The Athletic Brassiere

Among the most important advances in sports technology, few can compete with the invention of the sports bra. Following the passage of Title IX in 1972, women’s interest in athletics surged. But their breasts presented an obstacle.

The first sports bra was two jock straps stitched together by Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith

Bouncing breasts hurt, as women getting in on the jogging craze found out. Then some friends in Vermont had an idea to stitch a couple jock straps together to build a contraption to keep things in place.

Early sports bra patent: athletic brassiere (US 4174717 A)

Their creation revolutionized women’s participation in sports and launched what’s become a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Encapsulating wire-free sports bra (left) versus compression sports bra (right)

Today, high-tech labs are helping designers make ever more effective—and stylish—iterations, even for athletes with DDD cups.

Outside contributing editor Florence Williams, author of Breasts, looks back at the game-changing invention, takes measure of just how far we’ve come, and points towards an even brighter, bounce-free future.

This featured story was produced by Phoebe Flanigan and edited by Peter Frick-Wright, with music by Robbie Carver and Dennis Funk. XX Factor: How the Sports Bra Changed History was originally aired on the Outside podcast, a production of Outside Magazine and PRX.

  1. Christi

    Hey 99pi, women’s bra are sized way past the scary-sounding DDD cups. I wear a 34N sports bra during my half marathons. It’s a marvel of engineering.

  2. Leanne Bains

    I am a 40F and I was sad to see Champion does not have my size. I was probably a DDD in high school. I am overweight, but not obese. I would like to see bigger companies make quality stuff larger than a DDD. So far, my best find is the LIVI brand with Lane Bryant.

    1. Anne

      Hi Leanne! I wear a 34G in a normal bra and also struggle finding quality sports bras in my size. My best finds have been the Brooks/Moving Comfort Juno and Maia sports bras. I don’t know how they compare price wise to Lane Bryant, but they’ve been a godsend for me since I started distance running.

  3. Eliza Barry

    The way this episode depicts breast sizes is simply not accurate. Bra sizes are on a matrix, which means the band size matters! A 28 DDD is not the same as a 40 DDD. Calling something a DDD without a band measurement is totally meaningless. Further, many women on a higher or lower end of the matrix are wearing the wrong size anyway because those sizes are not readily available in stores and many associates at the traditional bra stores (Victoria’s Secret, Soma, etc) just tell women to size up the band to get a bigger cup and the band does not fit or support the breast tissue. I seriously doubt the woman mentioned who is a “DDD blonde” is actually in the correct size. I also doubt the producer who was saying she is a B really is a B cup without some kinds of band measurement or body description.
    I’m really disappointing in this episode that it was so poorly researched, but as mentioned in the episode people with larger chests (and women in general) are pretty discriminated against anyway so it doesn’t really surprise me, I just thought 99 PI could do/would try to do better than this.

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