Have you heard the one about the 600-year old bra? (Some of my bras only seem that old, but when I find a bra that works, I’m likely to wear it to shreds. Can any of you relate, or am I just about the laziest lingerie shopper in the universe?) This is a seriously cool discovery, one that I’m particularly interested in because I’ve developed something of a fascination with historical underwear. (I just gave a talk last month about the significance of stays in seventeenth and eighteenth-century North America.)
This discovery by Beatrix Nutz of the University of Innsbruck is important because historians of clothing have assumed that the brassiere was invented little more than a century ago, when aggressive corseting went out of style, and middle-class and elite American and European women were being encouraged (for the health of “the race”) to engage in sports and become more active. Corsets, which by the end of the nineteenth century severely limited one’s lung capacity, were not helpful when engaging in late Victorian and Edwardian-era fashionable sports, like tennis, bicycling, and croquet.
Some news organizations are also publishing photos of what looks like a 600-year old thong that was also part of the same cache of clothing. I’d love to read what you medievalists and/or fashion experts think about this, because I doubt that this article was worn in the way modern women wear underwear. My theory Continue reading