The Vagenda

The Nightmare Quest for a Sports Bra

In magazineland, sports bra shopping looks like this.
In real life, it looks like this:
I went shopping today on my lunch hour. I should probably point out first that this is a rare occurrence – I abhor shopping. My soul is sucked into the great grey void that is the shopping centre as soon as I step through the doors, I get a full on sweaty palm attack just contemplating a rack of dresses, and I been known to actually have nightmares about communal changing rooms. I like clothes, I just hate the awful environments those clothes live in.
That said, I ventured out today with a bucket load of optimism, excited to be on the lookout for a new pair of trainers and a sports bra for my cardio box class tonight – surely the plethora of shops dedicated to a mind boggling array of sports gear would prove to be a gold mine of sporty treasures to spend my payday gold on! Hooray!
Oh how wrong I can be. 
I decided to bypass the gargantuan Sports Direct store following a previous experience in their Halifax store, that almost resulted in a full on paddy at the tills. I had recently begun my foray into the world of exercise – being 5ft 2, a size 14, and having a lifelong love affair with cooking, wine and many many rums, I decided it was high time I did something active to balance out all the time I spend lying around in pyjamas shovelling cheese, cake and Rioja down my neck. 
(Note I said balance, not lose half my body weight, or get ripped in 4 weeks. Contrary to those who choose to loudly ask me how much I want to lose/what my goal weight is, I actually exercise to feel healthy and strong, and am quite content to do this at a size 14. Plus this way I can continue with the cheese/wine quaffing…)
I did my first few classes in leggings, my boyfriend’s t-shirt (‘STOP WEARING MY TSHIRTS you keep putting big booby marks in them’), a woefully small and unsupportive sports bra and some very fetching 90’s Adidas pumps, complete with neon go faster stripes. Although the leggings, trainers and t-shirt held up fine, I was beginning to have all kind of concerns about the sports bra, mainly around losing all control of my wayward mammaries and clobbering my fellow class members in the face with them.
In a bid to prevent this unnecessary boob induced face bashing, I headed off to my local Sports Direct to purchase a proper sports bra. An adult’s sports bra. With reinforced mesh. And wires. And hopefully some rudimentary form of scaffolding included. Sadly, I don’t think anyone has told the buyers of Sports Direct that some women who do sport have breasts the size the cashier’s head and they need proper support damn it! I had an array of flimsy crop tops to choose from, plus two ‘high impact’ sports bras. Obviously they only had one in my size, so I grabbed it and asked the nearest store assistant where I could go to set about hefting my wares into the beast. Turns out they don’t do changing rooms in that store (????) but I was assured I could try it on at home and bring it back if it didn’t fit. Fair enough. However, knowing that my naturally capacity for procrastination is insanely high, I thought I would nip into Dorothy Perkins there and then and try it on, else I would never get round it. Needless to say, the sports bra was a huge disappointment. Although not huge enough. Despite being labelled as my size, it was quite clearly about three sizes too small and totally bereft of support to boot. Not a good combination.
I decided to hike back to SD and get my money back, then investigate the bra department in good old M&S. Scuppered again! I was told at the tills that ‘we don’t do returns, only credit notes’. Argh! After a lot of huffing and eye rolling I ended up leaving with some stretchy grey lycra pants that weirdly make me sweat more whilst outlining my crotch in a really off putting way. Fail.
Anyhoooo. Back to today. Walking straight past the accursed SD, I headed for JD Sports, which in my mind was going to be a bit more up market and stocked with all manner of awesome holstering mechanisms and hopefully some comfy, sturdy but snazzy trainers too. I wandered around for a good 5 minutes, looking for any sign of trainers smaller than an actual boat, before I decided to just ask someone where I could find trainers in a size5/5.5. The guy pointed me to a small display of what I can only term as ‘fashion trainers’ (I may only be 28, but I am unashamedly hopeless when it comes to anything ‘on trend’). He looked utterly perplexed as I asked him where the trainers in my size for doing actual sport were, before showing me the 2 PINK pairs they had, down in the bottom corner. 2 PAIRS! The shop had hundreds of trainers and only 2 that are suitable for sport under a size 8!
I was utterly dumbfounded, and wandered off, cursing my apparently inappropriately sized feet, to find the sports bras. Their women’s clothes section was, unsurprisingly, tiny. Not only was it small, but most of it was blocked with a stock rail that had been put there and forgotten about. They had a couple of crop tops, and something that looked like a bikini top for Sporty Barbie. Whilst standing there wondering what the hell was going on and whether it was just me who had a problem with this, they decided to crank up the in store music and fill the shop with a track that repeatedly shouted ‘bitches, bitches ho’ repeatedly until I thought my face had started to melt.
Is it too much to ask to have sports shops that have a good, quality array of exercise clothing and shoes for women as well as men? To see trainers that don’t have 89 shades of fluorescent pink all over them? To have some actual sports bras that are made to withstand the rigours of running/high impact classes as well as the usual flimsy crop tops? While we’re at it, could we please have some fucking changing rooms to try this gear on in? And not those half ass ones that have a door that only covers you from shoulder to knee and means you start sweating profusely whilst trying to cram yourself into the tiny lycra band that passes for a bra whilst simultaneously worrying about the spotty teenage ‘lad’ that appears to be appraising your wobbly bits in the mirror. 
- MB

33 thoughts on “The Nightmare Quest for a Sports Bra

  1. Oh, yes, this. I even find that sports bras from places that have a huge range of bras (e.g. M&S) are woefully lacking in actual support. ‘Tinternet is where I find the best ones. Sports shops generally seem to think that the only women who might do sport are a size 10 and like pink – trying to buy a size 14 anything in them is a nightmare, even basics like tracksuit bottoms that you may be able to actually move in. The message is clear – unless you spend a lot of time doing sport to get a figure that is toned, lithe and fits into these clothes, you can’t do any sport. Catch-22 situation.

  2. I feel your pain. My boobs aren’t umm large, but finding good support in the right size is an absolute nightmare. I’ve got a drawer full of bras that are of mixed ability – fit the back, loose on the cup, fit the cup, tight as hell on my back etc etc. Thankfully I use a Nike support vest to hold it all in, so I can cope.

    And shoe wise is frustrating as hell. Firstly, why are they almost always pink? I love pink, but just occasionally something else would be nice.

    And size wise it’s a real pain. 5-5.5 fits bang on. Finding them is a whole other matter…


  3. Ok – you needed more research – I’m afraid you’re going to have to invest. Ditch the mainstream ‘sports’ shops and go straight to the specialists eg Runners’ Need. They will sort you for trainers and bras. I’ve got size 4 feet and am 32F, not dissimilar to your proportions. It’s not going to be cheap, but once you have purchased your (probably) Shock Absorber bra, and proper fitting trainers, you can use your knowledge to track them down on the internet for future purchases (if I use the expert advice of a store, I always purchase from them, because anything else is just not cricket). Department stores, rather than sport stores stock a wide range of Shock Absorber too. The price needs a Shock Absorber of its own, but they’re streets ahead of the rest, and definitely anything in a general sports store (save SD for vests, leggings, shorts, great deals on performance wear..)

    For cheaper non-running specific trainers, if you’re bothered about colour, I think you will find your size in the kids range. I love trainers – pink, blue, orange, yellow, all sorts, and have a mix of kids and women’s trainers in sizes 4.5-5.5 (brands vary and your feet expand when exercising).

    Good luck and go get ‘em.

  4. Size 12 sporty lady here.
    “Sports” shops like JD et al are a scourge – just a kind of glorified ‘fashion trainer’ and football shirt emporium. Head to a proper running shop for some decent shoes and clothing! They know that women of all shapes and sizes do sport, and they’ll give you advice on what the best thing is for you too. Places like Up and Running would be a good bet.
    A good rule of thumb is that if there isn’t any actual sporting equipment available in the shop (I mean tennis racquets, cricket bats, lacrosse… things [the more obscure the better, like really the kind of thing where you're like what is THAT and spend 5 minutes wondering which sport it's for]) then be deeply suspicious of whether or not this shop is intended for people who actually do sport.

    If you can bear to buy without trying another time, you can also order decent sports bras on the internet (I’ve had mixed success with this one). has some jazzy colours and decent brands for cheaps (I like my workouts to be as obnoxiously bright as possible without being pink). I tend to go one size too small anyway to ensure my bewbs are properly restrained.

  5. Basically, SportsDirect and JDSports are not for people who actually want to play sport. Especially not women. I’m pretty lucky, I live in a town with an independent sports shop with a variety of sports bras in different sizes and levels of support. Of course you still have to take about 5 sizes in to find one that fits.

    FWIW I bought this one the other week in blue and red and NOTHING moves

  6. I have a Shock Absorber bra too, as my friend says, getting it on is a form of exercise itself. But it is the best £30 I spent, I got mine from Bravissimo when I was getting some new bras, so the shop assistant made sure I had the best fit (I had to go up one back size).

  7. I’m on a tight budget and I was quite impressed with the primark sports bras -had mine over 3 years and it’s survived a half-marathon and training (it has got pink bits on though!). The only thing that puzzles me is why they’re called “secret possessions”???
    “Proper” running shops will analyse your gait for you and find the perfect pair of shoes, but don’t forget ebay too, lots of people seem to buy things, use them once, then sell them for a tiny fraction of the price!

  8. Glad I’m not alone in this! I was so angry by the time I left the shops I just had to write it all down! It is great that we can buy good gear online, but I would like the option to try some things on in shops, as I suck at the whole ‘returning things that don’t fit’ business.

  9. God, have I been here! I remember asking in JD sports where the ‘real sports bras’ were, becasue all I could find were those unsupportive crop tops, turns out they had none.

    I gave up and turned to the internet for my sports bra salvation – panache do some great sturdy sports bras for my DD’s and as they make normal bras too the sizing is pretty reliable x

  10. Brilliant advice, thanks! I will be taking a trip to Debenhams soon to have a look at their stock of Shock Absorbers I think….

  11. Thanks for the tips! Lessbounce looks like a good bet, bring on pay day and I shall be purchasing a serious amount of boob scaffolding to try out :-)

  12. Thanks for all the comments and advice ladies! Looks like I’m not the only one struggling with this issue, and I shall definitely be checking out the sites you all mentioned and doing some bulk ordering of breast scaffolding ASAP… :-)

  13. Can I just chip in on the M&S issue? I realise I have an absurd bra size (32GG) but M&S are meant to be the straightforward ugly but functional underwear retailers. That’s their thing. I can never find anything in store, and looking online they have one (ONE?!) bra in my size. Not a sports bra, just one everyday bra. Full stop. In a 32G, which I often squeeze into because I have to, there is one sports bra which I have but have to wear with at least one crop top because it really doesn’t fit. I’m 18 so I’m still using all my sports kit from school but for underwear I’d recommend bravissimo and fig leaves, they understand that people need a range of sizes, and they also have some quite attractive things too. And they do underwired, shape controlled swimwear if that’s your preferred method of exercising.
    Okay, wow, rant over.

  14. It happens in reverse too. As a 38A/size 12 I struggle to find pretty much any kind of bra in my size, but sports bras especially it seems don’t go up to a 38″ band for an A cup. I may not be at risk of knocking myself out on my own chest anytime soon, but a little support on the treadmill would be appreciated all the same!

  15. My best ever sports bra comes from… ASDA. Comfy! Bounce reducing! Washes well! Very, very cheap!

    I do have quite small boobs mind you… don’t know how more generously endowed ladies would get on.

  16. Your problem was going to “fashion” shops instead of a sports shop no matter what the store name says! Let’s face it if you took a sample of random people in any high street who happened to be wearing trainers / sports clothes, how many would actually DO sport / exercise? Not many I’m betting…

    Debenhams were great at fitting me for a Shock Absorber bra (30F) and since then I’ve managed to pick up some Shock Absorbers cheap in TK Maxx so always check their rales! My Shock Absorbers have lasted me ages and they’re still going strong. They may be an investment but they’re worth it.

  17. Trust me, sports bra shopping is no better when you’re a size 10B. I can’t find anything that doesn’t have padding and ‘push-up’ support. Cleavage when I’m running? Um, not really necessary, thanks! Also, got anything that’s NOT pink?

    I read a book about starting to run and it had a helpful list of things you need: trainers, t-shirts, comfortable shorts, etc – but no mention of a good bra and hair elastics. Gender bias?

  18. I was going to recommend Debenhams and Shock Absorber, they’ve never let me down (literally). It’s frustrating that because we’ve been blessed with beauteous big breasts, we have to shell out for the privilege of NOT having woefully sore tits…

  19. Thank you for this article and the advice. I too have been making do with crappy crop top things from SD and trying to ignore the fact the every time I run or jump in a gym class I almost give myself a black eye. Going to check out the shock absorber bras people are recommending.

  20. M&S sports bras have got really good recently. I’m a 30/32D/DD runner and love their bras – as good as Shock Absorbers but a fraction of the price. But don’t waste your time on those not billed as max support, and do try them on, because the sizing is wildly erratic.

  21. I’m between a 36 D & DD and have been using the M&S high support (or whatever it’s called) sports bra, it’s really good and lasted me ages! H&M have some good sports clothing, but I’m not sure about their sports bras.

  22. Not sure if anyone has said this already but Bravissimo is the place to go if you have big boobs and want sports bras/any other kind of bra! It’s expensive but I usually get away with just investing in a couple of new ones every now and again because they do last. I never liked sport until I started wearing proper fitting supportive bras and now I tell everyone to tell teenage girls with big boobs the importance of a proper sports bra. Turns out running is lots more fun when your boobs don’t pop out of your bra!

  23. Go to Bravissimo. I only buy my bras from there. I should now include that I live in America. And as expensive as Bravissimo is, it’s actually cheaper to order my bras there and have them shipped to America, than to buy bras in my size (32G) in an American store. Freya is my favorite brand, though I don’t think they make sports bras. My sports bra is Panache, which is also a fantastic brand. I love it so much. You want a sports bra with underwire. A lot of sports bras use compression as their means of support, but you want to steer clear of compressing breast tissue, it causes your breasts to lose density.

  24. Size 12, sport loving, 32DDer here and YES, if it weren’t for a similarly large chested friend of mine recommending the shock absorber I would still be mystified. All this at the grand old age of 29, despite the fact that I’ve been playing netball since I was 6 – I was a late bloomer and my larger mammaries arrived during my uni days which saw a break in my romance with sport in favour of boys, booze and fags (plus I went to Goldsmiths and much as I loved the place, an arts college is no place for the amateur sportswoman). The thing that made my jaw drop the most after purchasing my shock absorber was that my very lovely and darling boyfriend of 4 years with whom I live said upon seeing me try it on “oh, that’s not how they look on the girls in adverts, I thought sports bras were supposed to be sexy?” *head desk* let’s just say he was given a strong and pointy piece of my mind for this comment, and since then he’s had the sense to a)mostly keep his mouth shut about my sporting apparel and b) when he does comment, he only does so to say that it looks comfortable and supportive. Lesson learnt.

  25. M&S don’t do returns, only credit notes? The cashier was talking bollocks. Half of Britain spends half their life returning things to M&S.

    I personally think shock absorbers are pants if you have large boobs, but it’s probably one of the best there is for the moment. I’ve more or less given up trying to find a good sports bra that gives support and lets me breathe too. Most stores don’t stock much above a 36 – which is a whole other rant. I think we may have to wait another 10 years for technology to get its head around this one.

  26. Sports Direct don’t have changing rooms, so they tell you to try things on at home and bring them back if they don’t fit, and then when they do, they refuse to give you a refund? I’d be going straight to Trading Standards with that!

  27. My best sports bras are from Triumph and I’m a 36DD. So, so comfy. I recommend trying various ones out in Debenhams and John Lewis and then buying several of your chosen one on the internet or washing it by hand after every use because if you are anything like me, exercise will make your boobs trap sweat. Hurrah for mammaries.

  28. Being both a similar size to you in both the boobs and clothes departments and a regular runner I would suggest using the fantastic Leia underwear company for sports bras. They sell all kinds of bras for larger boob-ed women including proper industrial-strength sports bras. I’ve never used anywhere else. Last time I checked they only have three bricks-and-mortar shops (where the service is great) but their online catalogue is just as good.
    As for running trainers I don’t bother with high-street sports shops anymore having had the same problem as you. I’ve found the running Run and Become has a good range for women, as do other “specialist” sports places. Alternatively, I know of a few women including myself who’ve gone to the children’s department in department stores for sports shoes (e.g. football boots) and had little trouble finding something. Once you get over being the only adult there actually trying on shoes, that is! I hope this helps.