Medieval Monday: Undergarments

This may seem like a strange little topic, but it came up this week as a curiosity question I wanted answered for my new work-in-progress. What was meant to be a quick search, for a quick and easy answer, turned out to be more interesting than I anticipated. Today I’ll be sharing a post instead of making my own because this site really did a good job of addressing the topic. I hope you’ll click and read the whole thing through–I was surprised at how much I didn’t know!


What Underwear Was Like in Medieval Times by Melissa Snell

What did medieval men wear under their clothes? Medieval women?

In imperial Rome, both men and women were known to wear simply wrapped loin-cloths, probably made from linen, under their outer garments. In addition, women might wear a breast band called a strophiumor mamillare, made from linen or leather. There was, of course, no universal rule in undergarments; people wore what was comfortable, available, or necessary for modesty — or nothing at all. Individuals competing in sports, like the women depicted in the mosaic shown here, would have benefited from confining garments.

It’s entirely possible that the use of these undergarments continued into medieval times (especially the strophium, or something similar), but there is little direct evidence to support this theory. People didn’t write much about their underwear, and natural (as opposed to synthetic) cloth doesn’t usually survive for more than a few hundred years. Therefore, most of what historians know about medieval undergarments has been pieced together from period artwork and the occasional archaeological find.

One such archaeological find took place in an Austrian castle in 2012. A cache of feminine delicates was preserved in a sealed-off vault, and the items included garments very similar to modern-day brassieres and underpants. This exciting find in medieval underwear revealed that such garments were in use as far back as the 15th century. The question remains as to whether they were used in earlier centuries, and if it was only the privileged few who could afford them.

In addition to loincloths, medieval men were known to wear an entirely different type of underpants.

Underpants

Medieval men’s underpants were fairly loose drawers known as braies, breeks,or breeches. Varying in length from upper-thigh to below the knee, braies could be closed with a drawstring at the waist or cinched with a separate belt around which the top of the garment would be tucked. Braies were usually made of linen, most likely in its natural off-white color, but they could also be sewn from finely woven wool, especially in colder climes.

In the Middle Ages, braies were not only used as underwear, they were frequently worn by laborers with little else when doing hot work. Those depicted here fell well below the knees, but were tied to the wearer’s waist to keep them out of the way.

No one really knows whether or not medieval women wore underpants before the 15th century. Since the dresses medieval women wore were so long, it could be very inconvenient to remove underwear when answering nature’s call; on the other hand, some form of snug underpants could make life a little easier once a month. There’s no evidence one way or the other, so it’s entirely possible that, at times, medieval women wore loincloths or short braies. We just don’t know for sure.

Keep Reading Here: https://www.thoughtco.com/medieval-underwear-1788621


Learn more about the daily life in Middle Ages by browsing previous posts in the Medieval Monday Index.

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