Originally created as the join between the two hoses at the groin, the codpiece eventually became an ornate piece of male dress in the 16th century.

The Details


he codpiece as a feature of male dress dates to the 15th and 16th centuries during the Renaissance. In reference to the codpiece, Susan Brown, editor of Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style writes that in 1540:

“The codpiece reaches its peak in terms of size and decoration. Designed to cover the gap between the two legs of men’s hose, it is packed and shaped to emphasize rather than disguise the genital area.” (79)

Brown later goes on to explain:

“The origins of the codpiece lie in the triangle of fabric used to join the two separate hose legs in the late 15th century when doublets shortened. Soon padding was added and ended up as the codpiece–a prominent, suggestive shape filling the gap between the legs of the breeches. It soon became a normal part of male clothing, in style across many countless and social levels until the end of the 1500s. Tailors became as creative with codpiece shapes as with other clothing details. The codpiece could hide a pocket or even be used as a pincushion.” (89)

Portrait of Henry VIII

Fig. 1 - Hans Holbein the Younger (German, 1497-1543). Portrait of Henry VIII, 1537-1547. Oil on canvas; 239 x 134.5 cm (94.09 x 52.95 in). Liverpool: Walker Art Gallery, WAG 1350. Source: Wikimedia

Portrait of Guidubaldo della Rovere

Fig. 2 - Agnolo Bronzino (Italian, 1503–1572). Portrait of Guidubaldo della Rovere, 1532. Oil on canvas; 114 x 86 cm (44.8 x 33.8 in). Florence: Palazzo Pitti. Source: Pinterest

Portait of Antonio Navagero

Fig. 3 - Giovanni Battista Moroni (Italian, 1520-1578). Portait of Antonio Navagero, 1565. Oil on canvas; 115 x 90 cm (45.3 x 35.4 in). Milan: Pinoteca Di Brera, 334, Room 14. Source: Brera Pinacoteca

Boy With a Greyhound

Fig. 4 - Paolo Veronese (Italian, 1528–1588). Boy With a Greyhound, ca. 1570s. Oil on canvas; 173.7 x 101.9 cm (68 3/8 x 40 1/8 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 29.100.105. Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929. Source: The Met

The Berg Dictionary of Fashion History catalogs the evolution of the codpiece, writing:

“Period: 15th century.

The front flap forming a pouch at the fork of the long hose. ‘A kodpese like a pokett’ (ca. 1460, Townley Mysteries).

Period: 16th century.

When worn with trunk-hose, the codpiece was padded and very prominent and tied to the hose with points.

Period: 17th and 18th centuries.

When the projecting pouch was discarded the term was often applied to the front fastening of the breeches, and, in the 18th century, occasionally to the front fall of the breeches.”

In reference to the beginnings of the codpiece and its symbolic power, Sandra Evenson in the Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion writes:

“Originally a triangle of cloth used to join the individual legs of men’s hose, the codpiece emerged as a nonverbal statement of political and economic power.” (276)

While generally worn as part of everyday dress (Figs. 1, 3, 4) the codpiece was also worn as a part of an aristocratic battle dress (Fig. 2) and even incorporated into full metal suits of armor (Fig. 5).

Armor of Emperor Ferdinand I (1503–1564)

Fig. 5 - Kunz Lochner (German, 1510–1567). Armor of Emperor Ferdinand I (1503–1564), 1549. Steel, brass, leather; h. 170.2 cm (67 in; wt. 24kg (52 lb. 14 oz.)). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1933. 33.164a–x. Rogers Fund and George D. Pratt Gift. Source: The Met

Its Afterlife

The codpiece has been occasionally revived in modern fashion (Fig. 6), as in Thom Browne’s Spring 2008 menswear collection or Moncler Gamme Bleu’s Spring/Summer 2012 collection (Fig. 7).


Fig. 6 - Thom Browne (American, 1965-). Menswear, Spring 2008. Source: Vogue


Fig. 7 - Moncler Gamme Bleu. Menswear, Spring/Summer 2012. Source: Sotheby's