Fashion

The origin of the codpiece. Because you never wanted to know

Let’s get one thing straight: I am not a costumer. I can’t sew, period. I have never been a member of SCA, nor do I claim to have ever been one. Renaissance clothing is set dressing to me, as much as any other aspect of 16th-century life. That being said, apparently, the codpiece was more than an afterthought when it came to dressing 16th century and early 17th century men.

Maximilian of Austria


The idea of a removable item of clothing covering the penis didn’t start during the Renaissance. By the 1530s, however, they were the height of fashion. In case of an emergency, it is easier to be able to quickly remove a single item of clothing and do your business when nature calls. Scholars are now adding to the codpiece lore to point out that it served as a necessity during the most delicate of times, when one has contracted an STD that one simply cannot shake.

Syphilis ravaged Europe starting in 1494, during the invasion of the Italian states by the French and other foreigners. The timing meant that it gained the name “French pox” due to the association between the two. That’s not completely fair to the French, but timing is everything when it comes to branding. According to researchers, Germans took an existing design and modified it so that the codpiece could protect the penis and testicles when the area was inflamed from infection.

Some fashion designers have made an effort to bring the codpiece back, even if it’s just in haute couture. I’m no expert on men’s clothing, but at this point, wouldn’t they be more of a hassle than contemporary pants?