Pirates have come into a new Golden (Earring) Era with the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie franchise. Though you may see many Jack Sparrows and other salty seamen wandering around the local Renaissance Faire, few people know about pirate clothing. The pirate wardrobe is actually historically based, and has a very colourful history.
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Lower-level pirate ship sailors slouch about in a relatively uniform outfit that includes short breeches, a loose-sleeved shirt and boots. According to British costuming site Elizabethan Era, "In 1628 the British Admiralty established sailor's clothing (which were called 'slops') to be worn by men who had been press-ganged [conscripted]." Since pirate crewmen were often out-of-work British army sailors, they would often wear the slops during their stints on pirate craft.
As for the pirate captain, those men often wore the leavings of their plundering, often breaking Elizabethan sumptuary laws in the process. If a captain dressed above his class, no one would gainsay him--especially on his ship.
Pirates look like a ragtag bunch for a reason. Since they, too, took advantage of plunder, they often distributed random clothing articles among the crew. This made for a messy look. Coupled with the back-breaking labour on board the pirate ships, clothing would turn into rags pretty quickly. Often the men would wear a gold earring; not only did it signify wealth, but also could pay for a proper burial, were they washed up on shore.
Pirates weren't always poor. A good captain with an effective crew and fast ship could make a killing, both financially and in reality. They sometimes wore velvet, leather and silk, depending on how well their exploits had gone. Their clothing wasn't haphazard; most items had a purpose, even the sash around the waist. Pirates were often on royal business and held charters to do their thieving, and many men joined the ships simply looking for riches and adventure, not for nefarious purposes.
Pirate Clothes for the Ladies
There weren't many female pirates, but they did exist. Women were persona non grata on most ships: "Article VI of the Pirate Code agreed by Bartholomew Roberts ( Black Bart )...stated: No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death." Nowadays, the pirate trend has space for the girls, too. Lady pirates can now purchase corsets and bodices crafted from leather, along with lacy shirts and flirtatious stockings. Many women also purchase weapons and daggers to wear with their pirate costumes, although few sport the stereotypical eye patch or peg leg. For ladies, it's often more about the power play and sex appeal than being menacing.
Pirate Clothing Today
Many costume stores sell a pirate outfit or two. However, the hard-core pirate enthusiasts often purchase their costumes from experienced costume designers. Renaissance Faires and fandom conventions also have retail sections that may contain pirate clothing designers. For those with a low budget, a quick trip to the thrift store may yield some great finds. A 1990s poet shirt, capri pants and some old boots make a good, basic pirate outfit. Purchase a hat from a costume shop, or go the whole hog and buy a real hat for £65 or more.
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