Thursday, July 19, 2012

Under Where?

Yes, it's true -- 600-year-old bras have been unearthed in an Austrian castle.  Four garments (along with others) that strongly resemble the traditional brassiere, complete with cups, shoulder straps and so on, found at Lemberg Castle in the Tyrol. 
Actually, they were discovered back in 2008 during an archeological dig, but the scientists couldn't believe what they saw, and had to double-check via carbon dating and some other research. (Be sure to read to the end of the article -- there's a quick reference to underpants and their connotation as the man's claim to power. Women went without. Maybe this is where "who wears the pants in the family" really came from?)

Why is this so important?

Because it's been long said that the bra was  invented by Mary Phelps Jacob in 1910, a wild-and-crazy debutante who didn't like the way her corset poked out of the neckline of her evening gown. (And it was uncomfortable, too.) With the help of her maid, 'Polly' stitched two silk handkerchiefs and a ribbon together, the basis for her 1914 patent.
Jacob's original patent drawing, from Wikipedia

     Ironically, the shop she started in the 1920s to sell her new product -- the Fashion Form Brassiere Company -- was also a convenient place for trysting with Harry Crosby, the man she was having an affair with. (She later married him.)
     Other companies sold 'brassieres' before this...but it was thought to have started with Polly's last-minute invention in the 'teens.

    (Polly Crosby with husband Harry, pondering improvements, as well as their new interest, the Black Sun Press. He came to a bad end; she kept on publishing into the 1940s.)


    Obviously someone in the 1500s had already come up with the idea, although it didn't catch on back then as much as corsets.

 From Wikipedia -- An 'hourglass' corset from the 1870s. Ouch.

 What is just as interesting about this find -- many of the medieval age clothing and shoes we know about today have turned up not only in the ground -- but in the walls!  This is especially the case with shoes -- more than 120 known --and extremely old --examples have been discovered stuffed behind chimneys, imbedded in plaster, inside ceilings or in between walls. The reason: they seem to have been considered 'spirit traps' -- ways to keep your dearly departed from coming back to visit you. (And bringing friends.) They also kept a tradition as a way to discourage intruders, burglars and such.

     Folk magic, if you will.

     A detailed report, primarily on shoes, is here, with Great Britain as the focus. Shoe dates range as early as the 1300s, and into the 19th century. In that report, 19th century and modern builders surreptiously walled in shoes as good luck charms, a way of warding off evil.

(A side note: did English colonists do the same thing in America? Yes, there's some documentation...though I can't find much on the subject. One example - and a list of others - is here. )

    So if the shoes are 'protecting' the house, what happens if they're removed?

    "A Hampshire woman...had innocently sent her finds to London for identification. While they were away, the house which had hitherto seemed so benign, had strange noises from the attic room where they were found. She even went to let the cat out, only to find nothing there. When there was a sensation of the floor shaking, her son refused to sleep there. She had heard that shoes were put in the chimney to keep out evil, which came in at the highest point [40]. An Abercarn finder reported that while the boots were out of the house for exhibition, they had nothing but bad luck, the death of pets, flooding and the shed fell down..."

     Papillon Hall's slippers are also frequently cited.  
Supposedly, weird (and fatal) things have happened whenever its showcase pair of 18th century women's slippers are removed. (It's a long story -- just go to the link to see them and read more.)

Concealed garments may just have been put in as insulation in the walls -- but that doesn't fit their rarity or seemingly deliberate placement. Historians believe they had a similar connotation to shoes, though they're not found as frequently as footwear. The report quoted above cited a number of clothing items also found, especially headwear. Plus some unnerving things, like cats and chickens. And now and then, pipes, candlesticks, papers, toys and other household items...all generally worn-out or broken, sometimes on purpose.

    Now bras can be added to the list. Which makes me wonder -- 
What other long-held traditions in textile history aren't really true??

* * * * * *
From the Wikipedia entry:
[The Crosbys were married in New York City, and moved to Paris in 1922.] Harry continued his work at Morgan, Harjes et Cie, the Morgan family’s bank in Paris. They found an apartment overlooking the Seine, at the Quai d'Orléans on the Île Saint-Louis, and Polly would don her red bathing suit and row Harry down the Quai d'Orléans in his dark business suit, formal hat, umbrella and briefcase[9] to the Place de la Concorde where he would walk the last few blocks to the bank on Place Vendôme. As she rowed back home, Polly, who was well endowed, would enjoy whistles, jeers and waves from workmen. She said the exercise was good for her breasts.[9]

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