The New Frontier of Intimate Apparel: Revisiting The Sports Bra as a Standalone Category
by Andrew Sia

This year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the sports bra, first invented in 1977. This is definitely the golden age of the sports bra and it has been two years since we first featured this garment in our journal. I was producing sports bras a long time ago and have forgotten when we first started production. At one time, a sports bra was something good to have but definitely not a must to carry in one’s clothing line. Whether a name brand or store-brand, you would find them at random.

Picture from Sweaty Betty

But the world was very different then. People were not so health conscious. A visit to the gym for a workout was only part of the life of the elites. People changed into sportswear before exercising and would then change back into street attire afterwards. In those days the dress code was very important.

Back then, the choice in sports bras was very limited and available sizes were also quite limited. The bra was meant to flatten the breasts and stop them from moving during a workout. I can’t recall if there were cup sizes. Most likely they went by band size and we labelled them small, medium and large. Perhaps we were only serving a small group of customers and we didn’t need to make more sizes to cover a wider demographic.

Although the construction was relatively intricate, I would say the limited styles were uninspired and the fabric selection unflattering. The bra came in basic underwear colors, mostly white.

In the past twenty years, average bra sizes have jumped, from 34B to 34DD, a difference of four sizes. This information comes from an industry survey and I’m not going to argue with it, although I would want to say that the band size may have increased by one size as well, to 36. If you look at a typical order today, the size range is moving up, both the cup sizes and the band sizes.

Weight gain, breast implants, eating habits and lifestyle choices are all basic reasons for this trend. There are more players throughout the supply chain, from manufacturing to retailing, and the emphasis on customer education to customer service and a larger selection of product categories have all helped expand this industry. Today we have a market that is more demanding than ever.

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), athletic participation rates continue to rise. The number of teams competing in NCAA sponsored sports reached an all-time high of 19,086, a 6-fold increase over a 20-year period.

According to Cotton Incorporated Sports Apparel and Lifestyle MonitorTM, walking is by far the most popular fitness activity for women, with the other activities listed below:

• Walking – 80%
• Cardio training – 47%
• Aerobics – 41%
• Running – 37%
• Dancing – 34%
• Yoga – 33%

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