By Adam Welsch
Whether or not you own some, chances are that you’re already quite familiar with sports bras. Introduced in the 1970s, they’ve been providing extra support and comfort for women participating in athletics for more than three decades. But how much do you know about intimates designed to accommodate the exercise and fitness needs of the lower half of a woman’s body? Sport panties, which do just that, comprise a relatively new category of woman’s intimate apparel. So how do these 21st-century undies differ from the more commonplace, Monday-to-Sunday undies worn by every woman?
At first glance, sport panties look a lot like every day panties. They’re available in the same silhouettes, and are often referred to as “active briefs,” “active hipsters,” “active boy shorts,” and “active bikinis.” Sport panties are even available in thong styles. Virtually all styles are “tagless,” incorporating heat transfer labels to convey fabric content and care instructions. And like panties you may be wearing right now, they include leg elastics that manufacturers claim will prevent them from riding up and causing wedgies. (Of course, the best insurance against panty ride-up is not leg elastic; it’s a silicone finish applied directly to the fabric that breathes and also doesn’t produce VPLs.) Their fabrics even consist of many of the same panty fibers with which you’re already familiar: nylon, spandex/Lycra®, cotton, and polyester.
But it’s here where the similarities end. Though using similar fibers, sport panties are made from lightweight fabrics that have very different characteristics than those of conventional panties. Most incorporate a great degree of stretch, necessary to accommodate the more extreme, and more repetitive, movements incurred when exercising. Sport panty fabrics also have moisture-wicking abilities. By absorbing perspiration from the skin and efficiently transferring it to their exterior sides, they allow moisture, usually trapped in underwear, to evaporate. This leaves the wearer drier, and, therefore, cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold. Sport panty materials tend to breathe well, making them comfy to wear during the heat of activity. In fact, the use of mesh weaves is quite common in the category. Finally, sport panty fabric is usually very quick-drying, which not only assists in handling perspiration; it also makes such panties easily washable during hiking or camping trips when little storage space is available to carry extra pairs.
Sport panties incorporate other special features. For example, many have antimicrobial properties that help control the odor generated by sweat. Many styles also offer special sun protection built into their fabrics. These can give the wearer an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of as much as 50 (meaning that the fabric only allows 1/50th of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation to flow throw it). Of course, as underwear is worn under pants or shorts, it’s unclear how much extra benefit such UV protection actually provides the wearer. Sport panties also often are made using flat-seam or seamless construction. Such design reduces the amount of chafing that can result from the repetitive rubbing of conventional needle-and-thread seams against the skin during exercise. Many styles also have special waistbands, made of terry cloth or similar materials, which provide additional comfort and absorbency. And lastly, some sport panty styles deliver a small degree of compression that gives the wearer the feeling of support and, perhaps, a slightly leaner appearance.
Two special types of sport panties have been in existence much longer than these modern, high-tech versions. Cheerleading panties have been around as long as cheerleaders’ skirts have been short. And court panties have, for decades, enabled women to carry tennis balls in upside-down hip pockets during tennis matches. Both types of panties are now made with many of the same “sport panty” features described above.
So, if your conventional Monday-to-Sunday undies are a source of wedgie discomfort during your yoga class or daily run; if they become too hot, too cold, or too damp at your moments of greatest exertion; if they don’t seem to provide the types of benefits or features that the rest of your activewear ensemble does, a solution is available. Jog on over to your favorite sporting goods or outdoor retailer and check out its inventory of sport panties. You could buy some online, but then, of course, you’d miss out on all that exercise generated from an old-fashioned, brick & mortar shopping trip.CC Image courtesy Marco Gomes on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcogomes// CC BY 2.0 CC Image courtesy Ernst Moeksis on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/16961193@N06// CC BY 2.0