Friday, April 18, 2008

Question from Beth - Women's underwear and menstruation

Is it true that women in Tudor times didn't wear any underwear? If so, how did they keep their rags (well, I'm assuming they used rags because tampons/pads weren't invented yet) in place when they menstruated?


  1. A VERY interesting question! But oddly enough, this is an area in which those who, like myself, study women's history in the sixteenth century have done very little work, largely because there is so little information available. Women's bodily functions were a great mystery to even the most educated of men, and the vast majority of women could not write, so we have very little in the way of documentation to tell us how the practicalities of menstruation were handled by Tudor-era women. Much of what we have left are works involving theories on why women menstruate and what the religious implicatons of the process were. How women themselves actually conducted their lives while "on their period" and how they managed their personal hygiene during that time did not become well documented until the eighteenth century, when more women began to read and write. If I had to make an educated guess, however, I'd speculate that women used a system not unlike the so-called "sanitary belts" still in use in Europe and the US into the 1970s: a belt that circles the waist with tabs at front and back to which a piece of cloth could be attached for suspension in the appropriate area. And yes, underwear of the "bra and panties" type was unknown in Tudor England, as I understand it.

  2. phd historian addresses this issue quite succinctly. This is a very 'under-studied' area. May I suggest looking for Janet Arnold's work on clothing. She is THE authority for this time period.

    Linen rags were worn, folded and held into place with either a belt, or a loin cloth style wrap.

  3. Oh - and bras? That's what corsets were for.

  4. I wonder if the term night kerchers evolve to what we know now as knickers! Just a thought.


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