The Untold Truth Of Sports Bras

Any person with breasts will tell you just how important it is to wear the right bra for your body. Finding a bra with enough support and comfort and that you actually like wearing can be hard, but finding a sports bra with all of those features sometimes feels like an impossible task. Sports bras present their own set of problems, especially when it comes to being comfortable and functional at the same time. Still, sports bras themselves are quite the invention, and are pretty interesting and innovative when you think about it.

Sure, sports bras might not sound like something worthy of a second thought, but they're part of a huge industry and might just prove to be the very definition of girl power. Yes, the untold truth of sports bras is probably a lot more in-depth than you imagine, and it's all because women had to find a solution to a very universal problem. And, of course, they did.

The sports bra is a relatively new invention

For most women, sports bras are a necessity, even if you don't work out all that often. Just going on a long walk might require a sports bra, so it's somewhat shocking that sports bras are a relatively new invention.

As Vox reported, the concept of a bra in itself is nothing new. For instance, way back in the Victorian age, women wore corsets to keep their breasts in place; then in 1911, "sports corsets" became available with more comfortable material. Then, in the '20s, women in the United States started wearing actual bras instead of corsets. So naturally, it would make sense that the sports bra would take some more time to come about. 

While the concept of holding breasts in place is nothing new, the idea of holding them in place while exercising certainly was, as the sports bra wasn't even thought up until 1977, according to USA Today. Sports bras might be a staple in the fashion industry today, but it wasn't always like that.

The sports bra was invented because one woman hated getting sweaty

So, even though women have long been wearing contraptions to keep their breasts in place during everyday activities, there wasn't something dedicated to sports or workouts until the '70s. And while the invention of the sports bra took a while, the idea came about during one young girl's experience with exercise, specifically what she had to wear while working up a sweat.

In an interview with WBUR, one of the original inventors of the sports bra, Lisa Lindahl, explained that the idea of a sports bra first came about when she had to deal with getting sweaty, something she didn't love. "It began when I was a little girl who liked to avoid gym class," Lindahl said. "In the locker room, you had to change into bloomers and little tunics, and then you had to put your clothes back on." Basically, "you're all sweaty, and you had the same bra on." And that was an experience she just didn't appreciate at all.

The creator of the sports bra wanted to mitigate breast pain

If you have breasts and have ever tried to run without a sports bra or even any bra on, then you know just how painful it can be. Seriously, no matter how big or small your breasts are, they can really hurt if you don't have the right level of support.

According to Vox, a survey revealed that "between 40 and 60 percent of women report breast pain associated with physical activity." So naturally, something needed to be invented to prevent this discomfort while exercising, otherwise it would be super uncomfortable for women to work out. And for one of the creators of the sports bra, Lisa Lindahl, she needed something to help her keep doing what she loves. "Running for me became this joy," Lindahl told WBUR. "I was not really... friendly with my body so much until I started running. But there's one problem. My breasts were just uncomfortable." So, comfort and functionality were the name of the game.

The sports bra was inspired by this men's item

Because men's clothing for physical activity had already come quite a long way by the time sports bras were invented, the women behind sports bras actually used a men's item to construct the first one.

In an interview with WBUR, Lisa Lindahl said that a conversation with her sister in 1977 after she too had taken up running sparked the idea for what a sports bra could be made out of. After her sister called to say running was so uncomfortable, Lindahl responded, "And I laughed and said, 'Yeah, I know it really is. It's just a terrible problem.' She said, 'You know, why isn't there a jockstrap for women?' And we just laughed uproariously. We thought that was so funny." 

However, it turned out not to be all that hilarious. "When we hung up, I thought to myself, 'Hmm, that's not such a silly idea,'" Lindahl continued. In fact, as Vox reported, Lindahl ended up constructing the first sports bra from two jockstraps. Hey, at the time that was pretty inventive.

Sports bras weren't about looking cute

For just about anyone, fashion is a way to express yourself, and therefore most clothing items are meant to be aesthetically pleasing. But things like shoes, belts, and undergarments also have to serve a more utilitarian purpose. 

As for the sports bra, the original intent wasn't for it to be cute or sexy, but to give much-needed support for women exercising. "This was serious athletic equipment," Lisa Lindahl told WBUR of the first sports bra. "This was not about lift and separate. It wasn't about looking pretty. It was about function." Indeed, the sports bra needed to pull breasts close to the body so they wouldn't cause pain while running or playing any kind of sport. And according to Vox, when women have a lot of breast pain while playing sports or working out, it can cause them to just stop working out entirely, which isn't fair for women who enjoy sports or exercise. So really, the sports bra was important, and it didn't need to be pretty.

Sports bras are part of a huge industry

For something that hasn't been around all that long, historically speaking, sports bras sure are worth quite a lot of money. Obviously, they aren't all that expensive, relative to other clothing items; but still, you might be shocked to learn that sports bras are part of a multi-billion dollar industry. And, looking back, that makes perfect sense.

According to Forbes, when the original sports bra hit the market, it was called the Jogbra, and cost $16. After the Jogbra's first year on the market, it had raked in $500,000 in sales, which would be about $2 million today. Yes, the sports bra made literal millions in just one year, proving that women's athletic clothing is no joke. 

The sports bra might have been the first truly athletic article clothing for women, but it wouldn't be the last. With it's success, it helped turn the female athletic wear industry into a $25 billion business. So obviously, it's a big deal.

The sports bra industry is dominated by women

As shocking as it might be, women's clothing companies aren't always run or owned by women. More often than not, a brand or designer is headed by groups of men making all the decisions on what women should wear. But with the invention of the sports bra, that changed.

In addition to the fact that sports bras were literally invented and created by women, the clothing item itself is pretty female-empowered. One of the creators of the sports bras, Lisa Lindahl, told Forbes that the athletic apparel came about during a time of growing independence on her part. "I was trying to think about how am I going to be a woman alone and not be married and make a living," she recalled. "I was just solving my own problem, and I thought, well, my sister needed it and I bet other women did." At first, Lindahl thought the sports bra would just be a side business to support her going back to school, but obviously it turned into so much more than that.

If you aren't careful, sports bras can really hurt

Obviously, the entire point of the sports bra is to prevent too much bouncing — and therefore pain — during a workout or any kind of physical activity. Whether you're running, playing tennis, doing yoga, or lifting weights, having a supportive sports bra on is key to comfort. And as it turns out, it's also the key to not being in constant pain.

According to Vox, there's a lot to consider when making a sports bra. It can't be too tight, as that can make it hard to breathe. Additionally, a too-tight sports bra can mean the straps are digging into the skin in a painful manner. Most significantly, though, a sports bra that's too tight on the straps can cause their nerves in your brachial plexus to be damaged, which will not only hurt a lot, but could eventually cause you to go numb, an entirely different cause for concern. 

As important as it is to have a sports bra that holds your breasts up, it can't be too tight as that would seriously hurt. 

This is when you should replace your sports bra

Believe it or not, but sports bras don't actually last forever. As useful as they are, and as smart as their design might be, they still need to be replaced eventually. And unfortunately, that replacement usually needs to happen sooner rather than later. For the most part, a sports bra can't last longer than a year, at least not if you want it to maintain its integrity.

Audrey Kirkland, a sports bra brand manager with New Balance, told Health that there is an expiration date to sports bras."A sports bras should be replaced every 6 to 12 months," she explained. "How long your sports bra stays strong and comfortable depends on the total number of wearings." So, if it's been a year, it's probably time for a new sports bra. 

Additionally, Dr. LaJean Lawson, an exercise scientist who designs sports bras told Health, "You don't want a bra that's too old and ugly to motivate you to put it on and exercise." And honestly, that makes a lot of sense.

The sports bra was initially met with sexism

Sadly, because the sports bra was invented by women for women, there were some roadblocks along the way. Obviously, the sports bra was made from two jockstraps, but even when the creators of the clothing item went out to sell it, they were met with plenty of sexism, which they faced head-on. After all, women need to protect their breasts during exercise just as much as men need jockstraps, right?

Well, not all men realized that at first. When Lisa Lindahl first went out to find sporting equipment stores that would carry her Jogbra, there was some hesitation. "When I got the right person, he — it was always a he — and he would say, 'A bra? Why would I put a bra in my sporting goods store?'" Lindahl recalled in an interview with WBUR. But, Lindahl had the perfect response. "I would look at him and I'd say, 'You carry jockstraps, don't you?' " Honestly, she was right on point, and it worked. Before long, Jogbras were everywhere, and they were flying off the shelves.

Sports bras won't prevent sagging

There are plenty of myths and old wives tales out there when it comes to breasts. People say that certain exercises will makes your breasts larger, while others will make them smaller. Indeed, there's no shortage of false information regarding breasts out there, including the fact that sports bras can prevent your breasts from sagging. That's not true whatsoever, because if it were, every person with breasts would be lining up to get their hands on as many sports bras as possible.

Dr. Susan Love, an author of more than one book on breast health, told WebMD"Breasts sag for several reasons, including their shape and size, both of which are genetically determined." So really, a lot of times there's nothing you can do to prevent sagging breasts. However, "a good-fitting sports bra can help you feel more comfortable," Love added, and it can help support you during movement. But only your genetics, shape, and age can determine just how much your breasts sag.