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codpiece

codpiece When the early seventeenth-century English playwright John Marston wrote in his Satires,Nay then, I'll never rail at those
That wear a codpiece, thereby to disclose
What sex they are


he pointed to the primary purpose of a codpiece: to emphasize the gender of its wearer. Codpieces appeared in Europe in the early sixteenth century, during a period of economic and territorial expansion, in which the conspicuous display of virility, in public life, sport, warfare, and dress played a major part in a competitive culture of self-presentation, self-aggrandisement, and advertisement. They were designed, along with doublets with massive chests and coats with wide shoulders, to enhance and exaggerate the masculine attributes of the wearer, to ‘disclose’ rather than conceal or contain, the ‘sex they are’.

Codpieces were a distinctive feature of late Renaissance male dress in Italy, Spain, France, and England, reaching their peak of popularity in the mid sixteenth century, before gradually disappearing by the end of the century. They evolved from the pouch-shaped flap which was used to close the front of the close-fitting hose worn by men in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. By the early sixteenth century, the front flap on men's breeches and hose was no longer a flat pouch, but had become a protuberance, often padded and stiffened, to support and accentuate the male genitals. It was essentially a bag made of fabric, usually silk, and was often elaborately embroidered and decorated, either made of the same material as the trunk hose or breeches, or to match the doublet or other upper garments, to which it was fastened by points or lacings. In addition to the padding and ornamentation on the codpiece itself, further attention was drawn to the groin area by the positioning of dagger and sword belts just above it, the dagger often worn with the hilt pointing to or framing the codpiece, creating a visual dialogue between codpiece and dagger, thus amplifying and doubling the phallus.

From its introduction early in the sixteenth century, until its disappearance from fashion in the 1590s, the codpiece served as an emblem for manhood, the part standing for the whole. As Marston's 1598 quote above makes evident, even after its demise, it retained its metaphorical associations with masculine essence. The codpiece, with its sexual connotations, represented the uncontrollable carnal impulses that warred against the rational soul of man. The idea of the sexual organs having a ‘will’ of their own, independent of their owner's intentions, was a well-established one, dating from St Augustine's laments regarding the ‘uprisings’ of the flesh. Yet these sexual urges afflict all mankind, and everyone is a victim of his libidinous desires. Hence a character in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure condemns judging a man too harshly for a universal weakness: ‘For the rebellion of a codpiece, to take away the life of a man?’

During a brief period in the 1570s and 80s in England, around the time that the codpiece was falling into disrepute in male fashion, it became the name for a roughly analogous ornament or appendage, worn by women on the breast. Like the fashion, late in the sixteenth century, of women wearing doublets like those worn by men, the practice of women sporting ‘codpieces’ on their chests may have exacerbated the anxieties of moralists concerned about the adoption by women of masculine attributes and habits, including those of dress. Pamphlets like Hic Mulier (1620) dwelt at length on the insidious dangers presented by a new race of ‘mankind women’ or female transvestites who usurped male dress and customs such as smoking, swearing, and brawling in public.

Natsu Hattori

Bibliography

Ribeiro, A. and and Cumming, V. (1989). The visual history of costume. Batsford, London.
Wilcox, R. T. (1958). The mode in costume: a history of men's and women's clothes and accessories from Egypt 3000 bc to the present. Charles Scriber & Sons, New York.

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Codpiece

Codpiece

During the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, the most common everyday clothing for men was a kind of short jacket or overshirt called a doublet worn with thick woolen, linen, or silk hose. The hosiery of the time consisted of two separate stockings that covered the legs but left an opening at the top that exposed the wearer's genitals. To preserve modesty and protect the genitals, medieval tailors invented the codpiece around the mid-1400s. The codpiece, called a braguette in French, was a flap or pouch of fabric sewn at the top of a man's hose to hide his genitals from view.

While the codpiece was originally created to provide modesty, it evolved into a fashion statement. By the early 1500s, the codpiece had grown larger and more decorative and had become a way to advertise one's masculinity, by exaggerating the size of his genitals. Though doublets became long enough to cover the genitals, most had a special opening in the front for the codpiece to stick through in a visible way. Some codpieces were even designed to curve upward to resemble an erect penis. Fashionable men, led by England's King Henry VIII (14911547), padded their codpieces to enormous sizes and decorated them with jewels. Some even used them as a sort of pocket, hiding small weapons or valuables there.

Priests and other clergy were horrified by the new style and spoke out against it. The codpiece did indeed get smaller by the mid-1500s, possibly because Queen Elizabeth I (15331603) was the new ruler of England and did not appreciate this example of male vanity. By 1575 the codpiece had disappeared, replaced by short padded breeches, or pants, which provided coverage.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

All the Rage. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1992.

Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.

Sichel, Marion. History of Men's Costume. London, England: Batsford, 1984.

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codpiece

cod·piece / ˈkädˌpēs/ • n. a pouch, esp. a conspicuous and decorative one, attached to a man's breeches or close-fitting hose to cover the genitals, worn in the 15th and 16th centuries.

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"codpiece." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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codpiece

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