Jogbra: Providing essential support for Title Nine and women athletes
"Health corsets" and ready-to-wear clothing will be a part of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation Object Project, opening July 2015. The exhibition will explore how women pushed for greater independence through increasingly active lifestyles and the freedom to choose what they wore.
What's this? It's a gauge developed by Jogbra, Inc., in the mid-1990s, to help women determine their ideal sized sports bra, based upon the size of their everyday brassiere and their sport. The customer would rotate the wheel to select her size, line it up to the column containing her sport (the columns were divided into high, medium, or low motion control requirements), consult the images of the various models offered to find her preference, and then go to the slot at the bottom of the gauge to see what size she should buy.
Detail images of the Jogbra gauge
It's easy for women athletes today to take the sports bra for granted, with so many brands and styles available at numerous retailers. The iconic image of soccer player Brandi Chastain ripping her shirt off at the 1999 Women's World Cup solidified the sports bra as an acceptable standalone piece of clothing—and fashion statement. But until the Jogbra's appearance in 1977, incalculable numbers of women were too discouraged to participate in impact sports such as running or aerobics because of the discomfort or embarrassment. In 2013, the museum acquired the Jogbra, Inc., collection, a set of archival materials and artifacts relating to the development of the first sports bra.
Jogbra co-designers with their prototype bra, ca. 1980. Jogbra, Inc. Records, 1977-1990, Archives Center.
Object Project, opening July 2015, will give visitors a closer look at things we use regularly—even daily—but might not think about as major innovations. The Jogbra and its predecessors, like the "health corset," are such objects.
Ferris' Good Sense Corset Waists advertisement, 1894. Via New York Public Library Digital Gallery, originally published in Monthly Illustrator. Digital ID: 818165.
Popular starting in the 1890s, health corsets not only provided women with more comfort and flexibility in their increasingly active lives, but they also represented evolving attitudes towards women as athletes, a hard-fought battle for social change that continues today. Object Project will examine both the social demands and the technological advances that affected how women dress, as well as how one physical activity in particular—bicycling—offered new freedoms.
Health corsets, like Ferris' Good Sense Corset Waists, were made to be more comfortable than previous, more rigid corsets. With the growing use of bicycles, a nationwide craze that started in the 1880s, these less restrictive corsets were meant to give women greater freedom and mobility whenever they took to "the wheel." Bicycles not only offered a means of transportation and leisure; they also gave women independence. The new type of corset, often called "health," "reform," or "corded" corsets, also promised freedom of movement for women as they engaged in the physical activities of daily life.
"Fashions for Cycling." The Ladies Standard Magazine, Vol. XVII, No. 4 (June 1897). Library of Congress.
Clearly, sportswear has changed dramatically from the health corsets of the 1890s. Nearly a century later, the Jogbra became the first modern sports bra, designed for any active, impact sport. This innovation came on the heels of an important piece of legislation in women's sports history. The Title IX portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 Public Law No. 92-318, 86 Stat. 235 (generally referred to as "Title Nine") likely had a greater impact on American women's sports than any other development in American history—and not only on collegiate sports, although the legislation was primarily aimed at colleges and universities. This legislation, introduced by Indiana senator Birch Bayh, stated that, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
Congresswoman Patsy Mink, who fought for Title IX and equal education access for women. Title IX was given the name "Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act" after Mink's death in 2002. Image via the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and courtesy Wendy Mink.
The law didn't even mention sports, but it was a game changer in women's athletics. A 2006 study reported that, in the years since its passage, the number of women athletes in colleges and universities had increased 450%. Title Nine has often been a controversial law, with opponents suggesting that it adversely affects male collegiate athletes.
A few years after Title Nine, in 1977, James Fixx wrote a phenomenally popular book, The Complete Book of Running. It spurred a running and fitness craze among both men and women, and the increased popularity of sports among women exposed the inadequacies of conventional brassieres for athletic use: movement required in athletic activities caused straps to slip off the shoulder, excessive motion caused chafed skin and soreness, and hooks or other metallic elements tended to poke into the skin.
A late 1970s Jogbra ad featuring two co-designers as models. It boasts that the product was invented by women and compares the sports bra to running shoes as necessary protective sports equipment. Jogbra, Inc. Records, 1977-1990, Archives Center.
It may seem as though the invention of the sports bra was inevitable, considering how popular running, jogging, and other sports were becoming at the time, but its introduction did not follow an easy path. The Jogbra's co-inventors were Hinda Miller (who later became a Vermont senator), Lisa Lindahl, and Polly Palmer-Smith. Miller and Palmer-Smith were costume designers.
The story, according to Miller, is that Lindahl's sister, Victoria Woodrow, was frustrated by the inadequacy of her everyday brassiere when she became one of the many women to take up jogging in the 1970s. Unable to find anything in stores that worked for them, the designers worked on a few prototype sports bras. At the suggestion of Lindahl's husband, they sewed together two men's athletic supporters and found the result to be better than any of their prototypes (this first bra was called the "Jockbra" before it became known as the Jogbra).
Marketing their new product turned out to be a challenge. According to Lindahl, buyers for sporting goods stores were "squeamish" about displaying bras, which she described as not looking anything like lingerie. Stores that did feature the Jogbra were pleased by how well it sold. Soon, a number of makers, including Vanity Fair, Olga, and Warner were getting into the sports bra market.
1980s advertisement for Jogbra sports bras in multiple colors. Jogbra, Inc. Records, 1977-1990, Archives Center.
The introduction of the sports bra did more than improve athletes' performances. It represented a revolution in ready-to-wear clothing, and for many women athletes, past, present, and future, it actually made sports possible.
Cathy Keen is an archivist in the museum's Archives Center. Previously, she has blogged about Object Project and ready-to-wear fashions. An avid baseball fan, she has also blogged about baseball history in Washington, D.C. Intern Caitlin Kearney also contributed to this post.