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“Pirate” has become an all-encompassing word that denotes anyone who wore layers of loose tops, scarves and jewelry. Pirates are also usually assumed to be murders, thieves and villains who sailed the seas looking for something evil to do.
For the most part, pirates took their sailing very seriously and were brought together by a lack of opportunity and money from a life on land—and of course, a love for drinking rum!
If you want to construct an authentic pirate costume, be consoled that not all pirates were murdering thieves. But, you have some research to do—being a pirate isn’t as simple as it sounds! You have to decide what kind of pirate you want to be before you can start planning (or plundering) your costume. There are generally three types of “pirates” to consider.
These men were the “real deal” and generally the stereotypical pirates you think of when picturing a pirate. They committed crimes on the seas deemed as violent, malicious and thieving. Because these men were always at sea, they dressed for practicality which turned out to not be so different from other sailors.
Pirates fundamentally rejected the rules and restrictions of life on the land and because of this, they dressed how they wanted to but their clothing always incorporated pieces from prisoners they took or things they stole. Though pirates rejected conventional rules, they honored and upheld the class system when at sea.
To dress like a pirate captain, you should incorporate a shirt with wide flowing sleeves (such as the Cap’n Quincy Shirt here at Ye Old Renaissance Shop) and longer layers of jackets, vests (see the Captain Benjamin vest for some color to your pirate costume), a sash and maybe some other shirts. There should be some sort of collar detail, jewelry or scarf at the neck and pants were generally knee length (Captain Cottuy pants work perfectly to tuck into your boots for the perfect look). And of course, what would a captain be without his hat? Captains always wore shoes while crew men didn’t. Simple members of a pirate crew wore tops with possibly a vest, a handkerchief and pants rolled up or ragged (the Captain Clegg striped pirate pants would be the perfect look to swab the decks). These men took the last of everything so generally didn’t have many layers.
Though similar in name, these pirates have nothing much in common with pirates. Privateers were actually legal pirates who did the work of different governments and ruling bodies on their respective seas and have actually been cited as the precursor to naval units.
The dress for privateers differed greatly based on the time in history and the country under whose service they worked. Generally speaking, these men looked very militaristic and very put together. These men did not scrape their clothes together from prisoners; they were dressed by royalty as part of the military. Their clothes had to allow them to perform as a seaman and still appear as representation of a country’s ruler. If you’re looking for a privateer costume, go for the Purple Brocade Pirate Coat. It has an absolute military appearance with its clean lines and large buttons. The shirts underneath would be fancy also but still allow for sailing, like the Sir Francis Drake pirate shirt, who happens to be a famous privateer.
These men were definitely pirates in the general sense of the word, but they are different from both privateers and pirates. Buccaneers were larger groups of men who stayed mainly in the Caribbean Sea and preyed on the Spanish trade boats. These men lived very differently from other pirates. They did not live by rules of ranking and class on ships, but instead were ruled by liberty, equality and fraternity. Buccaneers voted on captains, which ships to attack and other matters concerning all the men. Treasure and stolen plunder were also divided equally.
Since buccaneers attacked only Spanish ships and towns and split all prizes equally, they all dressed in a semi-alike fashion. They would have worn Spanish clothes and all looked at relatively the same rank. The Henry Morgan shirt (named after the famous buccaneer) would be perfect for this costume. Any clothing that has a Spanish flare or coloring would be appropriate for a buccaneer costume, also.
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