Thursday, July 19, 2012

How old is the bra?

A recent find in an Austrian castle is aparently set to rewrite fashion history. Basically they have discovered two bras and a couple of pairs of skimpy string briefs which date from pre 1480 when the castle was extended. Prior to this the earliest date for a bra was the early 18th century, according to the article.
However, if you know your Roman mosiacs, you will know about the bikini mosiacs in Sicily. Roman women were certainly wearing garments which were skimpy!
It does make sense that women wore skimpy briefs, particularly at the TOM when they had a need for padding.  less washing and less potential for mess. As fashion history did not become popular/a serious object for study until the mid 20th century (the main driver was the movie industry), and mostly intimate garments were tossed rather than preserved, it makes sense that we do have a huge gap in our knowledge. People would not be comfortable talking about the subject, particularly in eras when even a glimpse of an ankle was shocking, so why would they keep those types of garments?
With bras, or over the shoulder suport, again it doesn't surprise me. Women are practical. I suspect over the centuries many different forms of suport were used. If you look at the history of undergarments in the late 19th century and early 20 th century (the sample size is large), the sort of undergarment required is dictated by the shape the woman wished to have. If you have a decollete with off the shoulder sleeves, you are going to need under the bust support, for example. The shape of the bust has changed as well. The pigeon breast of the 1890s and Edwardian age gave way to the flatness of the Flapper and eventually you get the pointed bras of the 1950s.
You can see the shape women have today is dictated to a certain extent by spanx and other support clothing.
The bra comes into its own with the advent of elastic. To make a correct fitting and comfortable bra without elastic is a highly technical job. Far easier to push them up sort of thing.
But it is one of those things, we can only have an educated guess about what Viking women or medieval women wore under thier clothes.
I also suspect that if I suddenly have my  Viking heroines wearing bras and skimpy briefs all the time, readers will complain or be drawn out of the story.  But it is something to be aware of certainly.


Caroline said...

Fascinating! Those Romans sure showed us how things were done! Caroline x

Michelle Styles said...

And this is the full BBC magazine article about the find. In case anyone is interested.

Laura Vivanco said...

Isobel Carr, one of the History Hoydens, has also "spent 30+ years as a re-enactor studying late 15th century and early 16th century “German” Landsknechts" and she's written a post about this find with photos which (a) very strongly suggest that the briefs would have been worn by a man and (b), let you take a close look at the "bra"

The bottom is frayed. Why? Because there’s something missing. Please look at the side. See all the little eyelet holes? Those are for lacing. What was the MAIN female undergarment of the day? The kirtle (a long, tightly-fitted smock). You can see tons of examples of this garment in the Wenceslaus Bible (dated to the late 14th century). There is NOTHING groundbreaking about finding the top portion of a kirtle.

Michelle Styles said...

Laura Having read the full length article at the BBC magazine site, it is clear that Isobel Carr didn't bother completeing her research. The woman who wrote that article does indeed know what she is talking about and there are several other photos. It is simply that one looked the most like a bra. I am just amused that people seem ready to believe women wandered around during their TOM leaving droplets and trails of blood everywhere...