The Surprising History of Bras

Did you know that bras have been around for much longer than we thought? Before the modern bra came into fashion in the 1920s and 1930s, women wore corsets to shape their bodies according to the trends of the time. But recent discoveries in an Austrian castle have revealed that bras were actually worn as early as the 14th or 15th century, about a century before William Shakespeare was born!

Lengberg Castle, built in the 12th century in Austria, holds the secrets of the past. During renovations in 2008, researchers found a hidden vault on the second floor filled with debris and clothing fragments. Among the discoveries were 2,700 pieces of clothing, including leather shoes, men’s linen underwear, and four bras. Radiocarbon analysis confirmed that these bras were made in the 14th or 15th century.

Interestingly, these early bras were made from linen and resembled the design of early 20th century brassieres. Some even had lace trim, a feature that was not expected to be present in undergarments until much later in history. These bras, known back then as “bags for the breasts,” offered less support compared to modern bras, which incorporate padding, cups, and underwires.

It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that the word “brassiere” was first used, and even then, bras were not widely popular until later. In the 1920s to 1940s, cupped slips replaced the need for other upper undergarments, including corsets and bras. The 1950s saw a resurgence in extreme support with the New Look silhouette, bringing back the popularity of bras.

The bras found at Lengberg Castle also had shirt-like qualities, with short skirts attached to the bottom hems. They resembled bra/camisole combos or early versions of the longline bra, which became popular in the 1950s. One reconstruction suggests that the bras may have had a skirt attached under the bra, creating a more supportive version of a chemise.

The discovery at Lengberg Castle also revealed advanced tailoring techniques not commonly seen in garments from that era. Bias-cut dress linings showed a sophisticated understanding of fabric manipulation, a technique that only became popular again in the 1930s.

Whether you love them or hate them, bras have always played a significant role in fashion. These findings prove that supportive underwear for women has been around for centuries, long before the modern concept of bras. So the next time you put on your bra, remember that you’re continuing a fashion tradition that dates back hundreds of years.