Men have always been fond and rather proud of their family jewels. However, let’s face it. Just between us girls, having genitals literally dangling in the way of certain physical pursuits such as running, bending, horse riding and, during medieval times, sword-fighting, is not really practical, and not to mention uncomfortable. This is why, mostly during the Renaissance, society saw the rise of that most prominent and masculine of apparels – the codpiece.
A codpiece is a pouch or covering flap of material which covers the genital or scrotum area. It was generally worn by males as early as the Greek classical era. However, it was during the 15th and 16th centuries that codpieces reached their peak, in that the fashion was to further pad and emphasise the importance of a man’s codpiece, rather than concealing them for modesty’s sake. Talk about advertising the size of one’s assets! This trend most probably began with the shortening of men’s doublets, which were hip-length fitted jacket-like garments worn in Europe by men over their shirts. When hemlines rose and hoses (thin tight-fitting tights or breeches) became longer and open at the front, this resulted in under-dressed genitals, which further stressed the importance of the codpiece as a triangular piece of fabric covering the gap.
Codpieces were generally made of linen and were either stitched or held closed with laces or buttons. Victoria Miller, a researcher and student at Cambridge University who is studying the history of the codpiece as part of her PhD, commented on The Guardian newspaper that the codpiece first “came into fashion as something really modest, a triangular piece of fabric. In the first couple of decades of the 16th century, it started to be stuffed. Then it got to epic proportions, some more phallic, some more testicular or ovoid in shape… Men always agonised about their masculinity – and especially the question of size.”
So basically, the codpiece was the male rendition of a stuffed push-up bra.
Those concerned with public morals became worried about the issue. In 1555, a Bishop in Frankfurt became notorious for publishing a pamphlet criticising the codpiece in that he berated the fact that “young fellows have their codpieces in front puffed out by the flames and rags of Hell so that the Devil can sit and look out in all directions, causing scandal and creating a bad example, bemoaning the poor, giddy, innocent girls [who] are seduced and enticed.” (quoted from: fashionintime.org/history-mens-undergarments-part-1/). Interesting description!
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1533 – 1603), the codpiece was reduced in size until fashion totally changed and its use was abandoned.
Or was it?
What about those contemporary artists and singers who, as a fashion statement, have chosen to strut around in leather or even gem-encrusted codpieces on stage? It is well known that during the glam-rock era of the 70s and 80s, notorious personages such as Jethro Tull, Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses) and even David Bowie (check out his 80s movie The Labyrinth) sported prominent codpieces.
Have you watched any periodical dramas on TV recently? How about The Borgias, The Tudors, or Wolf Hall? What about all those BBC historical adaptations? Noticed anything popping out of those skinny tight-fitting tights and leather pants?
How about the colourful costumes of all our favourite comic book heroes? Superman, Batman, Robin… Now those are some famous guys who REALLY put the spotlight on their prominent masculinity.
What do you think, should codpieces come back into mainstream fashion?