600-Year-Old Bras Unearthed in Austrian Castle

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AP / University Innsbruck Archeological Institute

Archeologists say women wore bras, like the one pictured above, some 600 years ago.

You’ve probably never considered what the women of the Middle Ages wore under their massive medieval gowns. Forget the old-school, ill-fitting corset. It appears women might have slipped into something a bit more comfortable underneath.

Four linen bras, each more than 600 years old, were unearthed in a western Austrian castle, reports the Associated Press. It’s a discovery that has surprised fashion historians who thought bras were invented about 100 years ago. Talk of Middle Ages undergarments usually focuses on the tight-fitting corset, which was presumed to be the standard of the era, but the bras found in Austria’s Lengberg Castle show that women indeed wore bras in medieval times, a model that seems to have influenced future fashions. One of the bras “looks exactly like a (modern) brassiere,” Hilary Davidson, fashion curator for the London Museum, told the AP.

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Made from linen, the bras have cups and broad shoulder straps, and they even might have had a back strap, though researchers couldn’t tell after centuries of decay. Sure, these bras were certainly functional, but women didn’t trade style for comfort in wearing them. The bras had decorative lace around the edges and other fashionable touches.

The four bras were discovered in 2008, explains Beatrix Nutz, the archeologist responsible for the discovery, but the details stayed within academic circles because it took some time to research and carbon-date the items to check their authenticity. The discovery was first reported in an article in this month’s BBC History Magazine. Davidson said the medieval garments serve as “kind of a missing link” in the history of women’s underwear.

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