Blackbeard (Edward Teach) makes his last stand in this painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris.
Avast here, me hearties! Aye, it be true that Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19th) has come and gone and once again we be found a-wantin’ in the piratical gear department due to a scurvy bout with the flu bug. Obviously, now that we’ve recovered and the wind is in the riggin’ so to speak, we must away to pillage yon costuming ports, but what should we be looking for?
Let’s aloft, says you, and ascertain.
Let your first stop be that den of wicked seafarers, the Gentlemen of Fortune, whom I have referred to before on these pages. In particular, I suggest checking out their Sailor Slops section (say that three times fast, especially after some grog). They talk about the clothes that a sailor re-enactor should be acquiring so let it be your guide to the costume items you should be looking for.
Burt Lancaster as Captain Vallo in the 1950s swashbuckler, “The Crimson Pirate”, still and away one of my favorite pirate flicks. You could bounce quarters off of Burt’s physique as he swings through the rigging showing off the skills he acquired as a circus acrobat.
The second question for professional pirates is do you want to be a realistic pirate or a fantasy pirate? Both are good–and a little mixing never hurts—but you need to understand the guidelines.
The caption reads “Decatur Boarding the Tripolitan Gunboat”, painting by Dennis Malone Carter. The painting depicts Lt. Stephen Decatur of the newly minted U. S. Navy going mano-a-mano with Barbary (Berber) pirates in either the first or second Barbary War. Barbary pirates were located in North Africa (you can see that some of them are wearing Algerian dress) and made it a habit to seize luckless crews and passengers, either holding them for ransom or selling them as slaves.
There’s nothing like a little historical research to set you on your way which brings us to the third question: do you want to be a Western pirate or an Eastern pirate? Choosing a Far or Near Eastern persona opens up a whole new world of fun and exotic clothing options. If, on the other hand, you are looking to be recognized by the general, non-privateering public, you will want to stick with Western dress of the 18th century.
Once you have answered these questions you are ready to set sail on your quest for the perfect pirate costume. Let us assume for the moment that you have opted to go with the Western pirate dress. You will need the following:
- A tricorn hat or a headscarf
- A big peasant-style shirt. Extra ruffles say “captain”, plain cotton says “sails before the mast”. Alternately, if you’re going for that Mr. Smee look, you could wear a horizontal striped T-shirt (which says “look out for crocodiles and flying kids”, but that’s another story).
- Knee-length pants. These can be knee breeches or capri (cropped) pants. You can also use loose harem pants pulled up to the knee.
- Vest (hip or mid-thigh length). Optional but useful especially if you don’t have a coat and want something to tie the outfit together.
- Frock coat. If you’ve got one, wear it. If not, skip it as this can be an expensive item to make or buy.
- Belt (optional). Could be leather, a length of rope, or a sash. Should have room to stash your dueling pistols or knife. If you are carrying a sword, you will need a baldrick (a strip of leather that goes across the chest) in order to hoster your weapon.
- Boots or buckle shoes (critical, but difficult to find). If you have some sort of riding boot, by all means wear it. If you have short boots or shoes in a dark color, you can create a swashbuckler-type spat to go over the top of the shoe and around your calf. The spat method is the easiest way to go if you want the look of a boot without shelling out the money for it.
- Accessories (eyepatch, earring, parrot, treasure map, treasure chest, temporary tattoo saying “Mother”, you be the judge)
Women have the option of either dressing like men (historically accurate and more practical) or going with a “tavern wench” outfit (just add a gypsy-style skirt and a tight bodice to the above list and you’re good).
Now this outfit says “comfortable”. This gentleman of fortune was photographed at the Washington State Rennaisance Faire (Flickr). He’s wearing a Turkish vest and what look to be harem pants to me. I like the way the pants and the headscarf coordinate.
Long John Silver (“Treasure Island”) as envisioned by Munro Orr. I highly recommend both the original novel by Robert Louis Stevenson and the movie version featuring Charleton Heston as Long John.
Long John’s near doppelganger, Lord Gregor (Flickr). Notice that Gregor has his own treasure chest carefully tied to his belt.
Commodore Ashton “WeirdBeard” Synn (Flickr). I would call this look “Goth pirate”. Never be afraid to put your own personal spin on your costume. Allowing your personality to come out is what makes your character unique. And, yes, Commodore Synn is a leather worker who makes all of his own gear. [Update: check out the link to Nyghtcraft Leatherwerks in the comments section].
If you haven’t seen the remake of “Peter Pan” with Jason Isaacs as Captain Hook, go forth and rent it immediately. The movie takes the Peter Pan story back to its roots, not as an adventure story for boys, but a coming of age story for girls. The costumes are beautifully done and Isaacs is alternately charming and scary as Captain Hook.
The tricorn goes uptown with this charming, sea-themed creation by Darla Teagarden (Etsy).
A lady pirate from the 2006 Dragoncon (Flickr). I call this look “lingerie pirate” and it is definitely a fantasy creation. Extra points to our pirate belle for finding a way to recycle her bellydance bra.
The ultimate accessory: a live parrot. Just be sure your shirt is washable–if ye take my meanin’, matey. Pirate and parrot were photographed at the Washington Renaissance Faire (Flickr).