I don’t think it’s a coincidence that 1977 was the year that two pinnacles of fitness—the high five and the first sports bra—were invented. (Yeah, both of those things are only 41 years old, so let that settle in for a moment.) Something else they both have in common? Little has changed about either of them since they were invented. Fortunately, at least for your boobs, sports bras are finally being brought into the 21st century thanks to new technology and retooled designs.
To get an idea of how far sports bras have come, it’s important to know where they started. Dubbed the “jock bra,” the first sports bra was the brainchild of Lisa Lindahl and her seamstress-friend Polly Smith, who wanted to find a solution for female runners. While gunning for a solve, Lindahl’s husband jokingly stretched a jockstrap across his chest, and in a stroke of genius, the modern-day sports bra was born. Though we certainly don’t use man slings as material-of-choice anymore, sports bras haven’t been totally reimagined until recently. In fact, every time I squeeze into my jog bra, that scene in Now and Then where Christina Ricci (as a young Roberta) tapes her boobs to compress them to her chest comes to mind.
I’m not the only one who’s ever felt disatisfied by her sports bra options, either. “Women have been making compromises when it comes to their sports bra for years,” says Danielle Witek, Reebok senior innovation apparel designer. “I kept coming across one stat after the next that showed I was far from alone in this frustration. I found it crazy that amongst all this dissatisfaction, over 40 years had gone by since the first sports bra debuted and there had been very little innovation to actually solve these issues.”
But this has started to change. Boobs are a big focus for your favorite sportswear brands, and TBH there’s never been a better time to be in the market for a problem-solving sports bra. Whatever your qualms, whatever your frustrations with the current models, a bra exists to meet your needs. Here’s a look at the innovation happening in the category right now and how the answers to your frustrations are being met.
The problem: I live an active lifestyle beyond the gym
When the first sports bras came to market, I think it’s fair to say that you were either working out or not working out, and it was pretty easy to use context clues to figure out which bra you needed given that intel. Today? Not so much. As the lines between the gym and real life have become ever-more blurred, the asks of sports bras have become even more advanced.
So when Lululemon released the Like Nothing Bra ($68) earlier this year, it was a huge win for those who spend their lives in activewear, without necessarily pounding the pavement every single second. “As we turned our attention to tackle the [reinvention of the bra], we realized there was no industry research to show why the design of existing bras worked or didn’t,” explains Alexandra Plante, director of innovation management at Whitespace, Lululemon‘s research and development lab. “We set out to understand how women truly want to feel in their bras and created an informed solution with one simple but critical hypothesis: What if we’ve all been doing it wrong from day one?”
And, I mean, considering we started with the jock strap, it’s not such a bad place to start. So, a team of engineers and biomechanic and neuroscientists spent three years dissecting what was wrong with the state of the bra and how to fix it. The result? An option that tops being naked (no seriously I’ve been testing it for two months and have only taken it off only twice to wash it, which I know is gross, but it’s also true), perfect for low-impact activities like living your life or doing yoga (which is obvs a huge part of living your life these days).
To guard against the bra working for some and not all, the R&D team did something that’s outside the scope of usual fashion fitting and slightly tweaked different sizes to maximize its efficacy for any given person’s shape. “Our research shows that how a bra feels on your body (specifically how it feels in motion when running, doing yoga, even commuting to work) is what really matters when it comes to comfort and performance, and the experience is different for every woman based on their unique pattern of breast movement, personal feel preference, and of course, physical make-up and shape,” says Plante. “Discrete variations in construction as well as cup and band specifications, create consistent fit and movement management across the bra’s full spectrum of 20 sizes.” Sizes range from A to E cups.
The problem: I want more than just compression
Until recently, many sports bras aimed to flatten or compress the boobs so that they didn’t jostle around while working out, but that theory is getting rethought. Last year when Nike launched its Fly Knit Sports Bra, which tapped the same technology that’s been implemented into the brand’s famous shoe line, it pushed the traditional sports bra model forward by making fabric functional. The knit molds to the breasts to provide superior support.
After four years of research, Reebok introduced the Pure Move Sports Bra ($60) which similarly is meant to keep breasts separated by upgrading the materials used. “The proprietary technology behind PureMove is Reebok’s Motion Sense Technology, which is the result of treating a performance-based fabric with Sheer Thickening Fluid– a gel-like solution that takes a liquid form when in a still or slow-moving state and contrastingly stiffens and solidifies when moving at higher velocities,” says Witek. “This fabric technology adapts and responds accordingly to the body’s shape, the velocity of breast tissue, and both type and force of movement.” So far the line accommodates up to a 42D, though additional sizing is a top priority for the brand.
The problem: OMG, let’s get rid of uniboob already
Okay, seriously can we just get rid of the uniboob already? While compression sports bras tend to treat your chest as one giant area versus two special ladies, the other method of choice is encapsulation, which helps to separate and surround each breast to provide the right amount of support. The undergarment brand Knix, however, thinks that the best option is a little bit of both.
“With the Catalyst ($78) first and foremost we separate and encapsulate the breasts, hence embracing a woman’s shape and avoiding uniboob,” explains Knix CEO Joanna Griffiths. “Then by constructing the garment to be all one piece we are able to combine that encapsulation with just enough compression to lock the breasts in place reducing the amount of breast movement while still being super comfortable.”
It works: In a third-party test, performed at the University of Portsmouth Research Group in Breast Health, the bra reduced breast movement by upwards of 76 percent while minimizing chafing and promoting moisture-wicking. It’s currently offered in sizes up to a 42G, making it amongst the most size-inclusive options available.
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