The Cleavage Corner: it’s where we banish inappropriately dressed Gym Buddies who are having a hard time keeping their lady bits to themselves. Yes, it’s a real corner on our weight floor and yes, we actually use it. The Cleav Corner was established one day when I was testing out a new running skirt at the gym – while I loved the skirt (still running in it 3 years later!) – I did not so much love the attached mesh undies. Let’s just say that while the large open weave made for great breathability it did not make for great coverage. A fact I discovered as we dropped to the floor to do abs only to have Allison scream and throw her sweat towel over my legs. With mirrors on one side, the cardio floor on the second and the track on the remaining two, it was quickly established that if I wanted to get my abs in that day, I’d have to squish into the one corner between two machines and aim my business at the one square foot of blank wall in the whole place.
Since that day of hilarity, Gym Buddies have been sent there for all kinds of modesty infractions (wedgie picking is a popular one) and today was Allison’s turn, thanks to an, ahem, inadequate sports bra. Bras in general are tricky contraptions but sports bras up the ante by adding “compression” on top of cups, wires, hooks and slippery fabric. I was reminded of this when I found this delightful e-mail in my inbox from my oldest friend (oldest, as in she’s known me longer than anyone outside of my immediate family – a rare gift and one I do not thank her for enough!):
“Some of the [sport] tops I see have different strap configurations than my sports bra. I rarely see bra straps hanging out on other runner girls yet I don’t feel like the built in bras are supportive enough for even my tiny little “founts” when I’m running. I always tell my sisters that I should not have been born first! I do not know how to be a girl. How does one manage her straps?”
First: “founts” is the best euphemism I have ever heard for lady lumps (haha I just made a euphemism for a euphemism!). Second: Bra straps are very political.
Who can show what and how much of it is allowed to show and in what context is so tricky that I’m surprised gyms don’t provide more guidance in their new member welcome packets. For instance, many of my group fitness instructors that are women wear just the sports bra alone as their top. There are also a few super fit girls that follow suit. And yet a few months ago when an older, less fit woman took off her long-sleeved tee in the middle of class to reveal nothing but a tiny blue sports bra, the general consensus was “not appropriate”. Of course this pales in comparison with the day a woman did an entire step class in just her black lace Playtex 18-Hour.
For the rest of us though, the issue isn’t whether or not to wear only a sports bra but whether or not any of the (sometimes multiple) bras we are wearing should show. Sports bra manufacturers, with the exception of Enell, seem to assume at least part of their product is going to be on display – why else have all the cute colors, fun patterns and decorative stitching? While mine are normally tucked out of site (it helps that my favorite sports bra is The Handful* and its thin cross-back straps hide under almost every top), I’ve also been known to use my bra as one more layer:
Sometimes I even use the bra straps – again, this is The Handful but with the straps crossed in front instead of in back – as part of the outfit, like this:
Not everyone feels the same way though. One gym friend who asked to remain anonymous (you see how political boulder holders are?!) said tersely, “Visible bra straps are tacky. Period.” When I asked her about the girls who wear only the sports bra as their top, she shook her head and muttered “no comment.” A nearby personal trainer added, “I just don’t want to hear them complain that all the men are staring at their chest.”
Of course it’s not just our upper halves of the hourglass that can send us to the Cleav Corner, as explained by Brooklyn Decker in the February edition of Self (sadly they don’t have the full article online and I already gave away my copy so I’m going to have to paraphrase) when she advises girls to “find a really good pair of leggings” (she owns 10 pairs of her fave Reebok brand) because shorts make you focus on all your imperfections and expose all your goodies (said in true Gym Buddy style!) when you lay down on the weight bench.
I have to say I agree with her. Years ago, when all I did was run I had an admirable collection of Nike tempo track shorts but these days 90% of the time I’m either in pants, skorts or my go-to workout bottoms: the 3/4 length capri legging. Not only do they hide my goodies from every angle but the compression helps my legs when I run and – yes, I’m going to say it – the black is slimming. I love my black leggings so much I own 4 different pairs. And I even prefer them to shorts when I run! Shorts have that weird habit of getting caught between my legs and riding up when I run, giving the impression I’m wearing brightly colored briefs made out of parachute material. Nothing takes your mind off your race like trying to yank your shorts down to a respectable level every 10 steps. Men, incidentally, do not get off the hook with shorts either as I have seen way more than necessary of several men stretching in split shorts (those racing shorts that are slit up to the waistband to allow for greater leg movement).
What’s your take on the great bra debate – to be seen or not to be seen? And how do you gird your loins – shorts, capris or other? To protect your modest opinions, I’ve created a handy poll (if you read this through a reader or e-mail, click through to my site to see):
*Nope, not paid to promote them! I don’t even get free bras from them! I just really love them. Best sports bra around for smaller-chested ladies.