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."

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.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. Kelly Clarkson, Jimmy Fallon are a perfect pair to sing some history

      Jimmy Fallon and Kelly Clarkson: Celebrities, singers, teachers. Yep, on Monday night we discovered there's a lot we can l...

    2. Join the TODAY Parenting Team! We're all in this together
    3. Katy Perry is now selling 'official' Left Shark onesies
    4. Natalie Morales: I wish I’d known this about Mom Guilt
    5. Find out what 'Breakfast Club' mementos Ringwald wishes she still had

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

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. TODAY

    Natalie Morales: I wish I’d known this about Mom Guilt

    3/3/2015 2:39:48 PM +00:00 2015-03-03T14:39:48
  1. Netanyahu: Nuke deal 'paves Iran's path to the bomb'

    In a highly-anticipated speech to Congress Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued that a potential nuclear deal being negotiated by major powers including the United States "paves Iran's path to the bomb."

    3/3/2015 5:28:40 PM +00:00 2015-03-03T17:28:40
  1. Courtesy of Savannah Guthrie

    Savannah Guthrie: What I wish I knew before Vale

    3/3/2015 1:39:31 PM +00:00 2015-03-03T13:39:31
  1. Getty Images file

    Carrie Underwood's baby boy is here! Find out his name

    3/3/2015 5:06:31 PM +00:00 2015-03-03T17:06:31