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