12th century underwear

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Men

  • Braes (loose linen underdraws) with a slit to allow urination. The slit was probably not laced in our period, just constructed in such a manner that it would stay overlapped unless pushed apart. A few 13th Century illustrations show men pushing down their braes to defecate. It is likely that the majority of 12th C braes were similarly constructed.

The braes contain a lot of fabric at the top which is rolled over a belt to create a padded roll low on the waist. The padded roll is said to help support the weight of belts placed over outer layers of clothing.

  • Hose stockings - generally wool and mostly long and tied at the waist. Some were only knee-high. Long hose were tied to the belt of the braes with points, short hose were held up with garters - either attached pieces of ribbon or separately tied or buckled with strips.
  • Shirt - a linen tunic, worn next to the skin. This absorbs the sweat from your body, protecting your tunic. It is generally white or natural linen coloured, as this garment was washed more often than the tunic, and linen could easily be bleached back to white.

Women

  • Most evidence indicates no underpants were worn. See 12th Century Female Hygiene for details of how menstruation could be managed without underpants. The saying "who wore the pants in the family" seems to date to this early, and some stories recite instances of men impersonating women (e.g. for military reasons) being caught because when they ran the braes under their skirts were noticed.
  • Hose - generally presumed to be knee-high, as braes are needed to tie longer hose to. We have little evidence for shape (no extant hose, above ankles not shown in pictures), but they are presumably the same as men's knee-high hose. The multiple layers of skirts (chemise, tunic and in colder weather or outside possibly an extra tunic) would serve to keep the women's legs much warmer than the men with only one layer of fabric from a pair of hose, thus longer hose were not needed, and impractical when going to the toilet.
  • A natural/white linen chemise/shift served the same function as the man's shirt, but was generally floor length.
  • There are a few 12th C tests mentioning breast binding. The fashion was small firm breasts, and larger women who wished to be at the height of fashion wrapped their breasts with strips of linen to reduce their size.

Less Active Men

  • Occasionally some monks and scholars might not wear the braes and long hose. The practical advantages of the hose are mostly for riding and manual work. Monks generally wore floor-length habits, so like for the women, long hose and braes become superfluous. They probably wore short hose (except asthetics who went barefoot) and no underpants.
  • Clerical albs are similar to the chemise and shirt - a linen undergarment, in this case often close to floor length.


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