In Imperial Rome, it is well-known that both men and women wrapped their bodies with loin clothes made of linen. Women may have also worn a breast garment called a strophium or a mamillare, also made from linen or sometimes leather. There was no universal law covering unmentionables so people then wore whatever was most comfortable…kind of like today…and what was modest.
It’s entirely possible that these same trends in undergarments continued on into medieval times, but there is little evidence to support this theory. And since these good folks didn’t write much about their personal attire, what we know about their underpinnings, historians have pieced together from artwork and the occasional archeological 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 additional to loincloths, men also wore other kinds of underpants. These were fairly loose drawers called braies, breeks, or breeches. They varied in length from upper thigh to below the knee and were cinched in at the waist by either a drawstring or a belt, around with the top of the garment would be tucked in. Braies were generally made of linen, most likely in its natural color of off-white. In colder climates, they could have been made from finely-woven wool. It is unclear if women, before the 15th century, wore panties or not. The dresses that medieval women wore so long that it could have been very inconvenient to wear them when answering “nature’s call.” But, on the other hand, a snug fitting undergarment could have come in pretty hand once a month. There isn’t any information one way or the other so we really don’t know for sure.
Both men and women, though, did wear hose or hosen to cover their legs. They might be long, covering the leg and the foot or merely long tubes without a foot, but with straps going under the foot to help keep them from riding up. They were made of wool, cut on the bias to give them some stretch. If the hose did contain feet, there was an extra piece of fabric on the sole. Hose also varied in length from thigh-high to just below the knee. They weren’t however, very well-fitted. Later on, in the Middle Ages, more luxurious fabrics became available and hose soon got much better looking. Men were known to attach their hose to their braies, tying them up to keep them out of the way. Armored knights wore a sturdier hose, called chausses, that gave them a little more protection from their armor. The hose could also be kept in place with a garter. Common people used a short cord as a garter while the more well-off might have garters made from velvet with ribbon or lace. It is generally believed that women’s hose only went to the knee
Over their hose and any other undergarments, both men and women wore an undertunic, also called a chemise or schert. “These were lightweight linen garments, usually T-shaped, that fell well past the waist for men and at least as far as the ankles for women. Undertunics often had long sleeves, and it was sometimes the style for men's scherts to extend further down than their outer tunics did.” Men who engaged in manual labor often stripped down to their undertunics. Women were required to be more modest and would only tuck their skirts up into a belt, thus revealing their long chemise underneath.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog on unmentionables. I thought it was rather enlightening. Whatever you do this weekend for fun, please stay safe. Enjoy your Saturday and Sunday and I invite you all back here again on Monday.