Stories from Active Clothing

We’ve got a crush on sports bras that finally work with your body

Zoe Weiner

Zoe WeinerDecember 9, 2019

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Photo: Stocksy/w2photography / W+G Creative

It’s time to prepare a eulogy for the uniboob: Sports bras are getting the high-tech engineering treatment once reserved for sneakers, resulting in options that are more comfortable, stylish, and performance-friendly than ever before.

And we say it’s about damn time. Until recently, people with breasts have either had to choose between a bra that compresses their chest like a literal booby trap (sometimes using two of them at the same time), or one that leaves their breasts bouncing. This has historically created a major barrier to entry for physical activity. For instance, researchers in Australia found that women opt out of higher-intensity activities because their breast size negatively impacts their ability to work out.

But as we move into a new decade, activewear brands are investing in technology that solves for these issues, indicating that a sports-bra revolution is underway. There’s certainly a demand for it: The sports-bra market has grown 10 percent in dollars spent and 2 percent in units sold in the last year, according to Maria Rugolo, a Fashion Business Analyst with market research firm NPD Group. This means that not only are people buying more sports bras, but also that they’re willing to pay more for them. “We think that we’re going to continue to see growth in this space for the next few years as the product and technology continues to get better,” says Rugolo. Indeed, Market Watch expects the sports-bra market to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10.7 percent to reach $14.2 billion by 2025.

Many next-gen sports bras are being designed to boost performance. In the same way that athletes have turned to sneakers to help them go faster and harder in their workouts, they can now turn to their bras for support. A 2013 study on 321 female runners found that poorly controlled breast movement can reduce run stride length by up to 4 cm, and Brooks set out to develop a new line of Run Bras to account for that. Launching in January 2020, the bras reduce breast motion by up to 70 percent thanks to a hidden bottom band that better supports breasts and is more comfortable than traditional underbands.

“We are working on developing bras that are supportive and technical enough that they can be worn on a run during lunch but comfortable and beautiful enough you won’t want to take it off after.”

Research conducted by Brooks shows that those wearing the style saw their marathon finish times improve by as much as 4.6 to 8.6 minutes for each increase in cup size. “We wanted to make sure that when women were in this bra, they weren’t focusing on the bra itself,” says Julianne Ruckman, senior product line manager at Brooks, of the brand’s new Run Bras. “Instead, they’re focusing on one foot in front of the other, their to-do list, clearing their head, getting in the zone—whatever they needed the run for.”

Meanwhile, styles like the forthcoming New Balance NB Power X Bra riff on Nike’s game-changing Flyknit bra of 2017, combining the OG compression method with cups that separate and encapsulate each breast, eliminating that dreaded (and uncomfortable) uniboob. Sports-bra designers are also developing motion-adjustment technology that allows one bra to provide flexible support for a wide range of movement scenarios—a helpful feature in the era of hybrid workout classes that often combine running, strength training, and stretching in one 60-minute session. So if you’re doing a high-impact activity like HIIT, bras such as Nike’s Motion Adapt and Reebok’s PureMove, which launched in 2018, use adaptive fabrics that lock when they sense motion to hold your breasts closer to your chest. Then, thanks to these innovative materials, they loosen up when you’re doing a Pilates hundred or hanging out in savasana.

“We now look at bras as not just equipment pieces, but something that really works with you,” says Barbara Ebersberger, Reebok’s VP of Performance Apparel. In the coming year, the brand will also expand its motion-adjustment tech for larger sizes to include 3XL E and F cups. Under Armour’s 2020 plans, meanwhile, involve a different kind of adaptability: Its designers are testing bras that accommodate the fluctuations in breast size that many people experience during the course of a month.

Perhaps the biggest buzzword you’ll see used to describe sports bras in the coming year is “distraction-free.” Breathable fabrics, chafe-resistant seams, and adjustable straps and bands all feature prominently in upcoming launches. And these comfortable styles are made to be worn in and out of the gym, just like we wear our leggings. “We are working on developing bras that are supportive and technical enough that they can be worn on a run during lunch but comfortable and beautiful enough you won’t want to take it off after,” says Morgan Goerke, Under Armour’s Vice President of Women’s Training. It’s the same story over at New Balance: product manager Mollie Barr notes that the brand’s bra designers are constantly asking themselves, “Is this product something we would want to wear all day?”

The answer, across the board, is a resounding “yes.” Even traditional lingerie brands are impressed with new guard of sports bras—many of them are developing styles that feel more like what you’d see on a soccer field than on the (now-defunct) Victoria’s Secret runway. “In terms of global intimates, the number one trend in my book is comfort, comfort, comfort,” says Jessica Pfister, vice-president of Le Mystere, acknowledging that many of the brand’s new styles draw inspiration from the sports bra silhouette. “It’s all about bras that can adapt for multiple uses, whether that’s home, work, or working out.” Good news for overstuffed gym bags everywhere.

But wait, there’s more! Click here to read the rest of our 2020 Wellness Trends predictions.

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