I’m going to be a bit ranty today. I just saw something on The Daily Mail
that really concerns me. Supposedly Hilary Davidson, the fashion curator at the Museum of London, says that the discovery of these two items “totally rewrites” fashion history. To which I say BOLLOCKS!
These items were found in Lengberg Castle in east Tyrol (Austria). They are thought to have been buried c. 1480. I’ve spent 30+ years as a re-enactor studying late 15th century and early 16th century “German” Landsknechts. It’s probably the period I know the most about, and these garments don’t rewrite ANYTHING from where I’m sitting. In fact, they appear to be rather common.
Let’s start with the underpants (please click on the images to enlarge them, I had to make them small to fit them all in). I haven’t the slightest idea how Davidson came to the conclusion that the underwear were for women. Every scrap of evidence I’ve seen supports the opposite conclusion. Here is a detail from The Men’s Bathhouse
by Albrecht Dürer, 1498. What are all the MEN wearing? Little undies that tie on the sides. They look suspiciously familiar, don’t they? Not entirely sure how anyone claiming to be a fashion historian with a specialty in the Medieval period could fail to have connected this garment and this image in a heartbeat.
UPDATE: Please see the comment from Nutz below. "Davidson NEVER came to the conclusion that the underpants were for women
and I NEVER said so either. I always said that underpants were a male
garment in the Middle Ages." So the quote in The Daily Mail is misleading.
On to the “bra”. Please look closely at this garment. The bottom is frayed. Why? Because there’s something missing. Please look at the side. See all the little eyelet holes? Those are for lacing. What was the MAIN female undergarment of the day? The kirtle (a long, tightly-fitted smock). You can see tons of examples of this garment in the Wenceslaus Bible
(dated to the late 14th century). There is NOTHING groundbreaking about finding the top portion of a kirtle.
I know sensationalism sells, but is it really worth your reputation to make such easily debunked statements?
I know I’ve pretty much lost all respect for the Davidson, and I have serious reservations about anything coming out of the Museum of London at this point. (I'll cut this given that I'm being told Davidson was misquoted). In conclusion, I’ll wait until I hear something from Dr. Jutta Zander-Seidel telling me that SHE thinks these rather common looking garments “totally rewrite” fashion history.
Rant over. Ok, not quite ... Update:
|fighting for the pants|
More reading for those who just can’t get enough of the topic. Here is Beatrix Nutz’s article for BBC History Magazine, and here is a shorter piece that was posted on the University of Innsbruck website (where it specifically notes that the cache contained men’s clothing,
further undercutting the attribution of the underwear as women’s clothing). Given what I’ve seen so far, I stand by my opinion of the find. Is it possible I’ll change my mind? Sure … at least about the “bras” (there are still two I haven’t seen). But not about the underpants. There’s simply no supporting documentation out there for them to be attributed to women, nor is there any reason to pluck them out of a mixed cache of clothing and come to that conclusion.
UPDATE from Nutz's comment: "As to the “longline bra”: The bottom is NOT frayed. There is a hem at
the lower end, even if it is only preserved over a short length. In
addition there is NOTHING to indicate that a skirt may have been sewn
onto that end thus making it a kirtle. No tiny holes in the fabric where
a sewing needle and thread may have passed through.
kirtles in the Wenceslaus Bible: They do have narrow shoulder straps
like the “longline bra” but I can´t make out anything that even remotely
resembles cups. Besides – there´s still the other “bras” from Lengberg
that end right below the breasts and are definitely NOT upper parts of
I don't agree that you can extrapolate from art 100%, so it's not possible to dismiss the tie to the bathing gowns simply because you can't make out cups. But given that Nutz has access to all the "bras", I'll again state that I'm open to having my mind changed on this one. Perhaps the French article will have more and better images? Or perhaps Nutz will post high rez ones somewhere?
I’d love if they made the dig notes and pictures available. I’d also love to see the final thesis that Nutz is working on, as it’s entirely possible that the article she wrote (and the ensuing coverage in the news) isn’t wholly representational. I’m attempting to get a hold of the partial notes that a friend had previously reviewed, but the link for them has been removed. More to come, hopefully!
|Beating husband w/spindle|
while pulling on his pants
Another Update: I found the link to another article in German. The ever lovely GrowlyCub gave it a quick look over since she’s fluent and her report is that all it says is that DNA testing on the underpants was inconclusive in attempting to establish which sex wore them and that all the evidence for women wearing them is confined to art. What it doesn’t mention is that all of said art is allegorical in nature, and you can’t use it to show that women wore underpants any more than you can to show that Landsknecht soldiers wore sandals. (Nutz says in the comments that she agrees with this point, so I clearly misunderstood the articles). The images she’s talking about are all about hen-pecked husbands and adulteresses. They all allude to the woman wearing the man’s garments to assert her authority (the underpants in question) and they frequently show the husband desperately trying to get them back. Here are a couple that aren't in any of the linked articles so far. What needs to be acknowledged is that the power of the image is lost if this was a common woman’s garment. The reason underpants were chosen to symbolize the wife stealing the husband’s power is because the garment was unmistakably seen as masculine during the period.
Labels: allegory, Beatrix Nutz, Bra, German, Isobel Carr, medieval, Tyrol, underwear, Wenceslaus Bible