Bras from Middle Ages found in castle
Thanks to garments like this one found in Austria, we now know that the modern bra might not be such a modern invention.
July 26th, 2012
08:00 AM ET

Bras from Middle Ages found in castle

Scientists in Austria recently revealed a secret bigger than Victoria’s. 

While excavating Lengberg Castle in 2008, a group of archaeologists led by the University of Innsbruck’s Dr. Harald Stadler unearthed a sack from a recess in the floor. Inside, they found underwear, shoes and four linen pieces that looked like bras. The castle was first documented in 1190, but archaeologists suspect the sack and its contents were left there during a renovation in the 15th century. 

Many people believe the modern bra was invented after corsets, and was a revolutionary result of late 19th and early 20th century style and engineering. But the "treasure chest" of chest wear suggests that the bra as we know it is just the most recent overhaul in a long line of similarly shaped breast supports.

"(The find) reminds people not to assume we already know everything, and to keep an open mind to possible new discoveries about our history," said Beatrix Nutz, a member of Stadler's team who he commissioned to research the textiles in 2009.

“I don’t think they quite revolutionize the history of underwear, but this find certainly will modify it,” says Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the research. “I think it means people should go back and look a bit more carefully at other garments and images in antiquities collections, to focus on something that may be more ignored."

The four newly discovered bras include two that resemble crop tops with bag-like cups, a decorated piece with thick shoulder straps and bags, and one that surprised Nutz with its similarity to lingerie in the 20th century.

“The one that I myself like to compare to a modern ‘long-line bra’ does look as if it could have been fashioned not 100 years ago,” Nutz said of the bra, which has thin straps and minimal cups. “The radiocarbon dates proved otherwise.”

Two of bras - in addition to a pair of underpants, a girls dress and a shirt fragment - have been carbon dated to the 15th century, Nutz said. This coincides with the idea that the garments were disposed of during the recorded renovation of Lengberg Castle.

Similarities between the medieval bras and our current collection of demis, push-ups and racer backs end pretty quickly in the realm of construction.

The medieval bras are linen while modern bras take advantage of synthetic fibers. Additionally, Nutz’s "long-line" bra fastens at the side instead of the back, cup sizes didn’t exist in the 15th century, and, of course, the Lengberg bras are all hand-sewn.

Curious to see how these bras fit into medieval chronology, Nutz began a personal inquiry into the history of underwear in general. She also contacted peers in Germany and France for help finding mentions of undergarments in medieval texts. What she found out was that, apart from differences in form, these bras also served functions different from those desired today.

Where most bras today are worn to highlight contents of all sizes, breasts deemed too large found their ways into "breast bags" in order to minimize their appearance.

“These ‘bags’ would have been utilitarian,” Nutz said.

Bras meant to highlight were used in private.

“Only the wearer herself and her husband would have seen them,” Nutz said. “As all ‘bras’ are decorated in some way it must be suspected that the wife would have at least wanted to look nice for her husband.”

Because the recently discovered bras are decorative, they would belong to members of the elite, Steele said.

“Linen was fairly widely used, but to have linen as underclothing helps protect your outerwear from your dirty body,” Steele said. “You can wash linen, you can’t easily wash silk or velvet or fur.”

Women were also discouraged from wearing underpants if they weren’t wealthy (those who did were assumed to discard them frequently in the company of men), but it is not yet known if the underpants found in the sack were men’s or women’s garments.

Despite differences, Nutz said that the medieval finds meet criteria for bras. The newly found bras have cups, where ancient Mediterranean "bras" were “simple strips of cloth or leather wound around the breasts and designed to flatten rather than enhance,” she wrote.

Even so, the presence of enhancing bras could represent the growing European fascination with empires of old, Steele said.

“In the 1500s, you certainly had people becoming increasingly aware of antiquity and ancient Rome, so I think that’s possible,” Steele said.

Steele said that bras called strophiums were common in ancient Rome, and indicative of class and style.

“Only the lowest class prostitute would take it off during sex. It has erotic significance as well as ‘breast support,’” Steele said. Mosaics do, however, depict Roman women wearing bandeau-like bikini tops while engaging in athletics.

Even so, bra-wearing wasn’t well received in the middle ages. Could wearing bras, then, have been a statement about standards for women?

“I don’t think it was a protest,” said Nutz, noting that progressive fashions have been worn throughout history without necessarily having social agendas. “Some people don’t like them because they’re too skimpy, and most things are met with skepticism at first.”

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Filed under: Discoveries • News • On Earth
soundoff (109 Responses)
  1. Davehuckle

    Must be a very slow day in Science when a 600 year old bra makes the news.

    August 22, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  2. Guest

    Bras?
    We dont need no stinkin bras

    August 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  3. Keepalowprofile

    As far as I know, Women have had breasts since the beginning of time. Why wouldn't we have garments to support them?

    August 6, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Isaac

      well said!

      August 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  4. Piranha

    Peridot2, you are just full of s....ignificant information.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • peridot2

      Nice. Yeah, that's what a BA in Marine Biology gets you today.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Michelle

      looks like my bra now after my dog is through with it.

      August 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  5. peridot2

    The first modern brassiere to receive a patent was the one invented in 1913 by a New York socialite named Mary Phelps Jacob. Mary Phelps Jacob had just purchased a sheer evening gown for one of her social events. At that time, the only acceptable undergarment was a corset with whalebone. Mary found that the whalebone poked out around the low neckline and was too visible under the thin fabric. Using two handy silk hankies and some pink ribbon, Mary had designed a whole new concept for women's undergarments! She was a hit at her event and all her friends wanted what she was wearing.

    My previous post on this topic was off by a few years, nor was Mrs Phelps French. Absent those errors this information is now correct.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • greek10

      I've read through all of these comments. You really are full of unneeded comments. People are reading this article for their own enjoyment and posting their own opinions. If you're going to post "facts" to argue against other's remarks please do make sure that your statements are accurate. Having to correct yourself multiple times makes you look like even more of a booby than everyone else. Not to mention you are quite condescending. BA in Marine Bio? Yeah you're a genius. Double major in Classics and Biology. But I'm not disrespecting other's opinions because I don't think I'm any better than they are. COME AT ME BRO'! Lmao

      August 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  6. Piranha

    Made in China

    July 31, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • peridot2

      Made in Austria. Read the caption again.

      July 31, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • duh

      MADE IN CHINA

      August 2, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
      • peridot2

        Caption: 'Thanks to garments like this one found in AUSTRIA, we now know that the modern bra might not be such a modern invention.'

        China has nothing to do with it, genius. Can't you read?

        August 2, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Fox

      In Soviet Russia, bra pre-dates you.

      August 7, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  7. Southern

    The first bra in existence probably dates back to the time of the first boob.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • peridot2

      Boobs* predated bras and corsets by millennia.

      From dictionary dot com:

      *boob 1    [boob] noun

      1. a stupid person; fool; dunce.

      2. British . a blunder; mistake.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
      • Sternberg

        Boob, also comes from a latin word for a spherical object. You can look it up.

        August 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
      • peridot2

        Fair enough, Sternberg, but not my point.

        August 5, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  8. $tillRun!n1@Ya.com

    Never was a fan of the Bra...Thier kinda like airplanes to me..."Best part is taking off"

    July 29, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  9. bee

    in Scottland their wear with man's dress.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Piranha

      Yes, to held the BOYS tight and stop from banging at each other.

      August 3, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  10. teetspeare

    Looks like a wardrobe malfunction..

    July 26, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
  11. jtucker4

    I don't know if I should be shocked to know they found a 500 year old bra or that some guys were searching around looking for old underwear.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • peridot2

      They were not searching for old underwear.

      July 28, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
      • Piranha

        Just so happen that the pungent smell lead them to it.

        August 3, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  12. workingsushi

    Reblogged this on American Pipe Dreams and commented:
    Our history is awesome.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  13. WickedPolly

    BURN IT!

    July 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • Piranha

      Don't burn it, put it on e-bay.

      August 3, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  14. Nick

    Regardless of whether woman had bras in the 15th century, its a good bet they didn't bath as we do today and more than likely that bra wearing wench probably still smelled like a rancid goat!

    July 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • SophieCat

      The fact that men would chase that rancid-goat-smelling woman around so they could remove that bra speaks volumes about men, doesn't it?

      July 30, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
      • laughingmonkey

        I can't believe a report about a bra from the 15th century is getting this much attention. It's a bra people! As a woman I would like the person that decided strapping cloth around your breasts was a fabulously comfortable idea to be sent in front of a firing squad.

        August 4, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • peridot2

      What do you suppose the men smelled like? Stench is a of the word that comes to mind. Everyone had a strong smell back then.

      Does Nick think his gender has no scent? Imagine that.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  15. Johnny Orlando

    What was the cup size?

    July 26, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  16. CoolB

    Nutz! How many times can a story about bra's say nutz? This is the funniest story I've ever read on CNN.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  17. RillyKewl

    How many times have I got to tell you?
    Don't put your bras in the dryer!

    July 26, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  18. watergirl

    This is probably one of the funniest commenting sessions I have seen on this site.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • OopsTheyDothBeSaggingAgain

      I totally agree, I'm laughing so hard I'm almost puking.

      July 26, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  19. JPoet

    I for one would like further clarification.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • peridot2

      On what topic?

      July 30, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  20. billy jester

    a cave man actually invented the bra. it was called the "under shoulder bolder holder". I read it in the World Book in 1962.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • MJ180

      No, the under shoulder bolder holder (under wire bra) is a relatively recent invention. The cave men invented the over shoulder bolder holder.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
      • nikoliaes

        yea....they also invented the under-the-butt-nut-hut...aka mens underwear...lol

        July 27, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  21. ata22299

    It's fantastic and surprising,because we havn't asked ourselves before about the origin and the first using date of bras!The same remark for the "tie",the "pants" and the"shirt" for example. It an important discovery.Let's update our knowledge in clothes and fashion world !

    July 26, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • peridot2

      We have. Until this discovery, it was believed the bra was invented in the 1920s when a Frenchwoman took 2 handkerchiefs and sewed them together with some straps, creating the first brassiere.

      The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
      • peridot2

        The above is incorrect. It was an American socialite who invented the bra.

        August 4, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Piranha

      Bras ! Bahhhh, nothing but a source of frustrations, just burn them, burn them all.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  22. Sabindi

    Knock Knock!
    Who's there?
    Emerson!
    Emerson Who?
    Emersome nice Breast!

    July 26, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  23. a famous brony

    Alas, a device to vanquish the terror that is thy wretched sagging teats.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  24. Brent

    This is not a woman's bra. Actually, during the 15th century the Austrian men were known to have very large balls. This is a man's ball sack support. Really!

    July 26, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • mcccc

      Balls??? I think you mean "nutz".

      July 26, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  25. Pikachu

    I think these are Madonna's.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Maryann

      Sick burn!!

      July 27, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  26. blanketjackson

    Ye over the shouldre boulder holdre.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Michael

      Ok you made me laugh there.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • palustris

      Aye...but this was Austria dear sir. Hence, a Germanic dialect...they were called a 'holdsumfrum floppin'

      July 26, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
      • noillusion

        True translation: Schtopsumfromfloppin

        July 27, 2012 at 2:19 am |
  27. reddog9500

    Ahhh, the beginnings of the "Bird-dog bra". (Turns "setters" into "pointers".)

    July 26, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  28. reddog9500

    "Fredricks of Lengberg" was written on a small piece of material attached to the bras.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • RillyKewl

      favorite comment so far!

      July 26, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • knockers up

      LOL!!!

      July 26, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  29. marc

    Could it simply be these bras were made not for support or anything else but simply to wick sweat and skin oils off? If you've ever known a woman with larger breasts, in hot weather it's kind of easy to get a really uncomfortable rash under the breasts. Combine that with seldom bathing.... My guess would be it's more for that purpose.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  30. reddog9500

    Are they sure that what they think of as "bras" aren't "double-barreled sling shots"?

    July 26, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  31. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    When I read something like this article claiming the bra is from the middle ages just makes me laugh because it's a lie and there are some of us who know the truth, don't we.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • peridot2

      What is your claim that trumps carbon dating? Please, elucidate (post proof).

      July 28, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • peridot2

      Still waiting for your 'truth,' Claudia.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  32. Great Name!

    One word: Nutz!

    July 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  33. Cro- Magnum

    Just follow the underware.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  34. LouAZ

    Medieval Castle found surrounding bag of Bras ! News at eleven !

    July 26, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  35. LuisWu

    Please show the panties too....

    July 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      "Women were also discouraged from wearing underpants if they weren’t wealthy (those who did were assumed to discard them frequently in the company of men), but it is not yet known if the underpants found in the sack were men’s or women’s garments."

      I wonder how they know they were discouraged from wearing pants. And if women were discouraged, why did men? Who did wear the pants?

      July 26, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
      • MsWormwood

        Because it was considered indecent for anything to go between a woman's legs. Men didn't wear tighty whities either. Remember that scene in P&P where Darcy came out of the water wearing only his shirt? Well...white linen is transparent when wet ...

        July 27, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  36. Melissa

    Whew, those look very uncomfortable!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  37. Melo

    One thing is for certain. The shape of women's breasts have not evolved much. What happened to this poor woman, did someone attack her?

    July 26, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  38. dowdotica

    i love buubies!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  39. Alie

    "Where bras today are worn to highlight contents of all sizes, breasts deemed too large found their ways into "breast bags" in order to minimize their appearance." And the author keeps repeating it.

    Has this author NEVER heard of a minimizer? Modern bras almost always minimize for larger sizes

    July 26, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Aloisae

      I had to laugh at that line about all of today's bras are meant to "highlight contents of all sizes". The writer not only has obviously never heard of minimizers... she also has obviously never worn a high impact sports bra.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
      • RillyKewl

        I know! What a weird comment.
        I was thinking it must've been written by a man.
        No woman would even think like that.

        July 26, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  40. freshnewblog

    Very poorly written article. Does it even state what year the castle and bras were from?

    July 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • boob

      "– have been carbon dated to the 15th centuries." Eyes of the boobs, and on the writing please.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Snacklefish

      "Two of bras – in addition to a pair of underpants, a girls dress and a shirt fragment – have been carbon dated to the 15th centuries, Nutz said."
      Reading is fundamental.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • RP1509

      Carbon dated to the 15th century. Read the article.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      Castle = 1160 and the bras are from the 16th century. Just read for content... not visualization.

      July 27, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
      • Elizabeth

        Make that 1190.

        July 27, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  41. Eric the actor

    And hence in the middle ages began mans struggle with removing said strophiums. Where is that dang clip!?!?!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  42. Burbank

    Cup sizes were not needed back then, the bras obviously were all hand fitted to the wearer. Cup sizes are a necessary invention of mass production. I will still never understand the fascination society has over 2 lumps of fat on a woman's chest, fat on an organ that was meant for babies, not men.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Joe

      Burbank, you obviously failed biology. Google it and learn something.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • You fail sir

      Because babies are far too young to properly appreciate women's breasts. it takes a man to do it.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
      • Melissa

        lmao

        July 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Dan

      Because they are part of a woman's overall femininity, very different form men, and therefore, attractive. Just as some women are attracted to men with hairy chests, simply because it is masculine.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • you sir are remarkably unintelligent

      read my user name and u should get the jist of your lack of literacy in general human biology

      July 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      Umm...are you male and have you reached puberty yet??!

      July 26, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Christy

      You sound like a real hellcat in the sack, lady...

      July 26, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • palustris

      You are obviously female. They ALL say that.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • knockers up

      "2 lumps of fat on a woman's chest"
      jeez, when you put it like that you take all the fun out of them!

      July 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  43. Scott

    "cup sizes didn’t exist in the 15th century"

    So... they find the oldest bra they've ever found, having not known bras were even available during that period, yet they somehow know that "cup sizes didn't exist in the 15th century"? You mean, just like bras didn't exist in the 15th century?

    July 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Abbeystone

      The modern system of cup sizes was invented n 1932. They're referring to that.

      July 26, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • SJS

      Uh for the same reason that clothes didn't have sizes. Sizes are from mass production, everything back in the 15 century was tailor made. Duh.

      July 26, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • peridot2

      Scott, judging by your comment, you could be in elementary or middle school.

      Well, now. There are historians who specialise in clothing going back to the first century in archaeology and even farther back. They study these topics. It's a science.

      July 28, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  44. Hot Carl

    What nasty things I would do with that.......

    July 26, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • casper

      sad to think the beautiful numnums that used to fit so nicely in that old rag has turned to dust.😦

      July 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
      • Mel's reply

        But in return, so many more beautiful ones grew back. Bottle is always 3/4 full.

        July 26, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
      • SophieCat

        Numnums?

        July 30, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  45. Badly-Bent

    You mean the over-the-shoulder bolder holder's older than Mulder?

    July 26, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • unclefcr

      the under the butt nut hut is still in a rut

      July 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Burbank

      You mean holdenz frum floppenz?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm |

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