40 Years Of Athletic Support: Happy Anniversary To The Sports Bra

Oct 1, 2017
Originally published on September 30, 2017 10:24 am

Title IX is often credited with getting more girls involved in sports, but there's another, more intimate milestone in the women-in-sports story that deserves some recognition: This year, the Jogbra turns 40.

In 1977, Hinda Miller had just started working at the University of Vermont and had taken up jogging. But she found she had a problem: What to do with her breasts? "I used two bras," she says. "You know, everyone has their stories of what they did."

Across campus, Lisa Lindahl was in the same predicament. She reached out to a friend — Polly Smith, who made costumes for the university's theater department, where Miller also worked — and the three of them got together to build a better bra.

"We bought some bras, tore them apart," Miller remembers. "I was taking notes; Lisa was running. 'Does that feel good? Does that feel good?' "

None of it felt good. See, breasts move — a lot. Up and down, side to side, even back to front. And they can be really heavy. Try as they might, the women couldn't figure out how to make a bra that could stop the painful bounce. At one point, Lindahl's then-husband came downstairs with two jockstraps slung over his chest. He was teasing them, but it led to an idea. Miller remembers thinking, "That's what we want to do — we want to pull everything close to the body."

She ran to the store, bought two jockstraps and brought them back to the costume shop. "The waist band became our rib band," Miller says. "We crossed the straps in the back because we didn't want them to fall, and it went over our head. And that was it."

They thought about calling their creation the Jockbra, but decided Jogbra was a better fit. The design caught on, and Miller and Lindahl made Jogbra into a national brand.

Two decades later, at the 1999 World Cup, the sports bra got its moment in the sun. U.S. women's national team star Brandi Chastain scored the winning penalty kick of the championship game. Then, filled with emotion, Chastain pulled off her shirt in celebration, revealing a simple black sports bra. Images of that moment were featured on the covers of Newsweek and Sports Illustrated, and on the front pages of countless newspapers.

These days, women have all kinds of options when it comes to their sports bras: There are sports bras as outerwear and sports bras that are glittery, patterned or have crisscrossing straps that peek out prettily when you're doing yoga. They're big business: Global sales topped $7 billion in 2014. But the foundational truth remains: The best sports bra is the kind that allows girls and women to move the way they want to move, without worrying about their anatomy.

Chastain says sports bras are more than clothing — they're an essential piece of equipment. "I couldn't play without my cleats, and I wouldn't and couldn't play without my sports bra."

The sports bra may be the unsung hero in the rise of women in sports, quietly claiming its place under a T-shirt. And it all comes back to two jockstraps sewn together in 1977.

Jane Lindholm (@JaneLindholm) hosts Vermont Public Radio's Vermont Edition.

Copyright 2017 Vermont Public Radio. To see more, visit Vermont Public Radio.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A certain section of federal law known as Title IX is often credited with getting more girls involved in sports. But there's another less-discussed, more intimate explanation - the sports bra. It turns 40 this year. Vermont Public Radio's Jane Lindholm has this look.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Twenty seconds...

JANE LINDHOLM, BYLINE: On a bright fall day, young women on the Middlebury College field hockey team run drills ahead of a big game. Their coach, Katharine DeLorenzo, pulls them in to explain why there's a reporter with a microphone at practice. And she admits something to them. There was no such thing as a sports bra when she was in college.

(CROSSTALK)

KATHARINE DELORENZO: I had friends who would use duct tape around their bra - yeah, yeah.

KELLY COYLE: I'm just honestly shocked it's only been around for 40 years. That sounds insane.

LINDHOLM: It might sound insane to college athletes like Kelly Coyle today, but it's true. The modern sports bra was invented in 1977 by an unlikely trio of women. Hinda Miller had just started working at the University of Vermont and had taken up jogging. But she found she had a problem - what to do with her breasts?

HINDA MILLER: I used two bras. You know, everyone has their stories of what they did.

LINDHOLM: Across campus, Lisa Lindahl was in the same predicament. She reached out to her friend who made costumes for the university theater department where Hinda Miller also worked. Miller says the three of them got together to build a better bra.

MILLER: We bought some bras, tore them apart. I was taking notes. Lisa was running. Does that feel good? Does that feel good?

LINDHOLM: None of it felt good. You see, breasts move a lot - up, down, side to side, even back to front. And they can be really heavy. Try as they might, these women could not figure out how to make a bra that could stop the painful bounce until Lindahl's then-husband, teasing them, came downstairs with two jockstraps slung over his chest.

MILLER: We acted on Jogbra. Oh, that's what we want to do. We want to pull everything close to the body.

LINDHOLM: Miller says she ran to the store and bought two jockstraps and took them back to the costume shop.

MILLER: The waistband became our rib band. We crossed the straps in the back because we didn't want them to fall. Then it went over our head, and that was it.

LINDHOLM: They thought about calling their creation the Jockbra but decided Jogbra was a better fit. Their design caught on, and Miller and Lindahl made Jogbra into a national brand. But it was 20 years later when the sports bra got its moment in the sun.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Chastain will take it.

LINDHOLM: In the 1999 soccer World Cup broadcast on ABC, U.S. national team star Brandi Chastain had the final shootout kick in overtime of the championship game.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Goal.

LINDHOLM: Filled with the emotion of the moment, Chastain pulled off her shirt in celebration, revealing her simple black sports bra. These days, sports bras are big business. Global sales topped $7 billion in 2014. There are sports bras as outerwear, sports bras that are glittery, patterned, have crisscrossing straps to peek out prettily during yoga.

But the foundational truth remains. The best sports bra is the kind that allows girls and women to move the way they want to move without worrying about their anatomy. Brandi Chastain points out sports bras aren't mere clothing. They're an essential piece of equipment.

BRANDI CHASTAIN: I couldn't play without my cleats, and I wouldn't and couldn't play without my sports bra.

LINDHOLM: The sports bra may be the unsung hero in the rise of women in sports, quietly claiming its place under a T-shirt. That original Jogbra from the '70s is in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian. It's immortalized in bronze at the University of Vermont. And it all comes back to two jockstraps sewn together in 1977. For NPR News, I'm Jane Lindholm. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.