cc copyright Rogues of Thread

I love a good pirate costume as much as  the next person. You can be a sexy pirate, a rugged pirate, a cross dressing pirate (and I’m really talking about the ladies here. Please men, be nice to us and don’t don corsets and bad rouge. Hairy cleavage is not attractive.) , a fairy pirate (well, I’ve seen it anyway), a steampunk pirate, a Disni-fied pirate, etc. I’ve been a pirate wench (a la small additions to a Ren Faire costume), a scantily clad pirate, a corseted pirate and even a Middle Eastern pirate and my favorite, the traditional long vest (called a weskit) and pirate coat. If you want to be a classic pirate, consider avoiding a corset.

When we in Western culture think pirate, we usually think of the Golden Age of Piracy. This was roughly 1650 – 1730 (at least according to Wikipedia), the time of Blackbeard, Anne Bonny, Henry Morgan and other well known pirates. This is the time portrayed in one of my favorite pirate films, Yellowbeard, which if you haven’t seen it, is a fun Monty Python romp and not to be taken too seriously, and of course, the 4 Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and Treasure Island (the movie and novel).

What did a real pirate look like? The average sea dog probably looked as random as Jack Sparrow’s crew in the POTC films. Their dress would reflect their origins, their port of call and whatever region they frequented. Shoes would probably have been worn, unless someone was too poor or the weather was that consistently warm. Hats would have been prevalent for sunshade, clothing a little more optional in the heat and rougher where the booty was scarce. Heavier garments and those of the better off would have reflected that of their betters on land. Coats or richer fabrics, buckled shoes and finer hose would have perhaps lasted the well-heeled pirate a bit shorter time span in the sun, wind and salt air. There was no pirate dress code; if you’re looking to be an authentic pirate, research the actual time period and study the available images of that time and region in general.


So what did a man of fashion wear? Something not too different from his piratical brethren. This image is from 18th Century Color Plates from English Costume 1066-1820, 1906, by Dion Clayton Calthrop, of a French man in 1700 (source The Costumer’s Manifesto, an EXCELLENT costume research resource).

I’ve mostly shown you male costume, or in Anne Bonny’s case, a woman in a man’s clothing. What, pray tell, did a woman wear? Stereotypically? Think panniers and Marie Antoinette. Eventually panniers grew to such enormous proportions that a woman would have to turn sideways to walk through a door. Panniers make me laugh. Again, images are from The Costumer’s Manifesto.

Corsets, as we think of them today, are generally not Golden Age (of Piracy). Most commercial corsets are either completely modern (think Fredrick’s of Hollywood), or are an approximation of a Victorian corset. Accuracy in costuming may not stop you from wearing that Victorian corset (it hasn’t always stopped me), but if you are trying to portray a specific period, and have decided to skip the accuracy of a woman in women’s clothes or the type of cross dressing that would really hide your gender, either avoid waist cinching devices, or research the proper garment. Your best resources are always the paintings and woodcuts of the times.