While the streets block off / Getting some skin exposure to the blackout

Being lucky enough to be relatively flat, it may seem odd that my bra-type of choice is the sports bra. From the very first shopping trip for a bra of any kind though, I’ve always hated any sort of padding in a bra, and I quickly grew to hate any hint of wired discomfort. In truth, nowadays I prefer going completely without anything if I can get away with it, or a Hopeless cropped cami that’s meant to be sleepwear. However, the majority of my warmer weather wear has low armholes, so sometimes I do need something else underneath for the sake of propriety or whatever.

And I thought I had found that perfect something in BlackMilk’s gym range. Indeed, as soon as I got my BlackMilk bra (a.k.a. the ‘Sheer Back Gym Crop‘ – above) in May 2014, I bought a second one two months later. Touted not as a restrictive ‘sports bra’ for high impact activity but instead a ‘crop top’ made with their ‘pro’ moisture-wicking/quick-dry tech-fabric in front and a breezy mesh for the racer back, these tops were in high rotation, perfect for both peaking out of tops AND comfortable backpacking trips in the summer. Alas, a year and a half of that high rotation eventually exhausted the serged and elasticized edges around the arms and racerback, and the bottom elastic band that was approximately 1″ wide permanently folded in half, making it tighter around the underbust and much less comfortable.

I was so excited to hear then that the BlackMilk gym range was finally getting some new crop tops. I hesitated to buy the ‘Cage Fighter Crop‘ (below), which looked like the Sheer Back 2.0, only because of the change in venue and currency – while BlackMilk has otherwise always been a made-in-Australia brand, the gym range is now completely made in and shipped from their Los Angeles location, meaning the prices are now in USD rather than AUD. And so, compared to the $45 AUD Sheer Back with free shipping, which translated roughly to $45 CDN, the $40 USD + shipping Cage Fighter now translates to $76 CDN. Ouch.

But, having had no luck anywhere else in finding sportswear not made in China, I bit the bullet and ordered a Cage Fighter. And boy, was that a mistake. While it looks like an improved version of the Sheer Back, three or four design changes have made it one of worst sports bras I’ve ever worn.

First of all, whereas the seams were all serged in the Sheer Back, the seams are now finished with a matching bias tape (? – I think that’s what it would be called) over top of the raw edges. Meaning, the tape itself is quad-layered, over top of the base fabric. Looks nice from far, but…

Second, the front material is now doubled. I believe this is meant to provide more support, but double means: a) more sweating just from the heat trapped in by the material (in part also due to a higher-cut, cleavage-covering neckline), kind of negating the moisture-wicking properties (indeed, I had to sponge myself off just after wearing it while putting make-up on); and b) with the way the seams are finished, there are so many layers of material at the top of the side seams (2 from the front material, 4×2 from the front and back bias tape, 1 from the back material, and 2 from the overlapping elastic, which is thicker than in the Sheer Back, and is sharp where it peaks out from the bias tape), creating a big bulging mass of materials, which you can see a bit in the above left photo. And this might’ve been fine, but…

Third, the sides seem to be cut about 1-1.5 inches higher than the Sheer Back, at least between my old size medium Sheer Backs and the size large Cage Fighter I received (I was advised to size up for the new style). Meaning, with side seams rather than seams near the back, that bulging mass of material is pretty much right in your armpit. Which might’ve been fine but…

Fourth, and I don’t know if this is because the back material is now all mesh rather than just in part or because of the seams that don’t expose any of the elastic (other than in the armpit), this thing slides up and the finished seams (around the arm holes, straps, and neckline) curl under rather than staying perfectly in place like the Sheer Back (and any good sports bra). Meaning, I’m constantly having to adjust and pull at something that should be the lowest maintenance bra ever.

I think the only thing good about this top is that the elastic around the underbust is now much narrower, so it should never develop that permanent fold. But that very small positive feature is just not good enough to meet what I’m looking for, i.e. a comfortable top with a bit of support that provides enough coverage and doesn’t dissolve me into a puddle. Sigh. I have shared this feedback with the team at the LA BlackMilk, because I do know that they revamp designs when they aren’t happy with them, and they do take their customers’ feedback into consideration. But for me, though I love BlackMilk and wear my other pieces from them all the time, I will sadly say so long to their gym wear. My next move is to try a made-in-Canada sportswear brand that I just discovered, called Karma Athletics. I just bought a couple sports bras from them in the wrong size, so I haven’t been able to test drive them yet. For the price ($48-58 CDN and free shipping) and obviously high quality design though, I’m very optimistic that I’ll have some support soon. A bit more than I really need, but I’ll take what I can get at this point.

(Photos from BlackMilk)

Title quote: “Blackout”, from Heroes