THE BLOG
06/21/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Crack Attack!

However sincere State Senator Eric Adams or Bill Cosby might be admonishing urban youth to, 'pull up their pants,' such efforts are hardly liable to work. The exploits of the lamented late Alexander McQueen and Lady Gaga alone are proof positive of one of fashion's most satisfying perennial pleasures. Style statements which shock and even scandalize an un-hip establishment are always the younger generation's favorite form of subversion.

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Sporting sagging baggies that display immaculately white briefs, colorful boxers, and sometimes more, the disaffected of today -- poorly educated, un-and-under employed, filled with desire for a bountiful life, notwithstanding dire prospects -- are they any more unreasonable than their rebellious afro-wearing, bell-bottomed grandparents?

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For certain, their audacious bravado in challenging anyone who doesn't appreciate what they see, to 'kiss my [the fashion-freedom-fighter's] ass!' is no different from the codpiece, a focal point of male attire for 200 years, from roughly 1400 to the close of the 16th Century.

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Just what was a codpiece, you now wonder? Named for the old English term for bag or scrotum, it was a flap or a bag, attached in front to conceal the opening between a man's hose. This additional feature of male apparel was at first made necessary because of the shortening of the skirt on men's tunics. Soon however, it developed into something else altogether, not just a flap to conceal one's drawers. Ironically, in time, a fashion developed out of concern for modesty, evolved into a protuberance, puffed, slashed, even ornamented with jeweled pins and engorged with padding which deliberately called attention to the male anatomy.

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Imitating the elite, the fashion was quickly adapted by soldiers, merchants, and even peasants in the fields. Embellishing court dress and work clothes, it even became a feature of suites of armor.

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Brazen eye-catchers by the reign of Henry VIII, codpieces achieved their greatest elaboration and scale, sometimes doing double duty as coin purses or a place to conceal letters or poisons. The sawdust and wool wadding employed to allow men to enhance the proportions of their endowment, 'bombast,' is still a useful part of the language, signifying false pride and swaggering braggadocio.

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Like sagging baggies, codpieces were a highly aggressive expression of masochismo. They also emanated considerable, usually unintentional, homoerotic appeal. With massive Henry's death and the accession of his sickly 9-year-old son Edward VI, who died at 15, the codpiece's prominence steadily diminished.

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England's Edward VI, 1537-1553

Whereas Henry's reign provided fashions that exaggerated what was normal, his daughter Elizabeth's rule was marked by fashions featuring unnaturally manipulated silhouettes. With a woman on the throne of England , and homosexual Henri III, king of France, the shrinking codpiece gradually fell from use to disappear altogether by the start of the 17th Century.

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"With the decline of the codpiece, overall male costume showed a tendency in the 1670's, towards feminization inspired by Henri III, accentuated by diminutive muffs, tousled ringlets and pearl earrings," noted fashion scholar Michael McCollom. How odd that perhaps the gay world's all-time favorite fashion statement, before sagging baggies, should have floundered, due to the influence of two queens?

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Sagging baggies, tattoos, false nails and hair, piercings, what are we of a certain age and with squeamish sensibilities, to make of such modishness? The more current styles are able to annoy and anger old folks, the longer they are inclined to continue to enjoy popularity that transcends race and class. Given how effectively young people are presently able to outrage us, it's difficult to imagine just what offensive fashions their offspring might devise to outrage them.