Men have always been fond and rather proud of their ‘family jewels’. Let’s face it however (just between us girls), having genitals which literally dangle in the way of certain physical pursuits like running, bending, horse-riding, and during medieval times, sword-fighting, is not really practical, not to mention comfortable. 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 was attached to and covered the genital or scrotum areas. It was generally worn by males as early as during the Greek classical era, however it is during the 15th and 16th centuries that codpieces reached their ‘peak’, in that the fashion was to further pad and emphasize the importance of a man’s codpiece (talk about advertising the size of one’s ‘assets’), rather than concealing them for modesty’s sake. This trend most probably began with the shortening of men’s doublets (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 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, related to 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 started to be worried about the issue. In 1555 a Bishop in Frankfurt became notorious for publishing a pamphlet criticizing the codpiece in that he berated the fact that ‘young fellows have their cod-pieces 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: http://www.fashionintime.org/history-mens-undergarments-part-1/). Interesting description!
During the time of Queen Elizabeth (1533 – 1603) the codpiece started to become smaller and smaller, until fashions totally changed and its use was abandoned.
Or were they?
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 like Jethro Tull, Rob Halford (of the band 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 T.V 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, don’t they?
What do you think, should codpieces come back into mainstream fashion?
—- A version of this article was published on Eve online magazine here – http://www.eve.com.mt/2015/07/23/male-genitals-a-fashion-statement/