If you were to think of Tudor clothing, the chances are that the word ‘codpiece’ will spring to mind. But why exactly did these decorated pouches take the 16th-century world by storm? Speaking on the HistoryExtra podcast, Jane Malcolm-Davies divulges the practical background behind this icon of Tudor fashion…
I'm not sure anyone could explain the excess of the codpiece in the middle of the 16th century. But the functional reason for it was that bias-cut hose needed a flap in the front to cover up between what were originally two separate legs. A crotch seam came in, and then a cod flap was needed in order to hold the hose together and also to be able to get in and out of it.
Gradually that flap became more and more pronounced and decorated, so that it became an opportunity for display. Obviously, we see that in portraits of the wealthy – ribbons, all sorts of gold braid. It became very fancy.
At the Museum of London there is a collection of very simple codpieces made of very unassuming materials, but many layers of padding in order to make them the classic pronounced codpiece shape.
Jane Malcolm-Davies is associate professor at the Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen, and author of The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress (Batsford, 2006). She was speaking with Emily Briffett on the HistoryExtra podcast, unpicking the historical sources to uncover what people wore in the 16th century. Hear more from this conversation in the full podcast episode