Finding activewear is far from difficult these days. A few minutes on Instagram alone will bring you a handful of ads about the comfiest leggings, the cutest matching sets or the best sports bras. Similarly, big box stores make it easy to acquire workout clothes for as little as $10 or $15. But finding activewear that’s actually long-lasting and high-quality is a different story.
Price is one easy way to gauge the general quality. Construction, material, design and technology are all important, especially if you need a lot of support — and these elements often equate to a higher price point.
But price doesn’t give the full picture. It can be hard to figure out which sports bras are expensive because of their quality and which are only expensive because of marketing or branding.
Laura F. Burke, an intimate apparel stylist and certified bra fit expert, said there are a few easy-to-spot qualities of a poorly made sports bra.
“[Poor-quality] sports bras are traditionally pull-over-head styles that are sized in Small-Medium-Large, offer compression only, and are made of subpar fabrications,” Burke said. “A [high-quality] sports bra has more custom features.”
Which custom features do more higher-quality sports bras have?
Just like any other type of bra, not every sports bra is right for every type of chest — no matter how expensive it is.
Coming in actual bra sizes (34C instead of a medium, for example), hook-and-eye closures and “compression and encapsulation to better support and separate the breast tissue” are all common features of better sports bras, Burke said. Elevated materials, like those that have antimicrobial and moisture-wicking properties, also enhance the quality.
Fabric is an important element of high-quality sports bras, according to Jené Luciani Sena, the author of “The Bra Book.”
Most sports bras are made with blend of nylon and spandex, she explained, and those with a high level of compression, meant for higher-impact activities, will typically have a higher spandex content.
“Typically, a higher spandex content means it will be more expensive, but it also depends on the compression of the bra you are looking for,” Sena said. “Sometimes they’ll have some sort of inner mesh for extra support. This is meant for higher-impact and great for larger busts but, of course, is also more expensive.”
Sena suggests SheFit sports bras for an option that includes all of the above-mentioned “bells and whistles.” SheFit offers an incredibly wide range of sizes, but the bras are about $70 each.
How is a high-quality sports bra designed?
According to Jessica Pfister, vice president at intimates brand Le Mystere, a well-made sports bra is not initially designed with outside aesthetics in mind. Instead, it’s all about performance.
“A well-made sports bra is designed from the inside out by a bra ‘architect’ in order to create a super supportive garment that can keep up with the demands of a workout,” Pfister said, adding that her brand tests sports bras on women of different sizes doing different types of workouts. For reference, Le Mystere’s sports bras range in price from $60 to $65 for both light-impact and high-impact offerings, landing them in the mid-to-high range for sports bras.
Asha Kai, the CEO of activewear brands Cor and Ultracor, said a quality sports bra is all about precise construction and performance — two things her brands kept in mind when reengineering their bras recently. Both of her brands offer sports bras at a luxury price point, ranging from $89 to $175.
“We use our proprietary elastic technology that we refer to as ‘anchor points’ and strategically placed them throughout the bra to create the perfect balance of support without compromising flexibility, and of course, never constricting,” Kai said. “We believe in letting the fabric do the heavy lifting.”
In other words, what you’re paying for with a more expensive sports bra is often things you can’t see at all — advanced technology, testing and higher quality fabric.
Is a more expensive sports bra always worth it? What if you don’t have a larger chest?
You might be asking if investing more than $30 in a sports bra is worth it. According to Pfister, it depends.
“It’s not just about price, it’s also about how much research and technology the company does to ensure your breasts are properly supported,” said said. “For women with a larger bust, it’s super important to look for a sports bra with no-bounce straps. Even if the wings of the bra are snug and the cups are encapsulated, if your straps are bouncing, it negates all of the other positives.”
Sena said some customers may find that buying from a brand that caters specifically to larger chests is more important than the number on a price tag — but that anyone shopping for a new sports bra should be aware of the return policy.
“Always shop a brand that has a good return policy so you can try it on when you get it and do the ‘bounce test,’ i.e., jump up and down a few times or run in place, so you can see if you get any movement,” Sena suggested. “The key with any sports bra, really, is to limit breast movement. Comfort and range of motion [are] also important. The bra should stay in place and so should your boobs.”
It can be a process of trial-and-error to find your perfect fit, but it’s worth it for proper support.
Pfister said a well-made sports bra will protect both your breasts — especially the so-called Cooper’s ligament or suspensory ligament. If this connective tissue isn’t supported during workouts, she said, it can lead to sagging and discomfort.
At the end of the day, the key to any successful bra purchase is research, research and more research, not simply finding the most expensive bra in the store. The more you research, the more likely you are to end up with an item that works specifically for you — and lasts for years to come.
Below are a few bras made by brands mentioned above: