Unlike the 16th-century elite that donned codpieces to boast their physical prowess or political stature, men in the Balkans developed a local version of the popular accessory to keep the most treasured part of their anatomy safe and warm. A look into the history of the peculiar undergarment on December 27, 2017
It’s a known fact Croatia prides itself on its cultural heritage, one of its most renowned features being our folklore – a vast, diverse fund of local customs, traditional cuisine and beautiful costumes whose designs heavily vary from town to town. You can easily learn about the traditional garments by paying a visit to any of the ethnographic museums in the country, but the best way to experience the stunning costumes is to attend a folklore festival such as the Vinkovci Autumn Festival in Slavonia. White linen undergarments peeking under colourful ruffled skirts, vests embellished with intricate embroidery… Every outfit is a showstopper, but there’s a staple item of traditional clothing that often gets overlooked and deserves some love: the codpiece.
Before we turn to the Croatian version of this prominent part of menswear, let’s take a quick look at its historical origin. Codpieces came into fashion at the beginning of the 16th century, a lovely point in time when men used to wear snug jackets paired with puffy hose. The latter were open from the crotch area to the leg, and once when jackets started to get shorter and shorter, not much was left to the imagination. Enter the codpiece, a fabric pouch attached to the front opening of the hose in order to cover the naughty bits. You wouldn’t want to accidentally flash a lady while trying to maintain a chivalrous attitude.
It didn’t take long for men to realise the new feature had untapped potential. In a span of a few decades, that humble, practical pouch transformed into anything but, becoming a lavish accessory – purposely accentuated to show off the masculine, virile power of its wearer. Why risk exposing yourself and catching a cold along the way, when such a handy tool was available to help you command everyone’s attention and remain a perfect gentleman? Art history provides us with plenty of visuals featuring the fashionable, eye-catching centrepiece, starting from the manliest of all men who ever lived, Henry VIII:
To be fair, even His Majesty managed to keep his codpiece somewhat subtle, lest for that bow on top. And then, there’s Antonio Navagero, depicted by G. B. Moroni:
Not so subtle.
After the delightful feature went out of style, it became a long-running source of amusement, inducing giggles and inspiring puns left and right. If you can spare a couple of minutes, I urge you to check out this beautiful art feature by The Guardian – the most spirited piece on both painting and fashion I have ever had the pleasure to read.
Okay, we’ve got our history covered. Back to Croatia: unlike the original term which originates from Old English, cod standing for scrotum, the local equivalent is a bit more… straightforward. We call it nakurnjak – c*cktopper. Not subtle in the slightest.
The reasoning behind the amusing etymology probably stems from the less flashy purpose the item had in the Balkans. It wasn’t meant to be worn as a business card, fully on display; instead, it was designed as an undergarment that would keep one’s manhood safe and warm, softening the impact of horse saddles, for example, or helping to brave the long, cold winters in rural parts of the country. C*cktoppers were thus knitted using the finest sheep wool, and the surviving fund of this particular branch of fashion ranges from simple, down-to-earth pouches to decorative, embellished accessories. Regardless of design, however, they all share one common trait: they are extremely anatomically correct.
Photo credit: Miramann on Flickr
The knitting process usually took place out of sight of impressionable young maidens, in order to keep their pliable minds as pure as possible until time for marriage rolled around. At that point, the codpiece was a standard feature to be included in the dowry. So popular was the item, it became a part of the traditional costume worn in Lika, a region subjected to the harshest, coldest winters in all of the country.
Once we developed better heating systems and modern underwear, the need for c*cktoppers gradually decreased. These days, however, they seem to be going through a revival: according to Slobodna Dalmacija, there’s been a surge in demand for the woolen accessory in days leading to Christmas, and a certain number of skilled knitters in the wider Split area have been flooded with requests from interested buyers.
Festive! / Facebook
Apparently, some of the commissions called for patriotic tricolour designs or 1950 insignia – a proper personalised Christmas present for any Dalmatian man. You could also opt for a more formal attire:
Unfortunately, we’re a bit late to the gift-giving party, so you’ll have to keep the idea in mind until the next holiday season. Just make sure to pay attention to precise measurements – there’s always the possibility of two sizes too large leaving the recipient with a bruised ego.