It may be badly deteriorated, but this scrap of linen may be one of the most important discoveries in the history of human dress for many a decade. Why? Because it proves that women’s underclothes existed in the fifteenth century.
For hundreds of years, most costume historians have believed that until well into the sixteenth century, women’s undergarments consisted pretty much entirely of the smock, a sort of undergown.
How did this amazing discovery come to light? Well, some renovations were recently done to Lengberg Castle in East Tyrol. During the work, more than three thousand fragments of clothes and other items of day to day usage were uncovered. The pieces were believed to have been buried when the building was expanded in about 1480.
The piece pictured above is described as a bra, but there is a strip down the lefthand side of it that clearly shows holes for a lacing to go through, indicating to me that it’s more along the lines of an early corset. There is apparently another garment similar to this one and two ‘shirts with bags’ that appear to have been meant to serve a similar function of breast support.
Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that two pairs of what seem to be women’s underpants were also found.
My guess? From the number of layers of cloth in the front, and the fact that there don’t seem to be so many layers in the back, is that this is actually medieval Kotex. Some experts in the subject believe that women didn’t do anything to contain menstrual flow back in the day, but there have been some vague references here and there to ‘clouts’ for women which seem to have been worn at certain times and not others. Hmmm… this looks like some strong potential evidence to me.
I don’t know about you, but I’m eager to see what new facts can be gleaned from these exciting finds!
If nothing else, SCA costuming will never be the same.