'Cover your members' - a history of the codpiece

November 30 2016

Image of 'Cover your members' - a history of the codpiece

Picture: Guardian

Here's a great article by Sotheby's Old Master specialist and costume expert Jonquil O'Reilly on the history of the codpiece. She explains that they may look odd to us today, but in the 1500s bulking out your 'package' (as she calls it) with vibrant cloth was considered perfectly normal:

Worn in courts across Europe primarily in the 16th century, codpieces were a potent symbol of their wearer’s masculinity and virility. Less than subtle even when in fashion, these flagrant accessories can be unsettlingly prominent to the modern eye. Yet in the context of courtly life – so steeped in honour, chivalry and romance – the adoption of codpieces was not so startling. At a time when continuing the family line was of the utmost importance, such embellishments were generally accepted displays of fertility and masculinity. And while codpieces stood out as blatant celebrations of men’s nether regions, the body parts themselves remained strictly unmentionable – they were usually referred to with colourful euphemisms instead. In fact in England, cod was everyday slang for testicles.

Having begun life as triangular flaps of cloth serving as humble flies, codpieces were first laced in place below the waist, covering the gap between the two legs of a gentleman’s hose or leg coverings. In the 15th century, men wore stockings with a loose gown, which King Edward IV’s parliament soundly decreed, in 1463, were to “cover his privy Members and Buttockkes.” Despite Edward’s appeal for decorum, however, gown hems crept ever higher. By the end of the 15th century, young men were commonly strutting around in cropped waist-length doublets, with tight hose and stockings that left little to the imagination. Whether to preserve men’s modesty or, conversely, to enhance their manhood, evolving fashions made it gradually acceptable for men to add a little extra padding to their package. And so before long, codpieces took on a life of their own, brazenly unfurling from the groin in scrolls or rising in unabashed satin salute, such as that modelled by the solemn Pietro Maria Rossi in his circa 1535 portrait by Parmigianino.

By the way, I must warn you not to do a Google image search for 'codpiece'.

Update - you couldn't resist it, could you? Ooph.

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