Archaeologists have unearthed several 600-year-old bras that experts say could rewrite fashion history. While they’ll hardly send pulses racing by today’s standards, the lace-and-linen underpinnings predate the invention of the modern brassiere by hundreds of years. Found hidden under the floorboards of Lengberg Castle in Austria’s East Tyrol, along with some 2,700 textile remains and one completely preserved pair of (presumably male) linen underpants, the four intact and two fragmented specimens are believed to date to the 15th century, a hypothesis scientists later confirmed through carbon-dating.
Unlike female undergarments, male underpants are frequently depicted in medieval imagery.
Several schools of thought abound over who developed the first bra. Among the leading contenders are Herminie Cadolle, a corset-maker in late 18th century France, and Mary Phelps Jacob, a New York socialite who was awarded the U.S. patent in 1914.
History has shown little indication that bras with clearly visible cups existed before the 19th century.
While medieval-written sources sometimes mentioned “bags of the breasts,” “shirts with bags,” or “breast bands,” history has shown little indication that bras with clearly visible cups existed before the 19th century, according to Beatrix Nutz, an archaeologist with the University of Innsbruck who made the find. “My first thought was what probably anybody would have thought, ‘That´s impossible, there aren´t such things as bras in the 15th century,’” Nutz tells Ecouterre.
Skeptical, Nutz and her team combed the grounds for evidence that the bras were dumped at the castle at a later time. They came up empty, however. “Besides, all the applied techniques used to fashion the garments were more or less common—or at least known—in the 15th century,” she adds. “Only when we got the results of the radiocarbon-dating from the ETH in Zurich did we believe that they were indeed from the late Middle Ages.”
Hilary Davidson, fashion curator at the Museum of London, told the Daily Mail that the discovery “totally rewrites” fashion history, adding that “nothing like this has ever come up before.” “These finds are a very exciting insight into the way people dressed in the Middle Ages,” she added. “It’s rare that everyday garments of any kind survive from this period, let alone underwear.”
To regale you further, Nutz translated an extract from “Meister Reuauß,” a 15th century satirical poem that suggests why breasts continue to compel and confound us till this very day:
Many a woman makes two bags for the breasts with
it she roams the streets,
so that all the guys look at her,
and see what beautiful breasts she has got;
But whose breasts are too large,
makes tight pouches,
so it is not told in the city,
that she has such big breasts.
The more things change…