ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Thanks to fabulous Katrin Kania of Togs from bogs, I have seen pictures of extant medieval underpants! Medieval underwear has been a particular interest of mine for several years now. I gave a lecture on it at the Medieval Week in Visby in 2004, but haven't had time to pursue it much since.

Underwear are interesting because they are so seldom seen. Basically the only people in medieval illustrations that have visible underwear are working farmers, people in bed/childbirth and people being executed (saints, criminals, people who supported the losing side etc). There are also some topsy-turvy illustrations of women wearing the man's underpants, which often have been taken as proof for women wearing panties in the Middle Ages. This is a particular controversy. Since underwear is so seldom seen - and what we see on women are long shifts/chemises - we don't know what or if they wore any. Indeed, the early 19th century satirical illustration (can't recall the name, nor find a link - it's the one of people falling down a staircase, used for the Penguin classics edition of Vanity Fair It's Exhibition stare case) is rather clear on the absence of panties. The common objection, particularly among re-enactors, is that they must have worn something when they were menstruating. A counterpoint is that women in 18th C rural Scania did not wear anything under their shifts, but let the blood soak into their shifts and their hosen, as noted by Carl Linnaeus in his Scanian travels in 1749.

I will stop myself from going on about this, since I'm working from memory and as I said above, it's been a few years since I knew the details and the sources by heart. Perhaps there will be a future blog post.

Anyway, these extant underpants were found together with lots of stuff (playing cards, shoes, coins, glass, bits of clothes, iron and copper objects, you name it) in the fillings of one vaulted ceiling at Schloss Lengberg in Austria. The finds are dated to the 15th century. There is a nice photo in an article on the finds (pdf, in German). It's not possible to tell whether they may have belonged to a man or a woman, but they look just like men's underpants in contemporary illustrations.

And the (other) really exciting thing? At this year's NESAT (North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles), Beatrix Nutz will give a talk on the 15th C bras that were found in the Lengberg assemblage. How awesome is that? Bras are also very rare in illustrations - the only thing I've seen have been suggestions of breastbinding - and merely to know that there are extant ones, now that sends good shivers down my spine in excitement. Can it be May soon?

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