By Adam Welsch
What if someone told you that, contrary to what you’d always heard, Coco Chanel was not the first person to introduce the little black dress to the world? Or, that Diane von Furstenberg didn’t invent the wrap dress or that Levi Strauss wasn’t the first person to create blue jeans? You’d probably be stunned.
Well, for the past century, it’s been accepted as fact that the bra, as we know it, was first created either in the late nineteenth century by Frenchwoman Herminie Cadolle, or in the early twentieth century by American socialite Mary Phelps Jacob, who received a American patent for it. According to either story, the bra was born from the desire to create a supportive undergarment for the breasts that was both more practical, and more comfortable, than the corset, which had been the centerpiece of women’s lingerie since the middle of the sixteenth century.
But guess what? Last month, a team of Austrian archeologists determined that bras incorporating the modern design of today existed in Western Europe at least as early as the fifteenth century – one hundred years before Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, encouraged the wearing of corsets and helped them become the staples of lingerie wardrobes for four centuries.
Four examples of such fifteenth-century bras were discovered in 2008 during a reconstruction of Lengberg Castle in Nikolsdorf, East Tyrol, Austria. They were found inside a vault beneath a room on the second floor of the castle, likely placed there during a fifteenth-century renovation of the building. The bras were then given to researchers from the University of Innsbruck who conducted four years of carbon-dating tests, performed additional research to verify age and authenticity, and made last month’s announcement.
The bras, constructed from linen, have distinctly separate cups that provided support, as modern bras do. This is in marked contrast to breast bands, in existence since ancient times, which simply flattened the breasts. These Tyrolean bras also incorporated lace, suggesting that their makers were interested in creating pretty, as well as functional, garments.
Thus, bras resembling those of today were being worn by European women before Columbus set sail for the New World. Interesting. It would appear, then, that for many, the world remained flat longer than the female bosom.