Thursday, August 16, 2012

Supportive underwear in written sources

Das Braunschweiger Skizzenbuch, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Kupferstichkabinett, Braunschweig. c. 1380-1420.

The past week I've been working on making a fourteenth century supportive shirt. You can see the progress here. Once it is finished I'll do a more detailed post on the construction on this blog as well.

For now, I'm giving you a line-up of the written sources that mention breast-bags in shirts, which have come to light so far. Most of these have also been briefly mentioned in the BBC History article by Beatrix Nutz and in this blogpost.

The earliest text I know referring to restraining the breasts, is cited in Umberto Eco's book Art & Beauty in the Middle Ages quotes Gilbert of Hoyland's (a twelfth-century English Cistercian abbot) Sermones in Canticum Salomonis, on ideals of feminine beauty:
The breasts are most pleasing when they are of moderate size and eminence… they should be bound but not flattened, restrained with gentleness but not given too much licence.
Christine Frieder Waugh (Well-cut through the body: fitted clothing in twelfth-century Europe, Dress, 1999 volume 26) quotes him advising his monks to practise restraint in their speach, much as women restrained their breasts.
I refer you to the devices of women, who cultivate and develop physical beauty and have mastered this art. For what are they more anxious to avoid in embellishing the bosom, than that the breasts be overgrown and shapeless and flabby? … Therefore they constrain overgrown and flabby breasts with breast-bands, artfully remedying the shortcomings of nature.
And in the Roman de la Rose, a thirteenth-century poem begun by Guillaume de Lorris and finished by an anonymus poet, the Old Woman character offers advice:
And if her breasts are too full, let her take a kerchief or scarf and wrap it round her ribs to bind her bosom, and then fasten it with a stitch or knot; she will then be able to disport herself.
The earliest text referring to something more advanced than a simple piece of cloth to bind the breasts, dates to the beginning of the fourteenth century. It was written by Henri de Mondeville, surgeon to Philip the Fair of France and his successor Louis X, in his medical work Cyrurgia (1306-1320). The original text was in Latin (full text and translation found here and here):
Et aliquae mulieres non potentes aut non audentes habere cyrurgicum aut nolentes suam indeoentiam revelare faciunt in camisiis suis duos saccules proportionales mammillis tamen breves et eos imponunt omni mane, postmodum quantum possunt, eos stringunt cum fascia competenti. Et aliae, sicut illае de Montepessulano, cum strictis tunicis et laqueis ipsas stringunt, non stringentes muliebria, quamvis sit ibi majas periculum, attendentes propter casus fatuitos et diurnos, quod non faciunt anni quod facit una dies, et ideo faciunt suas tunicas inferios laxiores.

Some women unable or unwilling to resort to a surgeon, or not wanting to reveal their indecency, insert two bags in their chemises, adjusted to the breasts, fitting tight, and they put them [the breasts] into them [the bags] every morning and compress them as much as possible with a matching band. Others, like the women of Montpellier, compress them with tight tunics and laces...
Eustache Deschamps in the late fourteenth - early fifteenth century wrote a ballad entirely on the subject of female breasts: Balade sur Les Femmes Qui Troussent Leur Tetins / Ballad about Women Who Truss Their Breasts. What follows is an excerpt from the ballad, translated into English by Katherine Knudsen Barichand posted to the Medieval Textiles and Clothing discussion list.
Car ce qui en ce point mis l'a
Est par juenesse seulement;
Rons, petiz, durs, lors se cela,
Sanz moustrer si publiquement;
Puis s'abandonna folement.
Et pour ce, a esté mis en deux
Sacs cousus par my la poitrine,
Estrains de cordes et de neux:
Dame aiez pité de tettine!

Because those who in this point take it
Is for youth only;
Round, petite, firm, then being that,
Without display so publicly;
Then will abandon folly,
Many become, though, ungracious,
And for that, have taken and put in two
sewn sacks upon the chest,
Squeezing with cords and knots:
Lady, have pity of breast!
In an extract of a satirical poem written by an unknown fifteenth-century author from southern Germany, also called "Meister Reuauß”, we can read the following (Vienna, Austrian National Library Cod. 2880, fol. 130v to 141r) (translation: Beatrix Nutz):
Ir manche macht zwen tuttenseck
Damit so snurt sie umb die eck,
Das sie anschau ein ieder knab,
Wie sie hübsche tütlein hab;
Aber welcher sie zu groß sein,
Die macht enge secklein,
Das man icht sag in der stat,
Das sie so groß tutten hab.


Many [a woman] makes two bags for the breast
With them she roams the streets,
So that all the guys look at her,
And see what beautiful breasts she has got;
But whose breasts are too large,
Makes tight pouches,
So there is no gossip in the city,
About her big breasts.
Another German writer of the fifteenth century, Konrad Stolle,  complained about “shirts with bags in which they put their breasts” in his chronicle of Thuringia and Erfurt in 1480, because to him they were “all indecent”. Possible because they, in contradiction to all the quotes above were used to make the bosom fuller, instead of restraining it.

In other, but strongly related news: Beatrix Nutz will be in London to speak at the Medieval Dress and Textile Society (Medats) Autumn meeting on Linens Next to the Skin on 27 October at the British Museum. For more info: www.medats.org.uk/events.

1 comment :

Matt Schoenherr said...

Yeesh. Women have put up with so much across time. In case no one has said it recently, "Thank you for all you do."

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