Found in a castle vault, the scraps of lace that show lingerie was all the rage 500 years ago
22:31 GMT, 16 July 2012
It is hardly racy by today’s standards but this skimpy lingerie has certainly shocked historians.
The lace and linen undergarments date back to hundreds of years before women’s underwear was thought to exist.
They had lain hidden in a vault beneath the floorboards of an Austrian castle since the 15th century.
Despite their state of decay, the knickers bear more than a passing resemblance to the string bikini briefs popular today, while the bra has the fitted cups and delicate straps of its modern-day counterparts.
Foundations of history: This bra was discovered hidden in a vault at Lengberg Castle in East Tyrol and is thought to date back to the 15th century
While it was known that medieval men wore undergarments like modern-day shorts, it was thought that their womenfolk simply wore a smock or chemise, and that knickers didn’t make an appearance until the late 18th century.
Bras were thought to be an even more modern invention, not appearing until around 100 years ago.
However, Hilary Davidson, fashion curator at the Museum of London, said the discovery ‘totally rewrites’ fashion history, adding: ‘Nothing like this has ever come up before.’
She believes it is ‘entirely probable’ that something similar was worn by Britain’s medieval women.
She said: ‘These finds are a very exciting insight into the way people dressed in the Middle Ages.
‘It’s rare that everyday garments of any kind survive from this period, let alone underwear.’
Revealing relic: A pair of knickers found in Lengberg Castle
The undergarments were among almost 3,000 fragments of clothing and other detritus found in Lengberg Castle in East Tyrol during recent renovations.
It is thought that they were buried when the building was extended in 1480 and that the exceptionally dry conditions stopped the fragile garments from disintegrating over the centuries.
Beatrix Nutz, of Innsbruck University, who made the find, initially faced scepticism but radiocarbon-dating tests confirmed her suspicions.
The haul included four bras and two pairs of pants. Two of the bras resemble modern counterparts but the others are described rather bluntly as ‘shirts with bags’, the August issue of the BBC History Magazine reports.