1. Headline
  1. Headline
Image: An old tattered bra
AP
The bra is commonly thought to be little more than 100 years old as corseted women abandoned rigid fashions but that timeline is about to be revised with the discovery of four brassieres from the Middle Ages.
By
updated 7/18/2012 6:58:17 PM ET 2012-07-18T22:58:17

A revolutionary discovery is rewriting the history of underwear: Some 600 years ago, women wore bras.

The University of Innsbruck said Wednesday that archeologists found four linen bras dating from the Middle Ages in an Austrian castle. Fashion experts describe the find as surprising because the bra had commonly been thought to be only little more than 100 years old as women abandoned the tight corset.

Instead, it appears the bra came first, followed by the corset, followed by the reinvented bra.

One specimen in particular "looks exactly like a (modern) brassiere," says Hilary Davidson, fashion curator for the London Museum. "These are amazing finds."

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. 6 awesome turkey sandwiches to make with your Thanksgiving leftovers

      On Thanksgiving, there are plenty of us who just want to fast-forward to the really good stuff: that first leftover turkey...

    2. Michael Brown's mom reacts to Darren Wilson's first public comments: 'Insult after injury'
    3. US Ebola survivors meet on TODAY, give thanks for 'angel' Kent Brantly
    4. Sweet or snarky? 'Fan' Ariana Grande responds to Bette Midler
    5. How to pack everything in one bag (with no wrinkles!): Bundle wrapping

Story: Bloomin' bounty! Queen Victoria's underwear sold

Although the linen garments were unearthed in 2008, they did not make news until now says Beatrix Nutz, the archaeologist responsible for the discovery.

Researching the items and carbon dating them to make sure they were genuine took some time. She delivered a lecture on them last year but the information stayed within academic circles until a recent article in the BBC History Magazine.

"We didn't believe it ourselves," she said in a telephone call from the Tyrolean city of Innsbruck. "From what we knew, there was no such thing as bra-like garments in the 15th century."

The university said the four bras were among more than 2,700 textile fragments — some linen, others linen combined with cotton — that were found intermixed with dirt, wood, straw and pieces of leather.

"Four linen textiles resemble modern-time bras" with distinct cups and one in particular looks like today's version, it said, with "two broad shoulder straps and a possible back strap, not preserved but indicated by partially torn edges of the cups onto which it was attached."

And the lingerie was not only functional.

The bras were intricately decorated with lace and other ornamentation, the statement said, suggesting they were also meant to please a suitor.

While paintings of the era show outerwear, they do not reveal what women wore beneath. Davidson, the fashion curator, described the finds as "kind of a missing link" in the history of women's underwear.

Story: Ring that once belonged to Jane Austen sells for $236,557

Women started experimenting with bra-like garments in the late 1800s and the first modern brassiere was patented in the early 19th century. It is thought to have been invented by New York socialite Mary Phelps Jacob, who was unhappy with the look of her gown over a stiff corset.

Also found at Lemberg Castle in Tyrol was a linen undergarment that looks very much like a pair of panties. But Nutz said it is men's underwear — women did not wear anything under their flowing skirts back then.

"Underpants were considered a symbol of male dominance and power," she said.

Medieval drawings often show a man and a woman fighting for a pair of underpants in a symbolic battle to see who "wears the trousers" in the family.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: 7 lingerie items to keep you looking sexy

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

More on TODAY.com

  1. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

    Travel trouble: Thanksgiving storm threatens plans for millions

    11/26/2014 3:21:51 PM +00:00 2014-11-26T15:21:51
  1. Tessa Arias, Dara Michalski

    Need a last-minute Thanksgiving side? Grab a recipe here!

    11/26/2014 2:58:32 PM +00:00 2014-11-26T14:58:32
Exclusive
  1. TODAY

    US Ebola survivors meet on TODAY, give thanks for 'angel' Kent Brantly

    11/26/2014 1:45:54 PM +00:00 2014-11-26T13:45:54
  1. Getty Images

    Sweet or snarky? 'Fan' Ariana Grande responds to Bette Midler

    11/26/2014 3:35:14 PM +00:00 2014-11-26T15:35:14