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The Nike sports bra that has changed the history of football and fashion

The one worn by Brandi Chastain during an iconic goal celebration

The Nike sports bra that has changed the history of football and fashion The one worn by Brandi Chastain during an iconic goal celebration

When I hear about sports bra and women's football there's only one image that comes to my mind, every single time, with no exceptions. Clear in my head there's the scene of Bend It Like Beckham where Keira Knightley is wearing a dark blue adidas sports bra while training on the football pitch. Despite the thin figure of the English actress, clearly not the one of a pro player, that top worn with white shorts and black football shoes felt already like a conquer: there was a woman on the football pitch, and she wasn't wearing an oversized jersey, but a tight top, she wasn't hiding her body, she was showing it. 

If in that 2002 movie Keira would play football wearing a sports bra the merit is also of Brandi Chastain and the moment that made the history not only of women's football but of female sports in general. 

July 10th, 1999, Pasadena, California, Women's World Cup final, the United States vs China. At the stadium there are more than 90 thousand spectators, that's the most watched event in the history of women's football. Shooting the decisive penalty kick there's Brandi Chastain, 31-year-old defender and midfielder of the USA, one of the best players in the history of the sport. Chastain is nervous, the goalie for the Chinese team is Gao Hong, who a few months before had already parried her an important kick. The coach of the US tells Chastain to take the penalty kick with her left foot, despite the fact that she'd never taken a kick with that foot, let alone during a World Cup. The coach wants to surprise the Chinese goalie. Chastain listens to him. Brandi scores and the United States Of America become the world champions. 

As soon as the ball hits the back of the net, in an extremely spontaneous and instinctive gesture, Chastain takes off her shirt, she whips it off over her head, before kneeling down on the grass with her closed fist to scream a freeing 'Yes'. Brandi remains like that, jubilant and excited, wearing a black sports bra with a small Nike logo. Tearing off the jersey was a very common celebration among male footballers - an act that is now forbidden - but that made by a woman caused a series of strong and different reactions. 

Right away many accused Brandi of shifting the focus away from the match to her body, there's who finds this celebration indecent, disrespectful, almost offensive, as if to say 'A woman should not flash her bra on the pitch". The communicative and aesthetic reach of this celebration is unprecedented, and that's exactly why it became iconic. Celebrating on the field there was a woman proud of her performance and of her ripped and fit body, the result of sacrifices and hard work. 

I had no idea that would be my reaction - It was truly genuine and it was insane and it was a relief and it was joy and it was gratitude all wrapped into one. 

The image of Brandi Chastain kneeled down with her shirt off enters immediately in the collective imagination. The best moment of her life on the field - according to what Brand said - fronts the covers of magazines like NewsweekSports Illustrated and Time Magazine, with headlines like Girls Rule!Yes!What a Kick!

Maybe even more than Brandi, the real protagonist of this goal celebration was the Nike sports bra. During the halftime, Brandi went back to the locker room to change her bra since she was very sweaty. The football player picked a black top with a small Swoosh on the left side. Many thought that all this scene was actually just a Nike marketing operation. Brandi was a defender, though, no one expected her to score such an important goal; and if it actually were a marketing operation, Nike would have definitely opted for an item with a much bigger and visible logo. Besides the economic connotations, the image of that sports bra marks a historic change in the perception of this item: the innerwear became outerwear, what was usually hidden under other clothes became now the protagonist. 

When she ripped off her shirt and said it was acceptable, she changed the rules. - Marshal Cohen, senior retail analyst for the NPD Group. 

In the next few months, there was an escalation in the sales of sports bra by 25/26%, something that had never happened before. 


A few days ago Mark Parker, Nike CEO, stated that for the first time in its history the Beaverton brand is now the largest seller of bras in the US. Such an important achievement is undeniably connected with that afternoon in 1999: Nike was the first brand to realize that comfort and beauty could and should coexist, giving life to comfortable and beautiful items that both pro athletes and common women would want to wear. 

Over the course of the years, the Nike top worn by Brand was exhibited in museums, graced the cover of a number of books, was at the centre of many discussions, but now it sits in a drawer in the now 50-year-old player. Sometimes Brandi, when the laundry gets low, would still wear it. It's not a relic, but an active symbol of female empowerment. 

Brandi Chastain's celebration has definitely left a mark on the history of women's football, a sport that is now living an unprecedented moment of fame and attention due to the Women's World Cup, that will end on Sunday, July 7  with the final match with the United States the vs Netherlands. It comes spontaneously to think if Brandi's act today would cause the same type of reactions, if we still find it hard to look at a woman's body without any sexual connotation, or if we remain faithful to a bigoted and anachronistic vision.