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clothes &

items of

cotes & tunics




15th century


cloaks & mantles




bras & bust


hose &



bras & bust


hose &

Medieval Women's Underwear

Exciting new archaeological finds in 2010 have uncovered what appears to be the first examples of existing medieval underwear other than the smock or chemise. These finds come from Castle Ling mountain near Nikolsdorf in East Tyrol. On the first floor in the south wing of the castle, filling was removed which, among other things, consisted of textiles dating from the 14th to 16th centuries. Among these textiles were items of underwear dating to the late 15th century.

References and images of women's underclothing are scanty at best, with it generally being thought that women wore nothing at all under their dresses other than the chemise or smock which was made of plain, white linen.

There are, however, a few small references here and there which leads to the belief that items of underclothing were indeed worn. The detail shown above is from the fresco painted in 1411-1416 by Di Manta, The Fountain Of Youth, which shows people of both sexes in various stages of undress.

The following pages look at the various aspects of female underclothing.

The chemise, shift or smock

Bras, support and structure

What did they wear 'down there'

Leg coverings, socks and support

One reference to underclothing comes from Ellen of Udine. As a widow, she took a vow of silence and adopted harsh penitents to atone for her former sinful and worldly life. She confessed:

I wear a hair shirt because of the silken undergarments... with which I used to clothe myself.

Although this reference is quite vague as to what kinds of underclothing she is actually referring to giving up, the use of the plural makes me personally feel that possibly it may be more than one kind of garment and not just the single item- the chemise. She could, of course, be using the plural form to indicate that she owned many of the same item and not more than one item worn together.

In a paragraph about taking care of aged widows, it is written that a corrody or old age allowance was to be provided. This particular examples cites:

..a daily ration of bread and ale, a dish with pottage from the monastery kitchen, firewood, a room, a servant, a new robe, shoes and underlinen once a year, candles and fodder for stalling a horse..

Again it is not specified as to exactly what undergarment or garments this passage refers to, whether it is just a single smock or an ensemble.

It is also recorded that in 1397 Margherita Datini owned a shift of fine linen over which in winter she wore a petticoat of wool or fur- otter, cat or miniver. Her gown and surcote were worn over those other two layers and a cloak over that.

The illumination at right from the early 1400s, Dionysus I humiliates the women of Locri shows women removing their outer garments to reveal a plain white opaque smock or shift with a very low,wide neck which accommodates the low, wide fashions of the day without showing.

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