Medieval underwear

Bra This is a 600-year-old bra, part of a recently-publicized archaeological find of thousands of 15th century textiles in an Austrian castle. Until now, the modern bra form was thought to have been invented in the late 19th century. Also uncovered were men's underpants, seen below. University of Innsburck archaeologist wrote about the "medieval lingerie" in BBC History magazine:

 Sites Default Files Lengberg Underpants

There are some written medieval sources on possible female breast support, but they are rather vague on the topic. Henri de Mondeville, surgeon to Philip the Fair of France and his successor Louis X, wrote in his Cyrurgia in 1312–20: “Some women… insert two bags in their dresses, adjusted to the breasts, fitting tight, and they put them [the breasts] into them [the bags] every morning and fasten them when possible with a matching band.”

These ‘bags’ served the same purpose as antique breast bands – that is to contain too large breasts. However, the “shirts with bags in which they put their breasts” that Konrad Stolle complained about in his chronicle of Thuringia and Erfurt in 1480 seem to have obtained the opposite effect, as he concludes his description with the words “all indecent”.

"Medieval lingerie" (via Smithsonian)


  1. It’s amazing that any of the clothing has survived, especially since discarded clothing, including underwear, was often recycled into books.

    It never occurred to me before that that explains why scholars always wear gloves when handling medieval manuscripts. 

    1.  In this case the clothing was recycled into insulation/part of the ceiling of an old house.

  2. My boyfriend says my underwear bears an uncanny resemblance. I see no problem with this – if anything Raquel Welch springs to mind when I look at this little, archaic number…. 

  3. Is this the same era when men wore codpieces which I think were designed to drop open when needed? If so, I suppose Phillip the Fair could have unloosed his codpiece and with little difficulty (those aren’t boxers) whipped out his successor maker as the need arose, shall we say.

  4. Considering the wear pattern on the undies, it seems men have been turning their underpants inside out for centuries.

  5. Seriously, folks, has a DNA test been applied to these two undergarments? Could that determine what gender the briefs were worn by. I’m thinking it’s possible men and women wore the same garment. Wait, I take that back. I think Victorian women’s were designed with an opening between the legs. Was that for easy access  or did it make using the loo a lot easier given the amount of clothing women wore? I find it really interesting how people through the ages found ways to make intimate fashion work for them that didn’t detract from their dignity despite the  harsh conditions sanitation afforded them at the time. Does anyone know of a book describing the history of (for lack of a better term) underwear?

    1. Many books available about medieval underwear, especially if you include French and German works in your search. Recently I even found out about an Anglo-Saxon “underwear” theory of history: after cheap fabric enabled cheap underwear (late 18th, early 19th century in Europe?), the population’s health improvement was great enough to enable the takeoff in prosperity we are currently enjoying.
      (apologies if I’ve posted about the underwear theory of history to bb before; can’t remember ]{*^% but for some reason that facile theory does stick in my mind!)

      1. Thanks for the info. I can see how lighter, cheaper fabric would have a big impact on the health of the general population. Underwear would be easier to clean and people could own more than a few pairs.

    2. My father gave me a pop-up book about underwear through the years as a gift many years ago.  It did seem to be factually based, going back as far as ancient Egypt.

      He has an odd sense of humor.

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