The codpiece as a feature of male dress dates to the 15th and 16th centuries during the renaissance. 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.
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.
With great size comes great decorative responsibility, and men of means rose to the occasion. They brocaded, damasked, bejewelled, embroidered, tasseled, tinseled, and otherwise ornamented their codpieces until they became like walking Christmas trees. Puberty was no prerequisite: boys as young as seven could engorge themselves with silk and satin.
Codpiece even found its way to warfare: suit of the king’s armor, boasting a bulbous codpiece weighing more than two and a half pounds, is still on display at the Tower.
By the close of the sixteenth century, the codpiece had become a canker-blossom on the male form, and it declined as suddenly as it had ascended.