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Intimate Victory

July 16, 1999|BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Brandi Chastain ripped off her jersey after the U.S. soccer team's stunning victory in the Women's World Cup on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, the San Jose native made a statement about the power of women in sports.

She also made a fashion statement in her black Nike sports bra.

"I guess people expected when she took off her shirt, she would have a white Warner's bra on," says Missy Park, president of Title Nine Sports, a women's sports apparel retailer in Berkeley.

Industry watchers expect sales of sports bras to spike up thanks to Brandi and her bra.

World Cup aside, sales of sports bras already account for the largest share of the $12 billion women's intimate apparel business.

The number of sports bras sold in the United States has increased 80% in the last five years. More than 57 million were sold in 1998, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm in Port Washington, N.Y.

But it hasn't always been that way. When Park began her business 10 years ago, there were few sports bras on the market.

"When manufacturers would think of sports apparel for women, they would think fashion, not function. But women don't want a men's jock strap made over in pink."

Today her Title Nine Sports catalog sells more than 40 different styles of sports bras for all sizes and shapes.

Sports bras are not only winning praise on the playing field. With more styles and brands to choose from (Nike, Champion and Adidas to name a few), women are wearing the bras even when they are not working out.

The American Apparel Manufacturers Assn. found less than half of sports bras purchased last year were used for sports.

Labels such as DKNY, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Warner's, best known for traditional undergarment styles, are cashing in on the trend, producing a number of pieces inspired by sports bras.

Women favor these more casual bras because they don't have underwires, making them more comfortable. Also, when worn under a tank top, a sports bra doesn't look as obvious as having a white bra strap showing.

Some young girls prefer sports bras because they look hip, unlike the awkward training bras of years past.

Mary Howell of the American Apparel Manufacturers Assn., says, "Everyone saw a jog bra on national TV. Chastain will be a hero for many young women."

And so will her bra.

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