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This one is for Avedon Carol: 600 year old bras

Medieval bespoke soft linen twist front, no padding, size 32 B.


From HistoryExtra, which I think is the blog for the BBC History Magazine podcast (highly recommended), comes evidence that bras were originally medieval torture devices:

Lengberg Castle, first documented in 1190, was rebuilt into a representative palais in the 15th century by adding a second floor. During extensive reconstruction in July 2008, a vault filled with waste was found beneath the floorboards of a room on the second storey of the castle, where it was dumped during the 15th-century reconstruction.

Due to dry conditions in the vault the organic waste, mainly consisting of worked wood, leather (shoes) and textiles had been extremely well preserved, and four of the linen fragments resemble modern bras. The criterion is the presence of distinct cut cups – in contrast to antique Greek or Roman breast bands, simple strips of cloth or leather wound around the breasts and designed to flatten rather than enhance.

There are some written medieval sources on possible female breast support, but they are rather vague on the topic. Henri de Mondeville, surgeon to Philip the Fair of France and his successor Louis X, wrote in his Cyrurgia in 1312–20: “Some women… insert two bags in their dresses, adjusted to the breasts, fitting tight, and they put them [the breasts] into them [the bags] every morning and fasten them when possible with a matching band.”

These ‘bags’ served the same purpose as antique breast bands – that is to contain too large breasts. However, the “shirts with bags in which they put their breasts” that Konrad Stolle complained about in his chronicle of Thuringia and Erfurt in 1480 seem to have obtained the opposite effect, as he concludes his description with the words “all indecent”.

Forget the indecency of the “shirts with bags” attached, check out the matching string bikini panties.

What I want to know is did Maid Marian stuff her stretch lace underwires? It looks like they also made halter styles 600 years ago too. A little variety of discomfort for the ladies. Did they also have racerbacks and push-ups?  And now that Hillary has decided to go without makeup, will she dare to wear only a camisole under those pantsuits, setting another precedent for the rest of us? I only ask.

Anyway, I immediately thought of Avedon when I saw it.

Hope I scooped her on this one.  😉

20 Responses

  1. Ha! I sent her a note just this morning with this link!! Isn’t it a cool story?

    I wonder if this was one the the technologies lost to the plague?

    • Holy smokes, Katiebird, how many blogs are you friends with? 😉
      Yes, that’s a cool story. Funny how we both thought of avedon when we read it.,

      • I actually don’t know her at all — but I read the blog once a week or so and have caught her bra posts. So, (since I don’t comment there) I used the Contact link to send her a note. I haven’t heard back from her but, since we don’t know each other, I didn’t really expect to.

        Your post will probably attract her attention though!!

  2. Your link has a LOT more information than the one I saw yesterday. It’s good to see the story is making the rounds.

    • I’m just curious about avedon’s fascination with bras. Do you know what that’s about?

      • Nope, not at all – maybe it’s her day job?

        • Maybe she objects to the idea that we need to strapped into metal and elastic cages so that we can have perky tits?
          I’m a sucker for nice lingerie though. I figure if you’re going to be uncomfortable, you might as well surround the suckers with lace and embroidery.
          By the way, what ever happened to stretch lace bras? They were the only ones that were truly comfortable. About ten years ago, they
          suddenly started to disappear, to be replaced with those horrid “lightly padded ” t-shirt bras that always make me feel like Marilyn monroe. I hate those things. The stretch lace squeezed everything down without feeling like a straight jacket.

          • I don’t know what happened… my weight varies by so much, I always have to start from scratch every time I go bra shopping. I think I’m going to do some research and see if there’s a great bra shoppe in NYC when I go there next (fall???) There’s nothing to brag about here in Kansas City.

          • You might try the Ahhh Bra sold by Rhonda Shearer on HSN.com
            It might be just the ticket.

          • Naaah, it looks comfortable but not pretty. I just want stretch lace bras to come back. They were plenty comfy.

  3. That underwear is in better shape than mine.

  4. Where any sane fears to tread…

  5. I think I read once that Avedon posts the pictures because she wanted something pretty to counterbalance the stressful news items. Please forgive me if I am not paraphrasing her correctly.

    I have degenerated into wearing those ugly Genie bras (as seen on TV) to tame my pair of 57-yr old 38DDs. This produces the notorious uniboob. They are fairly comfy but I go without in private.

    Anyway thanks for the link to the BBC History Magazine site – I have it in my favorites now!

    • See, here’s what I don’t get. Why do we have to settle for ugly bras that are comfortable but create uniboobs? Why can’t they bring back comfortable materials that don’t sacrifice comfort for support? I don’t get it. This should be a no brainer. But it seems like the lingerie industry sees only two kinds of women: harlots and matrons. I love the harlot wear but the secret behind the success of those items is that you aren’t expected to wear them for very long. They’re not designed to be comfortable.
      If you decide you don’t want to go that route, you’re stuck with these sails that you must batten down to your chest.
      Bra manufacturers need a Peggy Olson.

  6. Oh and is that true Hillary has stopped wearing makeup? Surely she has to use it for on-camera appearances. I also only wear it in public and then only at the office (I work at home so it’s rare to have to use any).

    • It seems she has cut back significantly. I think it looks good on her. As people get older, they need a lighter hand. It’s a bit counterintuitive. All she needs is a good moisturizer/primer and a very light base of foundation. Some of the newer formulations are virtually invisible. Then some light neutrals on the eyes. Save the color for the lips with a moisturizing tinted lip balm and get a tone that makes the teeth look whiter. It looks like that’s the way she’s been going lately and it makes her look younger. Kinda weird how that works.
      Also, her hair looks great. Relaxed, shiny, simple. Well done. I approve.

      • That is so true!! I’ve switched to a tinted moisturizer when I wear anything. Heavy foundations just accentuate the flaws in older skin. Add powder and you look like a corpse.

      • And – remembering that I first started wearing makeup to LOOK OLDER … It’s not necessarily that counter intuitive.

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