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The Modesty and Manliness of the Codpiece

Like women who have their “essentials” when it comes to underwear clothing, men have them, too. Every one of us has to wear undergarments to protect our private parts, preserve our modesty, and look decent in other people’s eyes.

Of course, you know about some types of men’s underwear like briefs and boxer shorts. But not many of you may have heard of a codpiece.

The codpiece

was also a common feature of a long hose, which resembles women’s stockings or tights. During the 1400s and the 1500s, the codpiece was worn as underwear to protect a man’s private parts. But unlike most types of men’s underwear that are usually hidden beneath an outer garment, the codpiece is visible.

The term “codpiece” is derived from the Middle English term cod, which means “scrotum.”

For many years

the codpiece has long been an enigma among social and fashion historians, social psychologists, and ethnologists. But perhaps it needn’t be – apparently, there had been a practical reason for the codpiece’s existence, at least initially.

At the time

doublets – men’s fitting jackets popular in the Middle Ages – were getting smaller and shorter. As a result, a man’s private parts became unintentionally exposed, especially whenever he sat down or mounted a horse. That’s why men began to wear codpieces to cover their crotches.

Since it was first introduced, the codpiece became one of menswear’s essentials during those centuries. Initially worn as a practical piece of clothing for modesty purposes, the codpiece later became a fashion statement.

Consequently, the codpiece did a double purpose – while it covered the genitals, it also emphasized them. Men at the time seemed proud of showing off their codpieces because they were a statement of virility. The size and length of the codpiece were an indication of the wearer’s apparent masculinity. However, some gentlemen tried to exaggerate their status (masculine and otherwise) by stuffing their codpieces. According to Grace Q. Vicary, a cultural anthropologist, the codpiece’s primary function was “phallic connotations of aggressive virility display.”

Later codpieces featured decorations and embellishments. They were so elaborate to the point of becoming the object of ridicule from people who thought of them as outlandish.

The codpiece as “P.P.E.” against syphilis?

The syphilis epidemic swept through Europe starting in 1494 or 1495 when the first recorded outbreak occurred in Naples, Italy.

In addition, Renaissance guys carried a lot of swords, daggers, and other tools hanging from their belts.

Does the codpiece still exist?

Queen Elizabeth I was also against the fashion. From the big, padded, and overstuffed codpiece, it became smaller again. By the 1600s, the codpiece had fallen out of fashion in favor of other undergarments, such as drawers.

The codpiece is no longer an everyday undergarment, but similar garments do exist. Perhaps the best-known modern derivative of the codpiece is the jock strap (above), which protects the genitals from injury during contact sports or any other vigorous physical activity.

The codpiece is also popular in heavy metal fashion. However, it became especially prominent among metal groups during the 1970s through the 1990s. Fearing that their “assets” would bear the brunt of such adoring assaults, they turned to wearing codpieces as protection from injury and harassment.

Some of the rock metal codpieces were really elaborate, weird, and… well, epic, like this Cthulhu-styled codpiece worn by the late Oderus Urungus of the heavy metal group GWAR (above).

The codpiece also made a fleeting appearance on the high fashion catwalks. Fashion designers, such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, have taken inspirations from the medieval codpiece to create similar garments that explore powerful themes of masculinity and sexuality.

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