World’s oldest bra discovered in Austrian castle

Lia Grainger
Shine On

Ever pondered if there’s a bra more tattered and worn out then that comfy yellowing favourite you just can’t bear to part with?

Well, ponder no longer, because archeologist Beatrix Nutz recently uncovered four weathered old bras in the hidden vault of an Austrian castle, a find that proves the old "over the shoulder boulder holder" was being worn some 500 years earlier than was previously thought.

According to a press release from the University of Innsbruck, Austria, about 2700 fragments of cloth were discovered in a hidden vault that was uncovered under after prying back some floorboards. Amongst the fabrics were four linen textiles that are believed to be brassieres, or “breastbags” as various medieval sources have labelled them.

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This is a big deal for medieval undergarment specialists like Nutz, because up until this find, it was believed that men wore undershirts and boxers and women an undershirt but no undies, and nary a breastbag in sight. Nutz’s find indicates that at least some medieval ladies wore bras.

In an article she wrote on the topic for BBC History Magazine, Nutz shares some rather pithy quotes about bras, including this doozy from a south German poet.

“Many [a woman] makes two breastbags [bags for the breasts], with them she roams the streets, so that all the young men that look at her, can see her beautiful breasts; But whose breasts are too large, makes tight pouches, so there is no gossip in the city about her big breasts.”

Haven’t we all been there.

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The bras themselves look kind of like those white cotton training bras your mom bought you when you first hit puberty, only more soiled and moth eaten.

It’s a pretty big find, because up until now historians have dated the invention of the bra to around 1889, when French corset-maker Herminie Cadolle designed “le bien-être”, a two piece corset, the top part of which was held up by straps. Others date it even more recently, to 1914 when Mary Phelps Jacob received the first U.S. Patent for the undergarment.

And now it turns out women were holding their bosoms up with linen half a millenium ago. We should have given those medieval lasses more credit.