Sarah and Dimity have a candid conversation with LaJean Lawson, the country’s foremost expert on sports bras and breast movement as part of AMR’s debut Sports Bra Week. The gals talk about “the girls” and more, answering questions from the AMR Facebook page. The convo covers:
--why there’s no piece of apparel more difficult to design than a sports bra
--why sports bras cost so.dang.much
--care advice and laundering tips for sports bras
--insight into numerous love-hate relationships, including bra “cookies,” underwires, and racerback bras
--apt analogies to a small pick-up truck—and a “bacteria buffet” in Vegas
--more slang than Urban Dictionary!
In the intro, Sarah and Dimity talk about the new member of Dim’s family (!!), Sarah’s dancing son, and Dimity’s drumming son. The bra expert joins the conversation at 23:17.
Feel the oo! To peruse all styles and colors of OOFOS shoes and sandals, go to oofos.com
Laugh and learn with #motherrunner Lindsey Hein and guests on her running-related podcast, I’ll Have Another
Make over your beauty routine with Wander Beauty! Save 20% at wanderbeauty.com/amr
Here is the transcription for this episode:
Sarah: Welcome, LaJean. So pleased you could join us again and be such an integral part of our Sports Bra Week, our first ever Sports Bra Week. So just feel very fortunate to have you based here in Portland and here in the studio, so welcome, LaJean.
LaJean: Thank you, I'm very honored to be here. You bet.
Dimity: We love having you, LaJean. You're just a wealth of information and fun to talk to you as well, so that's super cool. Before we get into anything though, tell us about your background. How did you become Dr. Sports Bra?
LaJean: You know, I went through an experience that many of our listeners have gone through, which is running a marathon and at the end of it having bleeding abrasions on my shoulders and on my rib cage. This was back in the '70s before really the invention of the first modern sports bra, the Jogbra in 1977. I'm a problem solver and curious, and I started altering my own bras. I became very determined that I would become part of the solution, that it would become possible to run a marathon with much less pain and discomfort.
LaJean: So that was the stimulus. I actually followed it up not only as a runner, but in pursuing my master's degree. I had two failed thesis topics. One, somebody died. It was all very providential because I ended up studying sports bras. I did one of the very first foundational scientific studies on sports bras at Utah State University in 1984. That research, I will say still gets cited almost on a weekly basis. I woke up this morning, on ResearchGate was a notice that that original 1984 research had been cited by a research group in France.
Dimity: Wow! That's crazy. What was the name of your research or your thesis?
LaJean: Oh, man. It's a very long title. Something like, Eight Selected Sports Bras Biomechanical Characteristics. I actually used cameras I rented from Hollywood 16mm Reverse black and white film. Then also perceived comfort and support. I had 60 women in Utah, I can't believe that I was allowed to do this, that ran on the treadmill with only little, round stickies on their nipples in the nude condition as well as in eight different sports bras. But it was very comprehensive and has stood up over time. That study got the attention of, at that time, Jogbra which was the first modern sports bra post-3rd century A.D. And I began to work for them as a consultant in 1987. Did a very large study in a biomechanics lab at Oregon State University that established the motion control rating system. If you dial in your size, these are the bras that are going to work for you. Because it is very different for all sizes of women.
LaJean: Later I did my PhD dissertation at Oregon State on protective sports bras for contact sports. So starting in 1987 I've been continuously consulting for Champion Athletic Wear on sports bras, all aspects of that business. In 2014 here in Portland, moved my research from Oregon State University to a free-standing Champion Bra Lab, which is the only full-time 100% sports bra state-of-the-art research lab anywhere on the planet. And we do really interesting work there.
Sarah: Wow. Wow. So, talk to us a bit about the research that you do there and kind of how you conduct it, because I've had the pleasure and honor of being there. I got to go to your Oregon State lab for Self Magazine a million years ago.
Sarah: So, kind of, take people in there who haven't had that experience.
LaJean: Yeah. For me, the Champion Bra Lab is all about better product, really understanding what women need. So there's several types of research I do. One is the state-of-the-art biomechanical data acquisition system. I use optical electronic cameras, reflective markers on the body and bras. Those of you who are familiar with how animation, 3D movies are made, it's the very same technology and that information gets fed through cables from the cameras to my computer. I have software that breaks it down and I can literally within a few seconds be able to tell what the support level is of that bra. That means, how is the breast moving, specifically the nipple moving, relative to the rest of your body. So that's part of the research. I also do perceptual research you get off the treadmill. I want to know what was your perception of support.
LaJean: There's five really critical factors. One is support, one is comfort, anything uncomfortable? One is fit, how does it fit your body? One is style, anywhere from "I wouldn't be caught dead in it" up to "I absolutely love it". And then also modesty, which is something I started studying a few years ago for one woman that might be, "Do my nipples show or not?" Some women, many women care deeply about that. Others don't give a fig. And then it also might be cleavage. Anything that draws attention you don't want would make that bra immodest.
LaJean: I also have wear testers that test early prototypes of the Champion brand that come in from China, often very first prototype. Check for fit, once a Champion bra is approved in the base size, then it gets what we call graded to larger and smaller bodies, and then I again test it on a wide range of bodies and use that information to direct design and development of Champion. I also, you know, being curious, test every brand in the lab to satisfy my own curiosity and to really learn about what makes a better sports bra, what sort of technology works. So online I'll see a photo of a bra. It's like, "Oh, that's really interesting. I wonder if that does what it says, etc." So always something going on in the Champion Bra Lab.
Dimity: Yeah. Well, one thing, and we're going to dive into a whole bunch of questions from the AMR crowd, but one thing that I heard the other day which I thought was interesting was that comfort matters so much which, obviously, is like, "Duh," a no-brainer. But more that's maybe the support, like maybe if I had a D chest and I felt supported, but the research showed that maybe I was moving more than optimal, but I still felt good, that that would still be a good bra for me. Do you run into that at all?
LaJean: You know, I absolutely believe that perception is super important, and I see this. I'll see a woman in a lab and she's moving all over the place, and the biomechanical data shows that, but she felt okay in it. And I think one of the things that in the past three years working with plus-size bodies, which have a different consistency, you know, whether between... we have bone, we have muscle and then we have some fat and we have our skin. And say, if you're a plus gal kicking it out there and you have three or four inches of fat between your muscle and your skin, the bra's going to behave differently.
LaJean: When I started finding really plucky, brave, plus-women to come into my lab and run on my treadmill without a shirt over their bra, which is just so amazing, I love my plus-testers, they would be flying all over the place. I'd watch and I'd say, "How is this? How is this bra for you?" "Oh, it felt good. I didn't feel like I was moving." Eventually I queried a lot and I observed, and if you are more full-bodied, you're kind of used to body parts moving around a lot and your perception of whether or not your breasts are moving relative to the rest of your body, I think there's a shift there. I've seen that pretty consistently. Now, the research article from France that I just popped up this morning and I just took a quick look at just before I came to the studio, one of their findings, and I know this to be true, is the larger your breasts are, the more support becomes an element of comfort.
LaJean: And there's those five factors I mentioned of support, comfort, fit, style and modesty, and they're all very intertwined. It's like, you know, pulling levers on a mixer when you're doing an audio tape or something. You try to find the optimal blend of those five factors.
Dimity: Yeah, that makes sense.
LaJean: It can get too supportive.
Dimity: Yeah, exactly. I feel like, again, the support... I mean, I think that that's, especially for women who have smaller chests, I think that we fix it. Like, "Oh, you need to be supported," but that's not necessarily... I mean, that's definitely a key ingredient in the mix, but I love that there's five different ingredients, because I-
Dimity: That just kind of struck me.
LaJean: Right. And, you know, we can make a bra out of cast iron and you wouldn't move, but you'd be really uncomfortable. I like to use that-
Dimity: This is true. This is true.
LaJean: ... that example. And if the fit isn't right, the bra may be moving around and it starts to chafe or maybe it's too small so it feels too tight. You know, we can go on and on about that. I have said many times and I'll repeat it here, there's no piece of apparel more difficult to design well than a sports bra. It really is industrial design because of all of the forces where the breasts are located on the body. There are many constraints there. We're sweating, that increases friction. It's the first layer. We can't... well, actually, we can put a sock under our bra, and I might talk about that later, to prevent chafing, but with the running shoe you can experiment with different socks. I love my double-layer right socks. You know, anti-blister. But with the sports bra... then there's the factor that as women, our bras in general are our most personal piece of equipment. And so how we look in it and if we're protected or not protected, nipples showing or not, you know, end of day we still want it to look cute. And I don't apologize for that.
Dimity: No, and no one should have to, right? I mean, because bras are essentially lingerie, right?
Dimity: You want to feel good on that first layer of what's next to your skin, for sure.
LaJean: Right. Right.
Dimity: Okay. So, let's dive into a couple of questions. The first one comes from Tanya and she wanted to know, what are the keys to a good fit with a sports bra?
LaJean: Yeah, fit. You know, in an interview recently it's like, you know, "What does really interest you and keeps you going? Because you've been doing this almost 40 years." And it really is fit. Because I think that is extremely difficult part of that as our bodies are so different. If you think about, you know, a nice big juicy pear out of the kitchen, cut it vertically, you're going to have a shape and a volume that has volume on one end than the other. So I can take that shape, imagine it's a breast volume, and I can hold it up to my chest. The fuller part can be toward the outside. It could be down. It could be toward the inside. Probably not up because of gravity, but then that same mass of breast can be higher on the chest, lower, more toward the middle, more toward the outside, because again, it's just wonderful, the diversity of bodies. Even two women who are, say, 36C or 36D or any size may not fit the same bra.
LaJean: Now if you're a manufacturer, you know, even I know there are companies now saying, "We make 300 sizes," etc., but for the most part to make a bra affordable a manufacturer has to commit to a certain way of fitting the body and to go with that. So fit is just super challenging. I think one of the biggest issues is a lot of us don't really know what our size is. Sometimes we're afraid to know what our size is. And if you go into a running shop, even if the staff says, "I'll measure you," a lot of us don't want to pull up our shirt.
Dimity: Well, you know it, so let's just take a quick sidebar, because my daughter, who is 15, plays volleyball. So she's jumping a ton and has a chest that needs to be measured. Like, she's never been measured, right? And I took her to... I mean, I'll just say, I took her to Athleta and I took her to Lululemon, and nobody knew how to measure.
Dimity: She's 15, so she's already, like, horrifically embarrassed about the fact that I'm like, marching around being like, "Can you measure my daughter?" You know, she didn't want that at all, but I was just like, "Well, what am I supposed to do?" I mean, I know Nordstrom does it and Victoria's Secret, but I feel like that should just be part of your training, especially if you work at a women's sporting goods store. Like, that's my PSA. [inaudible 00:12:40] lemon, sorry.
LaJean: Well, you know, and that is super interesting. Some years back I was at an expo for Champion where the people coming where, like, specialty running retailers, focused on that. So I was doing these little clinics. You know, how to build your business. And one of my recommendations, you know, give this service. Offer free measurements. Measure up ladies. And wow, I had retailers rise up and say, "Women in our shop, they don't want to be touched. They don't want their bodies to be seen." They'll have you bring out 25 pairs of running shoes until they want the perfect one, but with bras, you know, it's just much more intimate.
Dimity: It is. It is for sure and, I mean, I knew it, yeah, so I get that, but I also feel like, how are you ever going to get the right thing if you don't even know what the basics are that you're dealing with, right?
LaJean: Right. And I would be a big fan of seeing some of this come into school health classes and PE classes and have it be fun, have it be, you know-
Sarah: That's a great idea.
LaJean: ... become not a big deal. I think for now, finding directions on how to measure up online, various online retailers like, you know, HerRoom, I know Champion has online instructions, most athletics brands do, if you have a cloth tape, you can do the measurements. But even that, I'll give a caveat on that, one time, one morning being bored and because of how my twisted mind works, I decided to take my measurements, go online and feed them into bra size finders. I probably did six or seven different brands and websites, and wow. I was everything from like, I don't know, a 38A... I'm actually a 36B, to like a 32DD, and I'm like, "No." I've never been a 32-anything since I was about nine years old.
LaJean: So that can be tricky too, getting that band and that cup size correct. I think the other thing is, is that we tend to be in denial about how our bodies change. We have babies, we gain weight, we lose weight, we do various things and even the consistency of our breasts change, how they are sitting there on the breast wall. So I say, my advice is always, find anywhere who'll measure you for free. I think if you have a daughter, try to get... I don't know, I can probably look at her and tell what her size is pretty accurately even if she has a jacket on.
Sarah: Sure, sure.
LaJean: But then, get her in a dressing room with different styles and different sizes. I always say to women... some women are just like, "No, I'm not a D-cup, I refuse to be a D-cup." And I'm like, "Try it on. Find what fits." Cut out the darn size label and no one is going to see the size label.
Dimity: Yeah, cut off the tag. Yeah. Exactly.
LaJean: Just find what you really feel good in and that you look and feel-
Sarah: And what fits you now.
LaJean: Yes, yes.
Sarah: I mean, we get this with our T-shirts and our tank tops at race expos, so for something as important as a bra, don't be like, "Oh, well, I'm still... I just had a baby six months ago, so I want to drop a little bit," or whatever. You know, you need that bra to work that next run.
LaJean: You bet.
LaJean: Yeah. And I think as moms especially, when I was under the hormones of breastfeeding, a new mom, it was all about the baby. You know, I was not looking out for what I needed to be doing that would really preserve my health and how I look, how I feel. Yeah.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So, we had a question from Sharon and others on our Facebook page, "Why are good running bras so expensive?"
LaJean: You know, in general you kind of get what you pay for in terms of materials. Not every spandex is the same. Not every fabric is the same. You know when you do laundry and you see fibers that accumulate in the lint trap in your dryer? You know, every laundry cycle is going to pull out fibers. So the quality of the yarns, the quality of the dye that's used, the various components, whether those back hooks are going to poke into you or if they're going to have a really nice, chill cushioned back. All of that comes down to economics, and so generally to get the kind of durability that you would want and the kind of performance you would want, then you have to go up a little bit.
LaJean: Depends on the brand too. If you're a small, kind of a niche brand that caters maybe to women with larger breasts etc., and the numbers of bras you have manufactured are not really high, then you're not getting the economies of, you know, manufacturing very large volumes. So there's a little bit of that in there. Sometimes you're also paying for the brand. There's brands that do a lot of advertising, a lot of sponsoring of athletes that may not be relevant to runners. And so there are the marketing costs as well.
LaJean: So there are a number of factors. I know for a lot of years we've had Champion brands, and we've had C9 by Champion at Target which is at our lower price point, and, you know, the C9 business is pretty big. So we do get some economies of scale, but generally if I could pick up a less expensive C9 bra and a Champion bra and be able to point out differences in the D-rings, in the hooks, in the stitching... if you have more money to work with, you're able to do more things.
LaJean: And I think the durability factor is really important, how quick is that elastic going to go out on you, how quickly is that bra going to fade or get gray if it's white. So that is part of it and I think that the more you are a typical size such as small in the band and larger in the cup... then again, I know at Champion and at larger companies it's like, "Well, we sold three of that style in that kind of size at the fringes last year and there's a lot of cost in bringing in an additional size." So, you know, just like our budgets, our family budgets, there is an eye to that.
Dimity: Sure, sure. I mean, so that's interesting. You know, that's a nice kind of setup with Champion and the C9 brand, because, obviously, like you said there's differences between the two. I mean, at what point, like, can you "get away", and I put that in quotation marks because I know the C9 will work, right, for many people, but what are you giving up?
Dimity: Like you said, are you giving up durability? Like, does the elastic go under? You know, does it last significantly shorter? Is there a certain time span that we should be aware of, like in Old Navy bra? Things like that. Kind of talk about if I do decide, "Okay, you know what? I only have $25 to spend on a bra, I need a new one, I'm going to go get one of these." Like, what should I be aware of so that I'm not compromising, you know, my breast tissue?
LaJean: Well, I think you touched on something really important. In terms of durability, you know, the first Jogbra, one thing that made it very distinctive that it used compression and spandex fabrics to hug you close instead of two separate cups. So our compression bras and how long they last and how strong the support is really depend heavily on the percent of Lycra, the quality of Lycra and then, and I think we'll touch on this later too, you know, how we take care of them. But I think that, you know, one of the things I would look at, again, is the percent of Lycra that is in that bra. I think that there are some brands, particularly if you are smaller-breasted and can, quote, "get away" with the compression bra, where you can scale down.
LaJean: I also would recommend, you know, shop around. You can find the same bra at different prices. If there's a brand you like, make sure that you're getting their notices. They have a one-day sale, 35% off, 40%, free shipping. Obviously, because I'm with Champion, I like to see what they're sending out, and so I know when things are 40%. So you do really have to shop around.
LaJean: I also believe that the sports bra's such an important piece of gear, and I think sometimes we think of it as a bra as opposed to a really essential piece of equipment. It's one of the few things out there that it wasn't a piece of men's equipment first and then they made it in pink and finally made it actually fit us and meet our requirements, but, you know, there's been a lot of trailblazing because we didn't have the history of men's product to lean on. But I really like to think of it as a piece of really essential gear that, you know, is worthwhile. I think if you find something that really works, it is possible to sustain a long life for it.
Dimity: Sure. Well, and the other thing with the sales, the other thing that I thought of when you were saying that was, you know, just last year's styles, right, at like a Sierra Trading Post, that kind of thing. And when, you know, shoes, they just change the color and not necessarily the design. So if you're okay wearing a maroon sports bra under your black shirt that, you know, didn't sell, like, it's all good, right? So, yeah.
LaJean: I don't think I can do that. It's not one of my school colors.
Dimity: Oh, okay. That [inaudible 00:22:10]. Yeah, but you know what I'm saying?
LaJean: I do.
Dimity: There's definitely ways to kind of get around that. So, try and find them on a budget is a good idea.
Sarah: Yeah, yeah. And we've touched on the replacement issue, so Brooke, on our Facebook page, she says she's skeptical that needing to replace a bra every year is just a marketing scheme. So she says, "Convince me it's not."
LaJean: Yeah. It's like, when is it actually essential to put your sports bra out of its misery, because they will be-
Sarah: Yes, and out of your misery that it's causing you.
LaJean: Yes. Well, you know, I'm the sports bra, quote, "expert" and-
Sarah: Ain't no quotes around that. [crosstalk 00:22:46]
LaJean: Ain't no quotes around... okay, thank you, Sarah. With literally, you know, 100 or more sports bras in my... well, it's no longer "a" drawer.
Sarah: I was about to say, that'd be a really big drawer.
LaJean: Well, I just downsized from 2,000 square feet to 500, but then, you know, I have the ones professionally I can keep in my lab which I have many of. I recently took over a 100 to a thrift shop. So I have these old favorites that have these spandex whiskers sticking out and my friends are like, "Wait, you can wear-"
Sarah: Spandex whiskers.
LaJean: "... anything you want. You have all this stuff you bring in to test, any brand, any whatever." But, you know, I do get stuck on my old favorites that have really worked for me. I've also found over the years, however, that there are issues with your sports bra wearing out, particularly if it's a compression with a lot of spandex. And either just through wear and tear or laundering or whatever, fibers won't last forever.
LaJean: Two things can happen. If it's a compression bra that you depend on to snug you close and it stops snugging, you're going to lose your support. You may have maybe an encapsulation with two separate cups kind of a bra and maybe there's some stretch in the stretchy part of the strap. That elastic goes out, you start cinching the bra up tighter and tighter to where the strap becomes fully rigid and it can cut into your shoulders. I've also had situations where women have said, "You know, I've been wearing this bra and it's just been great. I've worn it for three years, I've never gotten chafed. I ran a 10k and I came back really chafed." What can happen with the little fine synthetic fibers and elastic over time, wear and tear will kind of pull those little fibers out away from the elastic and then they twist down into little balls.
Sarah: Yep, little nubbins.
LaJean: Little nubbins. It becomes sandpaper. So if a woman says, "A bra that used to not chafe me is chafing me," it's like, you know, got to get rid of that bra. Because you have to get out practically the microscope to see them, but there are things that will degrade.
Sarah: But you feel them.
LaJean: Absolutely do feel them. It's such a great question because, you know, I'm like the gal who asked the question. I don't want to be duped either into something I don't need. And it does, as we've discussed already, the quality you start out with... well, this is really confession time. This weekend I was wearing a bra that was a sample that I got one time when I was back in Vermont and it was Champion Jogbra that I love. And I've had it stashed away, but I've been wearing it. It's from the 1993. [crosstalk 00:25:24]
Sarah: Oh, gosh.
LaJean: But I love it. I mean, it's still in good shape. And, you know, it's very quality. But again, you know, it was good quality. I think other than, "How long should I keep it?" and, "How many months or years?" I see those recommendations, but it's, how many wearings. If you have just one bra, you're wearing it three or four times a week, washing it a lot, even if it's not in the dryer that bra is not going to stay with you as long as if you have three or four and you rotate them.
LaJean: I mean, the other thing I will mention now to make a bra last longer is not putting it in the dryer. If you only have one and you're washing it and keeping the sweat out, then you might have to put that bra on as cold and clammy and you nip out, and it's just not a good experience. So, you know, make sure you have enough bras that you can rotate them around. And then, you know, mentioning again for longevity, no bleach in the washing. No dryer heat, and that's primarily because of the effect on spandex, the Lycra spandex or just any spandex. It's very susceptible to chemicals. Do you need to hand wash your bras? I don't.
Sarah: Good, good.
LaJean: But it sort of depends on your washing machine.
Dimity: You also have an endless supply. But yes, I agree.
Dimity: Hand washing bras is a little much.
LaJean: Well, if you have a washer that, you know, even eats your bath towels, you might want to get a mesh lingerie bag and put it in there.
LaJean: I don't have the patience for that, or the time for the hand washing. But I always do hang them up to dry, and that will preserve the fibers as well as possible. As far as a general recommendation, I would say that if you wear and wash a single sports bra three or four times a week, you may need to replace it in six to twelve months depending on how you've cared for it. That would not be unreasonable.
Sarah: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And what do you think about needing to wash it after every wear?
LaJean: That can be a little bit individual, but I know, again, I've had washing machines that have a lint filter and dryers with the lint filter, and there is this net loss of fiber volume in addition to anything the heat or chemicals could do. I'm more on the side of, hang it out where it can air out. Yeah. And if you're well hydrated and even if you're a good sweater, as long as bacteria can't grow in it, don't stuff it down in the clothes hamper where it's dark and dank, which is, bacteria is like, "Oh, my. This is a buffet."
LaJean: "We're in Vegas." So if we don't do that... I'm also a cyclist and my cycling gear, when I get back from a ride, it gets hung up. Yeah. I think things last a lot longer that way, assuming that you're controlling the bacterial growth.
Sarah: Mm-hmm (affirmative). You know, when I lived in San Francisco, I had a clothes line right outside. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment and I had a little deck. So I had a clothes line. Then I was a big-time rower and so I would hang my rowing stuff out there and I definitely... oh, I guess I did have a washing machine, but I don't know why I didn't... I let a lot of my stuff air-dry.
Sarah: And it getting exposed to sun, I mean, can that help kill the bacteria in it?
LaJean: It can, and I can't say with any certainty if the ultraviolet affects the fibers generally, I think it should not, but absolutely, that should help with the bacteria.
Sarah: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dimity: So Katie comments that she's a big-chested high-bouncy-step girl, and she wants some options for the bigger girls so she doesn't have to double up any longer. That, you know, one sports bra over the other is a total pain in the ass, right?
LaJean: Boy, it sure can be. And, you know, that large-breasted bouncy-step girl, I've had those through the Champion Bra Lab, so I could visualize that. And also understand that when you have that running style, fewer, higher steps is a little higher impact when your foot goes down. So I can really resonate with her. She's not alone, and I do hear from lots of women who use a multi-bra strategy to customize the fit and function. There's a lab in Australia that's had some great sports bar research at a university there, and they have a great website for finding a bra. But they're pretty adamant after all of their research, if you're a D or above your best strategy is wearing two sports bras.
Sarah: I remember you said that last time you were on.
Sarah: You know, that we shouldn't just cast dispersion on that option.
LaJean: Well and, you know, when I first started in research, I used to say, "Yeah, no woman should have to wear two sports bras." But here, in a moment of great seriousness, having studied sports bras now for 37 years, understanding the forces, the difficulties to control the breast motion, I mean, if I have a little pick-up truck, I go around town, I got good gas mileage, but I want to carry more stuff, I can't just put a bigger bed on the back. I got to have a stronger chassis. The requirements are different. It probably won't get the MPG I got before.
LaJean: It's sort of the same way with the sports bra. As our breasts get larger, they also get heavier and the forces are pretty strong. It's elastic tissue and the ground reaction forces rise up in the air when we're running. We're airborne for a little bit, come down hard. It really does transmit a lot of force. And so I think I've, in the research in the body sizes, especially a lot of larger bodies in the last three years for our C9 brand, sometimes there are just things that can't be accomplished in the same way.
LaJean: We look at a woman who's smaller and the physics of it, the science of it, it's just like, you know, we push it to certain limits and then what might be possible in a small D is not possible in a larger size. And I say that from having done more than 30 years of research. I don't know about other brands, but those are the years, 34 years that Champion has sponsored my research and we take all of this very seriously. Like, collaborate with university labs around the world to try to solve this dilemma. But the constraints of it are, you know, very challenging.
LaJean: So I used to say, "No, no woman should have to wear two sports bras." What gets me up in the morning is knowing that my work means that every woman regardless of her size... I mean, my goal, my passion is that every woman of every size is able to enjoy the considerable physical, mental, emotional benefits of exercise because she has a good sports bra. So I could not be more dedicated to that. But that evolved into, "Hey, let's grab it, let's get that workout, let's get that run. Whatever we have to do in the five or ten minutes before we head out the door, just do whatever it takes," and trust that there are people out there that are really trying to solve the problem. Maybe over time with different technology and resources we can do a better job of it. But, like I say, whatever it takes so you can run in comfort, kind of make that your star that you're following.
Sarah: Then let's be a little MacGyver, because you said earlier that putting a sock on... so talk about some of the hacks, the bra hacks that you could do.
LaJean: Yeah. Some of the bra hacks, I mean, because it's first layer, we can get injured from our sports bra. I've seen all kinds of scars on the body that women have shown me from various kinds of bras or whatever, but it's next to our skin. And I got to thinking, "Well, maybe we can find the equivalent of a sock." Maybe a little seamless singlet, or a really thin little singlet that you cut in the annoying binders of it, but it fully covers between you and your sports bra, especially some of the ultra marathoners that I've talked to that do, you know, 50-100 milers.
LaJean: Yeah. So, you know, that's certainly one hack on the chafing side. On the support side, if you're larger-breasted, and I'm going to categorize that as D and on up, having an encapsulation bra with two separate cups to kind of separate... you know, it's easier to control-
Sarah: Keep them apart, yeah.
LaJean: ... two smaller, little mountains than one big one. Not even to consider the discomfort of that, of having uniboob and the sweating between your breasts. But then over the top a fairly firm, a second compression bra that is just an additional stabilizer to keep everything in place. Within limits, the closer you hug your breasts to your own center of body mass, the less forces can be operating on your nipples. So, you know, keeping things in close is really good and that extra compression layer can really be of assistance in that situation.
Dimity: And what about adjustable straps? Like, are those good or bad? I mean, I remember some bras that had velcro straps. I think that velcro doesn't last super long when you wash-
LaJean: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dimity: I guess just talk about that a little, because you're going to want to have some adjustabilities, aren't you, but do you want like a D-ring or something like that? Is it a little bit more stable than velcro?
LaJean: Yeah, if you're C or below, usually the adjustability that you get with the stretch in the strap of a compression bra that has a lot of Lycra is often enough. Unless your distance from the top of your shoulder down to your nipples... we call it your "halter measurement", I always measure that in the lab, so we get an idea of, you know, if a woman in my lab says, "Oh, the straps are way too long," tech design at Champion wants to know, "Well, what was her halter measurement? Was she unusually long-distanced down to the middle of your breast?"
Dimity: Long-distanced, yeah.
LaJean: But as breasts get larger, to be able to adjust, you know, the amount of tension or firmness of the bra becomes really important. There are different ways to achieve that. One, as you mentioned, like with the D-ring, a metal fastener, just because something is metal whether it's a D-ring or an underwire doesn't necessarily mean it's uncomfortable. It's all how it's cushioned and if the bra is constructed so the metal doesn't touch your skin. The same with the little metal back hooks, if they're cushioned. Metal is actually one of the lightest, strongest materials.
LaJean: And you mentioned velcro, my personal experience is that velcro in the strap, probably with exception of some of newer velcros that are lighter, more breathable, even with a little stretch, tends to be a little bulky. I talked before in the laundry how all those fibers come out of your clothes. Well, a lot of them love to stick on to the velcro. As you found out, that the stickiness of the velcro doesn't necessarily last. I've met many women who swear by velcro and Champion was the first brand to put velcro in the strap, so I've been around it a lot of years, but there are pros and cons. And whether or not you're adjusting in the front with velcro or where are you adjusting, those things are very personal in terms of what is a hassle or not a hassle. But from a support point of view, adjustability in the strap, I think, is super important.
Sarah: You sort of touched at that and we've skirted around it a little bit and we talked about it before the podcast started, talk to us about if there's anything kind of new and exciting. It seems like there's technology in everything. You know, everything gets smaller, faster, lighter, whatever. Obviously, you can't do that with a bra, but is there... and you said it's kind of a mixed bag about technology.
LaJean: Yeah. Of course, I'm always scanning around like, you know, "Ooh, who's doing what?" And when I do my big spring and fall projects for Champion, I'm always like, "Okay, I'm going to bring..." you know, other brands out there. There's a lot of really good sports bra brands out there and I want to test their [lace and grace 00:37:52] not just to see how it supports, but how women like it. And I've always been amazed when I see new technologies. Some of them actually make a difference. It might make a bra more comfortable, might make it more supportive.
LaJean: But, you know, I mentioned earlier our bras are our most personal piece of apparel, and one thing I've seen just in terms of style and wearability, if a sports bra starts looking too much like a scuba fabric, women don't want it. They don't want something that might, you know, call attention. Is this going to be rubbery? Maybe the technology, it limits seams and stitching and binding, but then the kinds of polymers that are melted inside of it makes it harder for moisture to go through. Man, I mean, my test subjects, they're really smart. They've had a lot of miles on the road and a lot of time in their sport, they kind of have gotten the feel for some of these things. So I always say with my team at Champion, "We just need to take them to the next rock." Something that there is an improvement in function, in comfort or in support, but it surprised me how traditional women are about how they want their sports bras to look.
LaJean: There's some iconic silhouettes, like the basic racerback with the keyhole, and I had women come through and they'll say, "Okay, that's what a sports bra should look like." And, you know, there are good reasons why the racerback works for us in terms of its basic support system and how it works. I think that the biggest technologies I've seen recently are with lamination. Various companies coming out instead of stitching or binding on the edges, the whole bra is on the whole just sort of glued together with polymers that melt. Now you don't have the problem with itchy bindings, rough thread on those bindings which is a huge source of chafing.
LaJean: But now maybe you have another thing, maybe the knife-edge on that cut, either on the edges there at the armhole. There's no binding there, but maybe that sharp edge goes into your armpit or it can fold over, or it can do just weird sorts of things. So bringing in a new technology, you have to be really careful with that, I think, because women are concerned with how their bras look. But again, you know, you have those five factors and you shift one and it may bring in a problem that you didn't know about.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Trading one problem for another.
LaJean: Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative). You know, there are some technologies that I've seen where... these are just sports bras that sense how high of impact you're doing and they adjust to that.
LaJean: I've had all of that through my lab and, you know, I've done head-to-head with bras that don't have that technology, and I don't yet have the data that convinces me that that actually works.
Sarah: Yeah, that sounds kind of like hocus-pocus.
Dimity: [inaudible 00:40:56] It needs a couple of versions of... you know.
LaJean: Yeah, I mean, it's-
Dimity: Yeah, it's like the first cell phone. You know, where it's like big and clunky, and now all of a sudden we've got these amazing machines in our hands, right?
LaJean: And what we can do in the lab and with the tests, and you put it into a whole product that has this many demands on it and as many variables, and again, our bodies are different. How you fit in to that bra and how you interact is going to affect whether or not it responds to you or maybe you're so stuffed into it it just can't do anything other than one thing.
LaJean: So, you know, that has been certainly an area of technology that I expect to see more of. There are some new technologies right now that the team is working with at Champion that I can't even talk about that are absolutely amazing that could, I think, help to solve some of our fit problems, that would be what I call fit-adaptive. So yeah, that's one of the really fun parts of my work with Champion, is just being able to have my nose into what's coming along. But it's really amazing. I think what really amazes me is how many women still prefer a basic racerback in a wicking fabric, which is great. The thread of the binding is really smooth, they don't chafed. Or seamless bra, you know, up through a C-cup.
Dimity: That's a good segue back into 2019 and where we are with sports bras, because Janet was asking, "Why can't we make a comfortable, supportive racerback for those of us who are extremely well endowed? Mine literally cut into me and give me lacerations."
LaJean: Yeah. Racerbacks, man, I have such a love-hate relationship with those. I mostly love them, but it's really easy to screw that up, because there are different variables. And I'll be specific to her issue as a fuller-breasted woman, in my experience, women with larger breasts have more struggles getting in and out of sports bras. And so with the racerback, you can't put back hooks and be able to... I don't know, I'll segue here and say that my mom taught me when I was... when ever I got breasts to put my bra on, it was called "upside-down and backwards". I would lift my bra up and wrap it around my body with the hooks in front in an upside-down and backwards position. I would hook the hooks, slide it around to where the hooks were in the back and then put my arms down through the straps, pull it up and it fit me perfectly.
LaJean: And I know a lot of women who use that with their sports bras, because then you're not having to reach back for hooks or wiggle around. However, with the racerback bra you can't completely open up the bra to be able to do that. Also, a lot of racerback styles, there's less room in the strap. Where are you going to put the adjustability? Maybe in the front the buckle's going to hurt you, etc. So it's harder to do a really supportive racerback bra from that point of view. Another issue, for a fashion look or whatever, or maybe in lack of awareness, sometimes those racerbacks are really tall. They go up really high on your neck. And the thing is, a bra strap is just going to do what it was designed to do. It's going to be under tension.
LaJean: So where it hooks on in the front and then where it hooks on in the back, it's going to run a straight line between those two points because it's under tension. So if that racerback is high, it's going to run a straight line right on the edge of your neck, which is really not going to feel good. And I don't care what size you are, that's something you really take a hawk-eye on. And if the top of the racerback is relatively lower on your spine, and so that strap is under tension a little bit more on your shoulder, that will really help. But I see a lot of styles that whether they are a B or a DD, they're pretty much designed the same and don't take into account the forces and the weight, there's going to be more tugging going over your shoulder. And the strap width may not be appropriate for a larger size, have more weight on the breast too. So that's certainly one issue, the getting in and out of and how that actual racerback is designed.
Dimity: That's good to know. Good to know.
Sarah: So let's keep talking with some styling questions, and this one I was just amazed by. This is probably the topic that came up the most. A bunch of people said, "Why can't large-cup, small-band sports bras..." why can't they find ones that work? You touched on that earlier, the small-band, large-cup, like, just seems like that's a lot of women and there's not options out there.
LaJean: It's a lot of women, but it's not typical. Because there is a relationship between body fat percent and breast size, and generally as body fat levels go up and have gone up, a lot of the women who are D and DD do not have that smaller band size. But if you are, say, a 32DD, DDD and you're probably active and you do need support, you really have to look harder. I find European brands are much more likely to carry your size. It kind of gets to be a matter of, is it economically feasible to spend the money on developing those extra sizes when in some cases we may sell six or sixty bras a year, not six thousand or six million. Every size that has to be developed, there's a definite, you know, price tag associated with that.
LaJean: So it's, unless you're really into the intimates industry where, for example, there are some brands like Freya that do a lot of what I call "everyday bras", so you're an everyday-bra wearer with Freya, you want to start running, you're probably going to look for a Freya sports bra. That's a brand that specializes in these kind of sizes, so you might be more likely to find... well, if your brand already understands your body size and shape, getting a sports bra from that brand might be a good place to look. It's kind of like with running shoes, different brands have a different last. I know what brands will fit me and I'm not going to get hurt and they got a cushion, and so I find something that works and I'll stay with it. Not that the other brands, the other shoes aren't any good, it's just that they're not a good match for me.
Sarah: Right. Right, right. Yeah.
Dimity: Okay. What about a couple other, like, feature questions that are, kind of, slash, bitching? Kimberly, "I hate the removable pads. It's a bitch to get them in and lay correctly. What function do they serve? To soak up my boob sweat? I might have small boobs, but I'm not looking for enhancements when I run."
Sarah: [crosstalk 00:47:52] I can't tell you how many people griped about the removable cups or padding. Padding.
LaJean: Oh, absolutely. It's probably one of the biggest love-hate things. And for every woman who's bitching about them being in there or having to chase them being the dryer or soaking up the sweat, all of that, there's another woman who's like, "I love this because it has cookies and my nipples don't show."
Sarah: Yeah, cookies. Yeah.
LaJean: So, modesty is a big part of that. And I really had to shift my thinking, and I thought, "Oh, you know, women are all kicking it hard. They've gotten over whether or not their nipples show." And it's like, no. I found in my lab I couldn't predict they're... I'd see a girl come in and I'd think, "Oh man, she's so athletic. She probably doesn't care at all about this." Well, I actually had a woman who was training for the Olympic Marathon Trials and she came to a focus group of mine on padding and shaping, and I thought, "Oh, certainly she's so competitive and she wants to run the trials as fast as she can," and she was like a 32C or something. And she always wore cookies and padding in her bra. And I said, "Well, certainly though if you're actually running a qualifying race, you're going to want every fraction of an ounce out." And she was like, "No, even more so, and when I come across the finish line, someone's is going to snap my photo. I want to be the one who controls who and under what circumstances my nipples are seen."
LaJean: I mean, that really sort of blew me away, but I had to go from my own experience and preconceptions to realizing there are many women who do feel some discomfort on the modesty side. That's part of it. Also part of it is, you know, there are some bras, like our C9 bras at Target, when they're laying there on the table, they look like teeny girl bras unless you put a cookie in. Part of it is marketing, retailers want a good appearance and the idea that you could get some shaping with it. So that is an aspect. Some women that come through my lab, they like to wear them in the winter because it gives them a little more warmth and they're not going to get the nipple chill, or when they're cycling.
Dimity: Sorry. No, I've just never heard of nipple chill.
Sarah: I know. I love it. LaJean could, like, school us on so many slang terms. I'm just loving it.
LaJean: But, you know, the hate side of it is that you have to take them in and out, they get crumpled, they fall behind the dryer, we end up with too many of them. And, you know, I always kind of think about the environmental effect too of that foam plastic coming through.
Dimity: Yeah. I mean, I feel like you either pick... I mean, I do like a padded bra. Like, I don't like to nip out. I feel like I've seen myself doing that enough and it's not a look that I care to put out into the world, right? So I do like my bras to have a little padding, but then I just pick a padded bra, right? I mean, like, having it both ways, you can't. We know that in life you can't have it both ways, right? You got to either pick the padding or go without, right?
LaJean: Well, that is my feeling. That is my feeling.
LaJean: If a brand wants to take a style, and I can pick one right now at Champion where, you know, it's a double-layer, no padding, and then there's a sewn-in foam cup, and I agree with you. The other thing that I really don't like at all is convertible strap bras that claim that they can convert from like a U-back with parallel straps, and then they have some mechanism where you can cross them or hook them together.
Dimity: Yeah. We found that those are not effective in both configurations.
LaJean: It's rare that a woman can actually adjust the straps to be comfortable in each of those positions. And if you think of a triangle, and if you have a U-back, the strap comes down. It's like one of the short legs of the triangle. And all of a sudden you're going to unhook it, stretch that into that strap over to the opposite side, now that strap has to travel over a much longer distance. It gets tighter and it's putting incredible horizontal force across the back wing of the side of the bra where you just hooked it onto. So, you know, I love the idea of a convertible strap, I just can't give you one example that it really works effectively in both positions.
Dimity: That's so funny. I converted for the first time at our Eau Claire retreat, Sarah.
Sarah: And how did it work for you, Dimity?
Dimity: Well, it wasn't a sports bra. It was just my... you know, I just like the Gap T-shirt bras, but I had a tank-top thing that... oh, it was our AMR tanks, right? So I tried to [X 00:52:27] just my regular everyday bra, and exactly, it took me a long time to feel comfortable and I still didn't. I mean, I had to make the straps much longer and I still didn't feel awesome. I mean, it definitely felt very awkward and I'm like, "Well, maybe I just have to get used to it." I mean, it wasn't like it was... support was not the issue. It's more a comfort, that one. Yeah. And that was just a regular day bra, that was not a sports bra, so I can only imagine when you got a lot more fabric and a lot more compression, trying to get that to work. That's interesting.
Dimity: Okay. Another great... we got to talk about it, because I don't want to run out of time without talking about underwire. Like, there was one woman who asked, she wants a sports bra after having cancer, or surgery for breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and then reconstruction a year ago, and she's still struggling to find something supportive enough but still comfortable. She can't cope with an underwire, and someone else said underwire came up a little bit too... right, Sarah, as far as the questions?
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. She was sore. Yeah, talking about the chafing. And their question was kind of like, "Underwire in a sports bra. How come?"
LaJean: Yeah. And again, this is just like with cookies or padding or not, women are somewhat divided. I remember one time I did consumer research on this for Champion, did a big project and came back, "Well, about half of women like it and half don't, so we better do both." The thing is, you know, some women... and there is a horrible book with no science behind it written about the dangers of underwires, that it's metal.
Dimity: Oh, I remember that. Yeah.
LaJean: Yeah. Like you're going to become an antenna for a cell phone tower. And I haven't been able to find any truth behind that, any connection to breast cancer or things like that. As I said earlier, steel is very light and strong. Done properly, if the wires are padded with two or three layers of fabric in a channel they go through, it can be an extremely effective way with larger breasts of creating separation, keeping your breasts apart, really having a foundation for the edges of the cup to work against. That can absolutely work.
LaJean: One of the biggest issues though with underwires, they generally come in a certain shape, a certain curve, follows a certain pattern. Our breasts might be narrower or wider, if that wire's laying on breast tissue rather than more on your chest wall, that can be a discomfort. I mean, I've seen chafing, almost injury from that. You actually can grab the underwire and bend it a little bit and to not be afraid to do that. So the pros is it's really strong. You could get better separation with an underwire than any other sort of an encapsulation bra. I think when it becomes a problem is if it's not a quality bra, the wire isn't well cushioned, the wire doesn't follow the curve of your chest so that you're getting chafing. But the weight of it and how it performs, you know, should be a positive.
Sarah: Yeah. All right, so you've touched on now the topic we're going to close with which is chafing. I mean, I am not well endowed and I tell you, I just am so tired of even on a six-miler coming back and having a big red mark right in the middle of my chest. It's just, "Ugh." I mean, what can we do?
LaJean: Yeah. There are a number of factors around chafing, and I think one of the things that you touched on with running even after three or four miles on up, running is a very cyclical, repetitive activity. The same thing is happening over and over. Your arm is going past what might be the side seam on your singlet time after time. And it's just repetitive, repetitive. So if there's any little stitching, little pill on your elastic whatever, actually the surface of the skin gets abraded down to the point where you get to the cells where you have capillaries. That absolutely happens.
LaJean: So a lot of it is, we're just doing the same, we're just "ch-ch-ch", you know, back and forth. Our arms are swinging opposite to the rest of our torso. So as our shoulders move back and forth and we have straps on our shoulders, it's putting this little back-and-forth stress on the bra that want to go back and forth on your skin, which is one reason why we get a lot of the chafing from the band. Right at the base of the breast, especially with larger breast, the tugs up and down, up and down as the breasts are flying up, falling down sort of intensifies that, that point where the waist span meets the cups right there at the center with larger-breasted women, big zone.
LaJean: Another zone is on the top of the back wing in the back. I think that the number one sources of chafing is not necessarily the fabric or the wires or anything else, it is the thread. And a lot of what I call "the profile of the thread", you get like a flatlock stitch. There's a lot of thread lying on the surface of the fabric, just that large volume of thread, and if the thread isn't really soft... I've seen bra after bra and there's advanced technology, the fabrics, everything there just amazing. They sew the whole thing together then with a line of really coarse thread that goes around the body.
LaJean: You know, I've researched that, even with Champion, why can't we have silkier threads? And part of that is, you know, with manufacturing there's certain thicknesses and sleeknesses of threads that can go through the sewing machines or not. And some just slip and you can't execute the stitch very well. But that's something I know with our team, that we continue to work on, because I think stitching, whether it's there on the band or on your shoulders, is the number one culprit. The other thing is that we sweat a lot. When fabrics get damp, what we call "the coefficient of friction", or how grippy they are, increases. So, you know, that's going on with this in the sports bra as well.
Sarah: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Dimity: There was one woman who'd commented that she put a piece of moleskin over her... the back clasps bug her, you know, the hook-and-eye closure. So, she puts some pieces of moleskin. I thought that was a good idea. She says, "I hope I don't have to reposition it too many times." But, I mean, as far as solutions for the chafing, we know what causes it, but is it just Body Glide?
Sarah: Because I got to say, Body Glide just does it. I mean I [crosstalk 00:58:56]
Sarah: ... lather up with that and it's just still.
LaJean: Yeah. One of the things that, when I was running marathons, I used to track both the blisters on my toes... I have old running journals where I'd say, "This is where I had a blister," and make notes on my body.
Sarah: Of course you did.
LaJean: And, you know, really be aggressive in trying to prevent... and a similar, you know, moleskin or there are some other, I think even more advanced things out there. Find out where you chafe and absolutely try to create a protective layer for yourself, just like you might inside of your shoes. I mean, over the period of years I've been told, very strongly, not by females, that if God had intended women to run, he wouldn't have put those breasts out there in front of their body.
Dimity: Oh, get over yourself, I'm sorry.
LaJean: And if you're bouncing, and if you're getting hurt, you know, that's just like the sign. Which, obviously, I don't believe, but, you know, running for several hours or even for an hour is something that is a pretty recent part of our evolution. So yeah, we just have to say, "Do whatever it takes, that's all." Absolutely whatever it takes.
Sarah: So eventually we'll evolve where we have thicker skin, more like-
LaJean: Maybe so.
Sarah: ... like the back of our hip. The in-between my breasts will feel like the bottom of my heels.
Dimity: No calluses, no calluses.
LaJean: Well, and the thing is, you know, it's those bony prominences where the bra can really press against the skin and move around. What we try to do at Champion is what I call "bone mapping", these are the places where a strap couldn't cross. You do that convertible strap, a lot of times it comes across and hooks on the bottom of your shoulder blade on the top. And it's a hard wear on your clavicle, and to try to figure out, to really decrease pressure over any area of your body that's bony.
Sarah: Wow, just so many things to think about. And then you can plot all of this and then, like you pointed out with the thread, then can it be implemented? Can it be made so that it doesn't cost $700 for one bra, you know? So it's just like, it's not that the industry's out there conniving how to keep us in discomfort, but it's-
LaJean: No, absolutely not. I mean, every brand that I'm familiar with and... you know, we're kind of a group. You know, from every brand I have good friends. We go to dinner together. And we're all looking for that goal. Always for that Holy Grail, those new materials to be able to execute on those five factors in a more successful way. Brands that do that, obviously, I mean, they'll get more people buying them.
Sarah: Exactly. [crosstalk 01:01:38], yeah.
LaJean: There's no incentive other than, I don't know, laziness to not always be pushing the envelope on design.
Sarah: Yeah. Well, LaJean, it is always a delight to talk with you, just thank you so much.
LaJean: Oh, you're welcome, [crosstalk 01:01:52]
Dimity: Yeah. Thank you, LaJean.
LaJean: Yeah. I'm now within walkable distance of Sarah.
Sarah: I know.
LaJean: Ah, I just [pooped 01:01:57].
Sarah: I know. I know. So we also want to promote that if women who are listening want more, and in case they missed to check out the Facebook Live we did with LaJean on Wednesday June 5th, and it lives on the Another Mother Runner Facebook page, which we trust you follow. So you can see what this wonderful, knowledgeable spirit of energy looks like and see her in action with some actual, real women getting fitted for bras. Thank you, LaJean.
LaJean: You're welcome. [crosstalk 01:02:25]
Dimity: Thank you very much.