A recent discovery in an Austrian castle has revealed that bras existed back in the 15th century. It is among dozens of new textile artifacts that seem to have been preserved by a lucky accident, which will give historians a much better understanding of late medieval fashion.
The research, led by Beatrix Nutz of Innsbruck University, examines a room that was discovered in the south wing of Castle Lengberg in 2008. Evidence shows that the room was sealed off in the late 15th-century, and its dry conditions helped preserve organic material such as twigs and straw, as well as worked wood, leather (mainly shoes) and textiles.
In a paper given last year at the North European Symposium on Textiles, Professor Nutz explains that hundreds of textiles were discovered, some of which were clothing in very good condition. She said, “amid them were several nearly complete linen bras and fragments of corselettes, some rather coarsely made others more elaborately decorated with plaited borders and sprang worked parts. One of the bras even has a rather modern look.”
Altogether four bras were discovered, along with an underwear that also looks remarkably like a string bikini. The historian was herself skeptical that the lingerie was medieval, but since then radio-carbon dating has confirmed it to be from the 15th century. Nutz adds, “all other textiles from this find, like fragments of dresses, shirts, trousers, laces etc., fit well to the 15th century (except for a few very small pieces that could easily have fallen through gaps in the wooden floor). In addition, the shoes being found together with the textiles in the same layer are all of types in fashion from the end of the 14th to the first half of the 15th century.”
Hilary Davidson, fashion curator at the Museum of London, commented to the Daily Mail that this find is unprecdented. “These finds are a very exciting insight into the way people dressed in the Middle Ages,” she said. “It’s rare that everyday garments of any kind survive from this period, let alone underwear.”
See also our follow up article: More on medieval bras – new details on 15th century find
News of the discovery was published today in BBC History Magazine.