“In days of old, when men were bold and Y fronts weren’t invented.”
The forerunner to today’s boxers and briefs was the less than humble codpiece. That’s the sticky out bit at men’s nether region, as worn by Knights of Old and still to be seen in men’s ballet attire.
The practical problem which beset our forefathers was the ability to match upper body clothing with leg attire. Catering for the call of nature compounded matters so the upper crust simply flaunted their naughty bits as a fashion statement. Men wore short jackets whilst no one yet had worked out how to make a functional pair of trousers. Men wore tubular leg coverings obviously unable to cover the genitals which were often left exposed. The cod piece began as a flat piece of triangular material covering of the “rest and be thankfuls.”
It was stitched at the three corners or at the bottom angle and tied at the top two angles, over the gap in the front of the hose. When Edward IV (1442 – 1483) decreed men below the rank of Lord could not expose their genitals the flap or cod piece was invented. Fashion crossover meant the codpiece became highly decorated serving both as a boast and provocation.
When amour was invented the cod piece remained and protected the wobbly bits.
Even later male clothing included a ‘sex purse’ and men vied with each other in their genital display. The popular sex pocket came to be known by various other names. Latin scholars called them ‘barca’ or ‘breeches’, the French insisted they were brayette or graguette; and the English used the Old English word cod meaning “bag” or scrotum. In the reign of Henry VIII it was rumoured when a visiting royal was caught in rather a compromised position his dilemma was clear for all to see including Queen Anne Boleyn. To pass it off with some decorum she tried to save his dignity by asking him was it an apple he had in his pocket. Henry VIII was rather distressed and mistook the sticky out bit for a new fashion fad from Europe. He ordered his cod pieces to be suitably padded preferring the loaf shape to house his family jewels.
Whether this is true or not, history records popularity for the cod piece peeked between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries when newer versions were developed. Padding and embroidery became more ornate. A real pocket was added where the wearer had a pocket to keep his purse, handkerchief or pieces of fruit, with little concealed suggestiveness. The latter was offered graciously to good looking ladies.
The cod piece enjoyed a limited return to fashion in the 20th century when they appeared in the film of Clockwork Orange.
Danielou A 1995 The phallus: Sacred symbol of male creative power Rochester: Inner Traditions (translated by Graham J.)
A brief history of the codpiece