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A Brief and Delightfully Awkward History of the Codpiece

Updated on July 20, 2017
Theophanes profile image

Theophanes is a New England-based blogger, traveler, writer, photographer, sculptor, and lover of life.

Whhhy? Just Whhhhy are you writing about codpieces?!

One day I found myself with a friend, standing in a stranger's apartment, dressed to the hilt rocking a preposterously fluffy blonde mullet wig and knee high ****- me boots, holding in my hand a series of unfortunate socks. You see earlier that week I had been invited to a 1980's themed party and I immediately thought to myself, "Oh! Oh! I am going as the Goblin King!!" I found a pair of leggings about thirty times too small and squeezed into them before discussing the sock situation. Why not be historically accurate? "We totally need an intensely obnoxious codpiece for this ensemble." That's' when I was told codpiece was not a normal vocabulary word and that I, as a thirty-something year old woman, had an intensely questionable sense of humor. I responded to this by lamenting, "If only I had a slight effeminate male friend to shove in a dress and call Sarah for the evening..." Words I didn't think I'd ever say but I was giddy at the prospect of bringing home the awkward. But this did bring us back around to the subject at hand - why did I know the word codpiece? I grimaced. I think I've known it since maybe third grade.... that didn't help matters. Why cod? Were fish involved in this? Please tell me that's not where the phrase one-eyed trouser trout comes from! I don't want to hear about any unspeakable acts between man and fish, thank you very much. But seriously, why is it called a codpiece? I did not know. But I was about to find out.

That's Codd, not Cod

First thing was first - what on earth does cod mean? As it turns out in Old English it means "bag," nothing more and nothing less but at some strange point in history it became a little more specific. For reasons of censorship we'll be clever and call it a man purse... with which to hide the family jewels... cough cough.

So that clears that rather unflattering term up. I guess that just leaves the why. Why on earth did this become a thing?!

As with any historical event it's always possible this fashion was just started by a obnoxious teenage boy horsing around with the other virgins and/or widowers (hey we are talking the 1500's here. I mean to be unwed by age fifteen probably meant you were either hopelessly gay or perhaps a leper of some sort.) I can picture it now, after a few too many lagers, "Hey Richard! Look at this! WOOOO!" Which would be answered by many pimply guffaws and an old woman screeching in the background, "START PICKING THOSE POTATOES AND STOP PLAYING WITH THEM!!"

As such there's no concrete evidence the first codpiece was a potato. Granted there isn't much evidence of anything else either. Fashion historians like to make the whole thing sound much sneakier, that cod pieces were originally just a triangular piece of fabric that held together two leg high stockings. Men in those days didn't wear pants you see, they wore leg high stockings covered over with a tunic. Over the years the bottom of the tunics, which used to cover the knees, started to raise higher and higher, sort of like male mini skirts, until they were above the thigh which left... well, let's just say, little to the imagination. And if I am to believe the gossip of the day (and several giggling voices in my head) the sight of rogue goolies caused many a fair maiden to faint as her chosen knight mounted his steed, promptly and accidentally flashing her.

So basically the codpiece, in some bizarre twist of history, started out being a scrap of fabric used for modesty. Who knew! Still it's not really surprising that someone somewhere thought, "Huh, well... this could use a little help..." Some say this was not as blatant as all that, but rather was just the result of someone using this new little flap as a pocket of sorts. I mean why not? Such a pocket could store things like jewels, and balls, and the ever shifty milk-spitting ferret, why not a few marbles and shillings as well? I'm sure the local bar wenches were thrilled to get paid after their patrons started pawing around down there for their spare change. Tips. This is probably where those were invented... but don't quote me on that.

It doesn't matter if you believe these were over stuffed pockets or an amusing over compensation, as with anything so undeniably masculine, this choice of clothing was eventually blamed on being a symbol of virility. That is unless you asked the ladies in waiting, they may have had a different idea of the codpiece, mainly that it was a lead to massive disappointment, or perhaps utter confusion, but that is a story for another day.

Codpieces were at their peak in the 1540's when there was an epidemic of syphilis spreading throughout Europe. The darkest among us speculate a codpiece is a fantastic way to hide a well bandaged case of what we'll just call crotch rot. Wow, historians are twisted birds to put those two random factoids together. Props. And in case you're wondering the middle ages had this cure for this unspeakable scourge: Wrap thy member with mercury soaked bandages. Because if anything goes well with open sores it's heavy metal poisoning. But back to the story of the codpiece...

These first few artifacts were made from cloth, maybe stuffed with straw, but sure enough this evolved. There are actually metal codpieces still in existence today that were held on with a series of strings and buttons. Sounds comfy. Edward III of England was the first one attributed to have well endowed armor when he went into battle with the French, who oddly, also started adding this little brag to their own vestments, from the poorest of the peasants to the richest of the nobility. From here they underwent a further evolution when instead of merely stuffing them young men basically bejeweled the tar out of them. They embellished them with bright colors, precious gems, and elaborate embroidery to draw the eye even faster to the debaucherous region rather like a backwards facing peacock tail...

Eventually moralists brought down the party and mocked this fashion so badly it feel out of favor sometime around the 1590's but that's not to say it didn't exist in some form through out the world, throughout the ages, and still likes to say, "Hello!" now and then.

I haven't the foggiest idea why but it seems as if codpieces haven't died yet. Instead they seemed to be picked up at random by various bands, singers, and musicians over the past thirty or forty years. Pop, rock, metal, they're all guilty of reviving this strange thing. Personally I think the rest of society would be a far more amusing place if it were adopted as normal but we've already addressed how very off in the head I can be. Think about it though, the creativity that could go into such things! While women walk around in Wonder Bras all you gents out there could be sporting fantastic bulges and curves of your own! This was taken to the logical extreme by Oderus Urungus, lead singer of GWAR, who not only rocks a codpiece hardcore but also named it (the Cuttlefish of Cthulhu if you're wondering) and made it into some kind of weird crab-like creature.... A warning? Truth in advertising? We may never know.

So ladies and gents, do tell me what you think of bringing back the codpiece... I shall enjoy your spirited discussions!



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Comments

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    • Theophanes profile imageAUTHOR

      Theophanes Avery 

      20 months ago from New England

      Thank you for commenting Peter Dickinson, glad I could make you laugh!

    • Peter Dickinson profile image

      Peter Dickinson 

      20 months ago from South East Asia

      Very funny. Thank you.

    • Theophanes profile imageAUTHOR

      Theophanes Avery 

      20 months ago from New England

      Yep, that guy deffinately has something figured out! How to look like an alien bug as well... :)

    • RachaelLefler profile image

      Rachael Lefler 

      20 months ago from Illinois

      "I got a tip in here for ya... uh what, why are you running?"

      I think this guy has it figured out, fashion-wise: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/4d/bf/25...

    • Theophanes profile imageAUTHOR

      Theophanes Avery 

      20 months ago from New England

      I don't know, I was hoping there'd be at least one enraged moralist by now.... But thank you so much for being the first to chime in! I am so going to have to watch some ballet now. ;)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      20 months ago from USA

      Uproariously funny. HOW could no one comment on this yet? Maybe they don't know what a codpiece is?!? I love the photos but your writing rocks. I always felt embarrassed watching male ballet dancers. It was always so -- you know -- front and center that perhaps an overshirt would be appropriate.

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