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Nonexistent to Necessity: The History of Women in Sports... Bras

Nonexistent to Necessity: The History of Women in Sports... Bras

Can you imagine a world where a sports bra didn’t exist?

Or for that matter can you picture a time when women were considered too fragile to take part in sports? Once upon a time activities such as long walks were considered detrimental to our health and far too much of a challenge to our delicate constitutions.

Thankfully, these oppressive stereotypes have been shattered and we’ve proven that we can compete with just as much ferocity and determination as our male counterparts. However, our bodies didn’t always get the support they needed to perform with ease.

Check out the relatively short timeline for the history of the sports bra compared to the amazing history of women in sports which significantly predates the invention of the sports bra, those poor women!

History of the Sports Bra

    • 1975 – Glamorise Foundations Inc. created the “Free Swing Tennis Bra” similar in design to a conventional bra.
    • 1977 – Three women, Lisa Lindahl, Polly Smith, and Hinda Schreiber, sew together two jockstraps and design the “jockbra,” later renamed the “jogbra,” in an effort to eliminate chafing and soreness while exercising. Their design would start a template for other companies to build from in the future.
    • 1990 – Playtex purchased the Jogbra from the above designers. On-body studies were performed during exercise, contributing to research and development to modify and enhance the original design for better support and comfort.
    • 1994 – “Sporty Spice,” of the Spice Girls, Melanie Jayne Chisholm, regularly rocked a sports bra, along with other influential celebrities, mainstreaming the use of a sports bra as a stand-alone top or as a fashionable layer. Sport and fashion companies reflect this trend by offering variations in styles, current colors and flattering designs.
    • 2000 – As the sports bra fashion trend has receded, a return of focus is made to athletic comfort. Enell Incorporated was founded by a fuller breasted woman who needed more support and created a design that was later endorsed by Oprah. The encapsulating sports bra is designed to support a larger chest during movement with molded bra cups, thicker straps and a wider band.
    • 2009 – Advances in sportswear fabric technology reflect the needs of modern athletes. Lycra® Sport fabric is modernized with an athlete’s comfort, support and performance at the forefront. In a compression sports bra design, this fabric’s stretch capability allows for a personalized supportive fit, while the technical fabric wicks moisture from the skin.
    • 2011 – Some of the first studies are performed on sports bras by the University or Portsmouth. The test included different types of sports bras during motion and physical activity and with the widest range of breast sizes ever studied. The findings suggested that whether the design is compression or encapsulation, the sports bra needs of the female athlete are varied individually, based on both the body type of the athlete, as well as the specific sport it will be used for.
    • 2014 – With the athleisure fashion trend in full swing and women often wearing sportswear clothing for various activities, not only working out, activewear can be found in a range of styles with differing levels of support. As women seek out sports bras that fit their personal style, these fashion attributes may also be combined with a high-performance design.
    • 2015 – SportPort™ releases a patented innovative sports bra design, called the Apex Sports Bra, that not only includes a cell phone pocket but also shields the athlete’s body with an effective EMF protective barrier. With the concerns of cell phone EMF having the potential to contribute to the development of breast cancer, SportPort’s health-conscious founder, Kim Highfield, saw a need to offer a protective garment design that offered safe storage, while still meeting high-performance athletic clothing standards.
    • 2016 – Using their patented sports bra and pocket design, SportPort™ releases the Blurry Bouquet Tank Top w/ Built-In Sports Bra, advancing the principles of a sports bra athletic top in a streamlined compression design. 
    • Today –  Many companies design sports bras now, but the range in quality and function still varies significantly. For high-performance sportswear companies, the design focus may include specific attributes that enhance an athlete’s comfort and experience. With the use of high-tech fabrics, like premium compression knits, a sports bra can be moisture-wicking, UPF-50, air-circulating, anti-chafe and anti-odor, while still providing high-impact support. SportPort™ relies on a team of specialty bra designers to ensure their sports bra stay current with fabric innovations and fitness fashion styles, while still providing the specific performance functions that athletes need.

Healthy, active and athletic women are seen everywhere now, from the girl running in your neighborhood each morning to the women taking home the gold medals of the Olympics. Exercise has become an essential part of many women’s busy schedules, but it has taken a long road to get us here. Take a look at all the impressive accomplishments women were able to perform before and after they had access to supportive activewear.

Brief History of Women in Sports

  • 1800’s – Women started taking part publicly in sports and physical activities without even a concept of a sports bra to support their endeavors. Catharine Beecher publishes the first exercise manual inclusive for girls in 1856 and shares her opinion that corsets are restrictive and unhealthy for women.
  • 1900’s – In 1900, three sports are offered in the Paris Olympics for women to compete in: golf, tennis and croquet. However, women’s divisions do not yet exist in many sports, so women compete against men (and win at times) leading to the creation of women’s divisions. In 1902, Madge Syers enters the men’s division World Figure Skating Championship and places second, spurring the creation of a ladies’ division championship. In 1908, Syers would win the first women’s Olympic gold medal.
  • Mid-1900’s – With the creation of women’s teams and competitions, women begin to be nationally recognized as athletes which leads to huge strides in the advancement of women’s rights to compete, however, women are still met with obstacles. In 1966, Roberta Gibb becomes the first woman to run and finish the Boston Marathon, but her completion is off the record because women still weren’t officially allowed to enter.
  • Late 1900’s – In 1972, six years after Gibb ran the Boston Marathon unofficially, the Boston Athletic Association updated their entrant rules and women were allowed to officially compete in the Boston Marathon. Between 1984 and 1996, in the division of Track & Field, Jackie Joyner-Kersee competed in four different Olympic Games, earning a total of six medals and recognition as an exemplary athlete in the long jump and heptathlon. While marathon runner, Joan Benoit Samuelson, won gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, the year that the women’s marathon was first introduced.
  • 2000 to Today – In 2002, Serena Williams is ranked No. 1 for the first of eight times in the singles division of women’s professional tennis by the Women’s Tennis Association, with the latest ranking held in 2017. As of 2016, Lindsey Vonn, a U.S. World Cup ski racer, had already won 77 World Cup Races, as well as a 2010 Olympic gold medal, becoming the first American woman to accomplish this in downhill skiing.

Women’s athleticism is showcased daily with women’s competitions receiving national and even worldwide support at times. Unfortunately, inequality issues remain, as far as press coverage, wages and prejudices. It took until 2007 for the Wimbledon tennis tournaments to award female competitors equal prize money to that of men. Despite some of the remaining disparities, many women feel comfortable to pursue any sport they choose, even the typically male dominated ones like mixed martial arts and fencing.

Women’s individual saber fencing didn’t make its Olympic debut until 2004 when American fencer, Mariel Zagunis, became the first women to take home the gold medal in this normally male-dominated sport. And mixed martial arts female competitor, Ronda Rousey has become a champion for empowering women, embodying fierceness and determination in her sport, and is the first ever UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion.

With all the advancements of women in sports it took a dismally long time for someone to come up with an answer to the athletic woman’s physical needs. When you shop for your next sports bra take a second and appreciate how lucky you are to have access to such high quality sports gear and put your own functional needs first in appreciation of all those unsupported women of the past.

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