about upcycling and ingenuity...
Now, in 2021 we have a whole market dedicated to sports bras from brands like Nike, Under Armour, Lululemon and Adidas. Yet, after decades, we still cannot entirely solve the problem of the ill-fitting sports bra. Despite the variety on offer, finding the right sports bra is still hard. And the wrong sports bra can affect our performance, our participation in sports and our confidence exponentially.
Lindahl explains that the invention of the sports bra was instrumental in removing barriers to make sports tangible for all womxn. However, even after so long, the undergarment is still riddled with problems – with the largest being, its ability to support breasts during exercise.
What we are actually missing is diversity. It would not be surprising to find that the lingerie industry is still not inclusive of all. Sarah Carlson, former VP of Product Development and Design at Athleta reiterates, “The industry tends to have a one-size-fits-all [approach].” The reality remains that every individuals’ breasts differ depending on age, genetics, the environment, days, weeks, even months. The needs of someone with a HH cup is vastly different to that of someone who wears an A cup. Unfortunately, this isn’t addressed enough with a lot of sports bras still running in S, M, L, XL sizing.
This sizing system does not consider that one person’s size L in a sports bra may not look the same as another person wearing a size L in the same sports bra. There needs to be a focus on band sizes and proper cups too. Furthermore, as Alexandra Plante, former Product Manager at Lululemon explains, most sports bra bands focus on vertical displacement (the bouncing up and down experience) while wearing a sports and not any other motions like side to side or forward and backwards. Simply put, your sports bra is not giving you the full support that you need.
This also signals to consumers that companies care more about overall profit and style rather than the quality of their work, accuracy and our welfare. Alongside the rise of the athleisure trend, style over substance is seen across the market with significant growth of athleisure experienced since 2018 and is forecasted to last until 2023, according to a report by Market Research Future.
What does this mean for a wearer in an ill-fitting sports bra?
- Lack of breast support often leads to breast pain reported by 40-60% of womxn during physical activities.
- Pain and irritation makes womxn less likely to participate in sports and affects performance.
- Lack of self-confidence – you aren’t wearing the right bra for you so you may not be able to truly appreciate your best self.
- Further health issues: neck pain, shoulder pain, bad posture, rubbing, chafing, abrasion. Permanent changes to the body can be made like deep grooves in the shoulders caused by shoulder strap pressure.
- Nerve damage – bra straps more often cross over the brachial plexus, the nerve bundle that sends impulses to and from the arm. Wearing too-tight shoulder straps can damage this area and cause pain and numbness.
Yes, this sounds terrifying, but things are changing. The sports bra remains a bra that is important for the lingerie industry and consumers and some companies are listening. LaJean Lawson, a Breast Researcher Consultant explains, the difficulty of designing a scientifically good sports bra “There are so many different parameters. It’s the most hooked into cultural stereotypes. You have to think about sweat, support, chafing, straps, slippage, and then looking cute. That’s a really long list of conflicting design requirements.” A staggering 80% of womxn are wearing poorly fitting bras, but companies like Brarista and Panache are pushing to bring this percentage down to 0.
Panache Sports Bra focuses on style and design, of course. However, this brand truly puts the consumer at the heart of their product combining high impact technology with betterment in mind. Using the better model of an encapsulation bra rather than a compression bra, bouncing can be reduced up to 83%. Encapsulation bras treat each breast individually, much like your regular bra which caters a lot better for those with larger chests as you go beyond a D cup. Alongside this, breathability and comfort are never compromised with seam-free cups to give you a pain-free exercise.
Panache Sports Bra - an absolute must-have
As more innovation goes into the sports bra, we are getting closer and closer to solving the case of the ill-fitting sports bra and its consequences of a lack of participation in sports.
If anything should stop you pumping the iron, running a marathon, winning the world cup or simply taking your dog out for a walk/run, don’t let it be because of your bra.