Researchers have just uncovered the 600-year-old lingerie. This discovery upsets historical knowledge.

Here is a find that shakes the world of lingerie: the bra is not a modern invention. Archaeologists from the University of Innsbruck in Austria have announced that they have found in the castle of Lengberg four bras dating from the Middle Ages.

Historians of fashion generally agreed that the appearance of this underwear was the abandonment of the corset, more than 100 years ago. If the prototype was patented in 1859 in New York, the name “bra” appears in 1904 in the Larousse dictionary and in 1912, under the name of “brassière”, in the Oxford. The diminutive “bra” will only begin to be used in English-speaking countries in the 1930s. But it is now certain that the bra preceded the corset in the history of women’s lingerie. One of the specimens, in particular, caught the attention of specialists: it “looks exactly like a modern bra,” says Hilary Davidson, curator of fashion at the London Museum, the Daily Mail. “It’s an amazing discovery,” she says.

Historical upheaval

The underwear was found among more than 2,700 textile fragments in a vault under the floor of a room on the second floor of the castle, a place dry enough to prevent their degradation. Four of these linen pieces look like modern bras, with separate hats, and one of them looks a lot like what is done today, with two wide shoulder straps and maybe a belt in the back, not preserved, but the partially torn edges are visible. Another resemblance to the modern era, lingerie was not only functional. It was very finely decorated with lace and other ornaments, whose vocation was clearly to please. Another found linen undergarment looks very much like a men’s underpants because women in the Middle Ages wore only open skirts under their dress. “The breeches were considered a mark of male dominance and power,” says Beatrix Nutz of the University of Innsbruck. Medieval drawings often show a man and a woman arguing for possession in a symbolic fight to find out who, literally, was going to wear the panties …

The discovery does not date, in fact, this year. The Beatrix Nutz team actually unearthed these undergarments in 2008, but it took some time for research and carbon dating to provide answers. If Beatrix Nutz gave a lecture last year, the impact did not go beyond academia, until the article of the BBC History Magazine published this month. We already knew, by painting, how to dress at the time. But we knew nothing about the underwear. This find fills a gap.

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