Saturday, 30 August 2014

Supportive underwear in the 15th century

Konrad von Ammenhausen Hagenau, 1467
Art isn't the surest source as a painter can paint what he or she want, but the clevage suggest
support and I really like the side-lacing.
As I mentioned in my previous post on 15th century clothes, my first step will be to make supportive underwear. Some comments recommended me to make a snugly fitted shift/kirtle instead and I am sure that can be a very functional breast support. Not for me, though. I have made plans for medieval clothes before and even started, trying this method and it just doesn’t work for me. I have a large bust but a very narrow ribcage, my under bust measurement is actually the narrowest part of my torso and the difference between bust and under bust is 35 cm (almost 14 inches). To give me support I need to overfit the garment up to a point that it looks silly and feel uncomfortable and it put a lot of strain on the fabric. This is why I want to solve the support problem with a separate garment so I can fit my kirtle to look nice instead of too tight. Perhaps separate supportive underwear wasn’t very common, but as there are textual evidence on some kind of support, paintings of women in garments that looks like they could have a supportive function, and, of course, the extant clothes found in Lengberg Castle, which is enough for me. Especially as I will never make any clothes before from 1500 without it.

So, the Lengberg brassiere. Or, rather, one of them as there were actually four found in Lengberg Castle in 2008 among a whole cache of textile fragments. Two of them have been carbon dated to the 15th century. So far no close examination have been published, though one can hope that it will be available in the future along with, of course, patterns. Here is a quote by Beatrix Nutz from Medievallingerie from Lengberg Castle, East-Tyrol

Four linen textiles resemble modern time bras. The criterion for this classification is the presence of distinct cut cups. The two more fragmented specimens appear to be a combination of a bra and a short shirt. They end right below the breast but have additional cloth above the cups to cover the décolleté, and no sleeves. Both “bras” have decorated lower ends. Finger-loop-laces (laces worked in loop manipulating braiding technique) are sewn onto the hem with lace-stitches resulting in simple needle-lace. Besides its decorative function - one that cannot be seen anyway when worn under a dress - this also serves as reinforcement for the hem and adds further support to the breasts.
The third “bra” looks a lot more like modern bras 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. The knot in the shoulder straps is secondary. This “bra” is also the most elaborately decorated with needle-lace on the shoulder straps, sprang-work between the two cups and, like the two aforementioned “bras”, a finger-loop-lace and needle-lace at the lower end.
The fourth “bra” is the one that resembles a modern bra the most.  At the first assessment this garment was referred to in German as “Mieder” (= corselette in English) by the excavating archaeologists. It can also be described with the term “longline bra”. The cups are each made from two pieces of linen sewn together vertically. The surrounding fabric of somewhat coarser linen extends down to the bottom of the ribcage with a row of six eyelets on the left side of the body for fastening with a lace. The corresponding row of eyelets is missing. Needle-lace is sewn onto the cups and the fabric above thus decorating the cleavage. In the triangular area between the two cups there might have been additional decoration, maybe another sprang-work.
She has also written Medieval Underwear which contains some more information. 
However, the most detailed information by Beatrix Nutz can be found in Bras in the 15thcentury, A Preliminary Report. You will need to register at to download the article, but that’s pretty easy to do. 
Medieval Silkworm has two interesting articles at her blog with lots of quotes and pictures:

By My Measure also has an interesting article: On cleavage and Breast Mounds

I don’t know, yet, if this kind of supportive garment will work for me, but I think there are good chances. Katafalk has a similar figure to mine and her version of the Lengberg brassiere seems to giver her good support as well as being comfortable. 
A few other recreations:
By My Measure: Breastbags and Kerchiefs
Crafty Agatha: 15th century Lingerie 
Renikas Anachronistic Adventures: All dressed up Housebook style 
Deventer Burgerscap: Making My Bra Shirt, part 1 
Mady’s SCA Sewing Thingy: Under There!






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