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Portrait of Antonio Navagero (1565), oil on canvas, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, by Giovanni Battista Moroni

A codpiece (from Middle English: cod, meaning "scrotum") is a covering flap or pouch that attaches to the front of the crotch of men's trousers and usually accentuates the genital area. It was held closed by string ties, buttons, or other methods. It was an important item of European clothing in the 15th and 16th centuries, and is still worn in the modern era in performance costumes, for rock music and metal musicians, and in the leather subculture, while an athletic cup protects male athletes in a similar fashion.


Metal codpieces, 16th century

From the ancient world there are extant depictions of the codpiece; for example, archaeological recovery at Minoan Knossos on Crete has yielded figurines, some of which wear a codpiece.[1]

In the 14th century, men's hose were two separate legs worn over linen drawers, leaving a man's genitals covered only by a layer of linen. As the century wore on and men's hemlines rose, the hose became longer and joined at the centre back but remained open at the centre front. The shortening of the cote or doublet resulted in under-disguised genitals, so the codpiece began life as a triangular piece of fabric covering the gap. Most of what is known about the cut, fit, and materials used for Renaissance codpieces is through portraits, clothing inventories, receipts for payments and tailors' cutting guides.[2]

As time passed, codpieces became shaped and padded to emphasize rather than to conceal, reaching their peak of size and decoration in the 1540s before falling out of use by the 1590s.

Armor of the 16th century followed civilian fashion, and for a time codpieces were a prominent addition to the best full suits. A few of these are on display in museums today: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has one, as did the Higgins Armory[3] in Worcester, Massachusetts until its close; the armor of Henry VIII in the Tower of London has a codpiece.[4] In later periods, the codpiece became an object of the derision showered on outlandish fashions. Renaissance humorist François Rabelais jokingly refers to a book titled On the Dignity of Codpieces in the foreword to his book The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel.[5]

Through the same linguistic route, cods became a modern slang term for the male genitalia.

In contemporary culture[edit]

Subcultural attire[edit]

Oderus Urungus on stage in 2004

Resembling codpieces, jock straps made of leather can be worn in leather subcultural attire to cover and confine the genitals of a man, sometimes while wearing leather chaps. Rather than accentuating the male genitalia through exaggeration of the size of the wearer's endowment, attention can be drawn through decorative adornment such as metallic studs.

Heavy metal fashion[edit]

The codpiece crossed over from the leather subculture to become an established part of heavy metal fashion performance costume when Rob Halford, of the band Judas Priest, began wearing clothing adopted from the gay biker and leather subculture while promoting the Killing Machine (AKA Hell Bent for Leather) album in 1978.[6] Heavy metal singer King Diamond has been known to wear a codpiece as part of his performance outfits. Black metal musician and Satanist Infernus wore a codpiece as part of his attire during the Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam era of Gorgoroth. GWAR frontman Oderus Urungus wore a codpiece called The Cuttlefish of Cthulhu.[7]

Pop music[edit]

Cameo front man Larry Blackmon sports a codpiece, which became his trademark, in his videos "Word Up" and "Candy." Guns N' Roses front man Axl Rose wore a codpiece for most of the Appetite for Destruction Tour. Jethro Tull front man Ian Anderson performed in a codpiece during the mid-1970s.

Codpieces occasionally make an appearance on the haute couture catwalk. Jean Paul Gaultier,[8] Thom Brown (2008,[9] 2012,[10] 2014[11]) and Versace (2014[12]) are designers who have used the codpiece to explore themes of masculinity and sexuality.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Hogan, C. Michael (22 December 2007). "Knossos Fieldnotes". The Modern Antiquatarian. Archived from the original on 9 April 2016. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  2. ^ Vicary, Grace Q. (February 1989). "Visual Art as Social Data: The Renaissance Codpiece". Cultural Anthropology. 4 (1): 3–25. doi:10.1525/can.1989.4.1.02a00010. ISSN 0886-7356. Retrieved 15 October 2018 – via Wiley Online.
  3. ^ John Grabenstein, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-10-12. Retrieved 2005-09-17..
  4. ^ Paddock, David Edge & John Miles (1995). Arms & armor of the medieval knight : an illustrated history of weaponry in the Middle Ages (Reprinted. ed.). New York: Crescent Books. ISBN 0517103192.
  5. ^ "Worlds of the Renaissance 2000 - Dina McArdle Project". Archived from the original on 2004-01-21. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
  6. ^ Weider, Judy (12 May 1998). "Judas Priest's Rob Halford is first heavy metal band member to say he is gay". The Advocate. Archived from the original on 11 April 2008. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  7. ^ Childers, Chad (17 April 2017). "11 Most Epic Codpieces in Rock + Metal". Loudwire. Retrieved 8 November 2018.
  8. ^ D'Souza, Karen (26 March 2012). "A tribute to the bad boy of fashion: Jean Paul Gaultier". The Mercury News. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  9. ^ Waldron, Glen (25 February 2008). "Thom Browne: The long and the short of it". The Independent. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  10. ^ Standen, Dirk (19 June 2011). "Moncler Gamme Bleu Spring 2012 Menswear Fashion Show". Vogue. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  11. ^ "Thom Browne Spring 2014 Menswear Fashion Show". Vogue. 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  12. ^ Blanks, Tim (11 January 2014). "Versace Fall 2014 Menswear Fashion Show". Vogue. Retrieved 15 October 2018.

Further reading

External links[edit]