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History-Changing Garment Born in Theater Costume Shop

By Cheryl Dorschner Article published March 30, 2005

Jogbra
Inventors of the Jogbra, (L-R) Polly Smith, Lisa Lindahl and Hinda Miller were honored at the Royall Tyler Theatre where the history-making sports bra returned to its birthplace for the first time since 1977. (Photo: Sally McCay)

At a glance it looks like lamé — an abbreviated top that Cat Woman Halle Berry might wear during down time.

In fact, it is an original Jogbra bronzed for posterity.

On March 28, this history-making sports bra returned for the first time since 1977 to its birthplace, the University of Vermont’s Royall Tyler Theatre, along with its mothers of invention: UVM alumnae Lisa Lindahl, Polly Smith and Hinda Miller.

A gathering of friends and admirers, many of them pioneer entrepreneurs and athletes themselves, celebrated these women and retold the story, which has become legendary. As a UVM graduate student, Lindahl was an avid runner, averaging 30 miles a week. She knew she wasn’t alone in her wish for athletic gear that offered women the same support below the shoulders that men had below the belt.

“There ought to be a jockstrap for women,” Lindahl retold the story. Indeed, the first Jogbra was a two-cup version of actual menswear crafted in the UVM theater’s costume shop. Today, Champion Jogbra is a division of Sara Lee Corporation. Lindahl and physical therapist Lesli Bell of Williston have gone on to launch a new specialty bra company to support and comfort women with lymphedema, a condition commonly associated with breast cancer survival. Smith is a costume designer, most notably for the Muppets, and Miller is a state senator representing Chittenden County.

As in the case of the Jogbra, “women often solve problems based on their own experience. They have a different perspective and insight that creates value,” noted Rocki-Lee DeWitt, dean of UVM’s School of Business Administration, as she delivered opening remarks for the UVM Women’s Center-sponsored event marking Women’s Herstory Month.

She, the sports bra trio and others told tales from the past three decades of obstacles women overcame in athletics and in business. UVM athlete Jennifer Oakes, ’72, described pre-Title IX women’s basketball in which team members hauled their own chairs and a blackboard because they were not allowed to use the bleachers or scoreboard. Nancy Condit, ’79, owner of Women’s Source for Sports in Burlington, charted the metamorphosis of athletic clothing sizes from men’s to unisex to women’s.

“I never thought I’d be one of the ‘beginning people,’ but we are a part of something awesome,” Condit said.

When Brandi Chastain tore off her shirt at the 1999 Women's World Cup, "women’s sports equipment came out of the closet,” said Oakes.

This week the sports bra returned to the closet – the costume closet that is. It joins two other immortalized Jogbras: one hangs in the Smithsonian, the other in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.