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What is a Codpiece?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 21, 2024
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A codpiece is an article of, traditionally, men’s clothing that covers the groin region and is designed primarily either for discretion or exaggeration. It can be made from fabric such as silk, from leather, or even metal and can be part of a larger outfit or intended for wear without other garments. Once a garment born from necessity and discretion, the codpiece became a sign of male power, and eventually an article of clothing used in several different subcultures and various entertainment genres. A codpiece can also often be seen as part of a complicated or metal suit of armor, both for protection and to allow greater freedom of movement.

Some examples of codpieces have survived in artwork and statuary from the ancient world, but most modern views and depictions of them came from Renaissance Europe. In the 14th century, men wore hose on their legs that consisted of two separate pieces of cloth that came together at about the waist. This style of garment left a man’s groin covered only by a single layer of linen and little else. As fashions changed, the leggings became a single piece that was left open at the front, and though other garments could cover a man’s groin, propriety soon demanded greater coverage.

The codpiece was thus designed at that time to be a cloth covering that would provide greater discretion for a man and allow him to more easily maintain decency. This initial, functional design soon led to somewhat more gregarious designs that served less to cover up and more to enhance. Codpieces were designed from materials other than cloth, such as leather, and made to cover a man while also serving to emphasize his manhood and suggest greater endowment or physical ornamentation. The 16th century saw both the height of codpiece craftsmanship during the Renaissance and the eventual disuse of the garment.

Fashions in men’s armor traditionally followed fashions in clothing, and metal armor was soon designed with hard metal codpieces that could protect, and sometimes emphasize, a man’s groin. These pieces were both functional in protecting a sensitive area from attack, and the metal could be used to enhance or draw attention to a man’s endowments for festivals or sports of honor. Throughout the 20th century, there was a resurgence of codpiece use among some groups, such as homosexuals who wore codpieces as a way to strike against traditional fashion sense of the time and identify themselves as openly gay. The codpiece also made its way into heavy metal fashion, as well as film depictions of futuristic armor and fashion, as illustrated by films like the Star Wars movies and A Clockwork Orange.

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