9 April 2013

The 14th Century bust: an aside

Sometimes it's nice to discover that you are not the only one thinking about things in a certain way. From Kass McGann's "Women's Kirtle or Cotehardie or Medieval Dress" pattern description (my emphasis):

"At right is a reproduction of three characters from a 1350s copy of the Roman de la Rose -- two women flanking a man ... The women’s garments are similarly tight although they retain a high neckline. This is interesting to note because it is not the depth of the neckline that is villified in the accounts but the width.
Another illustration from the Roman de la Rose, reproduced at left, shows an interesting feature of this garment. This character is turned to the side, so we can see the silhouette of her body. Her garment is painted to look tight-fitting -- there are even some stress wrinkles on her back where it bends, showing us how tight the garment really is. And yet there is absolutely no indication of her bust. There is no roundness in her upper torso. There are simply no breasts depicted
There is a trend currently in the historical costuming community to create 14th century kirtles that lift the bust into an unnaturally high position, like that seen in marginalia of the Wenceslaus Bible, the famed “Bohemian Bathhouse Babes”. The argument made is that this lift is indicative of medieval bust support. However, the fact that the figures are not anatomically correct in any other way is ignored ... Why should we accept this bust position as fact when so much else in the paintings of this era is disregarded? We must be careful not to create a medievaloid answer to a modern fitting problem. This might answer the question of what should modern women do for bust support under their kirtles, but it cannot answer the question of what medieval women did without concrete evidence."


  1. Well yes, those are good arguments. But then we have new light through the recent bra findings from Austria. Can they be ignored? Or should they be ignored as a solitary finds?

    1. I agree with Tanya, below.

      The Lengberg finds are fascinating, amazing, incredible and certainly not to be ignored ... but, at the end of the day they are only three items (the bras) in one castle in one province in one country in Europe. They are also most likely **15th Century**.

      Equally, just because they have cups doesn't mean they give massive lift. The brassiere (ignoring Lengberg) has been around since Edwardian times, but there is a reason the Wonderbra was such a revolution - cups do not necessarily equal OMG!LIFT!

    2. I'm with you there. I am not an advocate for bra's, I just wanted to get another opinion!

    3. Thanks for the discussion. ^_^ It's nice to have a chat.

  2. trouble with the lengberg finds is that we really have no context for them, and no way of knowing how anomalous - or not - they might be, so the field is still open to interpretation.

    Its quite simple to make an underkirtle, without boning, that flattens even a bust like mine to obliteration without dicomfort. simply by use of a stiff linen laced tight, and this doesn't lift the bust

    I bloody hate blogger, I am not anonymous, I'm tanya/opusanglicanum, but blogger can't handle my utter fabulousness

    1. Hello Tanya. Lovely to see you in my neck of the woods. ^_^

      I totally agree with you about the Lengberg finds. Three bras from a single site does not equal "everyone in the 14th and 15th Centuries across the whole of Europe wore this!".

      I also agree about the underkirtle. For a while I had one like that accidentally, due to weight gain. It too did not lift at all, just flattened and restrained in a not uncomfortable way.

  3. The comment about the width of the neck being mentioned but not the deseo Made me remember when I went to the Vatican: I couldnt enter to the churches with My shoulders uncovered BUT i was using a very deep cleavage that no one commented about (and was totally fine to go to church).