How to Dress Like a Pirate

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Pirates often wore clothing and jewelry that they stole on the high seas.
Pirates often wore clothing and jewelry that they stole on the high seas. (Image: Giorgio Fochesato/iStock/Getty Images)

During the 17th century, the heyday of Atlantic piracy, the Jolly Roger was a fearsome sight on the high seas. In the centuries since, pirate life has been romanticized in films, and pirate fashion now inspires costumes for both men and women. If you want to dress like a real-life pirate, such as Blackbeard or Anne Bonny, or the fictitious Jack Sparrow, you can assemble a respectable pirate wardrobe from clothing you either already own or purchase at a thrift store.

Pirate Ship Captain

Pirate captains were a flamboyant bunch; they dressed to show off the finery they pilfered from their victims. To dress like a pirate captain, tuck a pair of tight-fitting pants into tall boots. Wear a white shirt with puffy sleeves and ruffles, and top it with a long coat made from velvet, satin or brocade. Pirates favored red, purple and other bright colors. Female pirates weren't common, and they dressed like men to avoid detection. If you want to give your pirate costume a feminine touch, substitute a long skirt for the pants. Whether they were men or women, pirate captains usually saved their flashy outfits for wear on land. Flowing fabrics presented a hazard on deck, where they could get tangled in the rigging.

Pirate Ship Crew

On a pirate ship, crew members worked hard under dangerous conditions. Their clothing had to withstand deck-swabbing, mast-climbing and the occasional sword-fighting bout. Breeches or cropped pants were staples of the pirate crew's wardrobe. To copy the look, cut up a pair of white jeans and fray the hems or roll up the cuffs on a pair of khakis. A striped shirt is a quintessential piece of pirate fashion, but real pirates wore any shirt that came their way. For your crewman costume, wear a torn T-shirt -- striped or solid -- and top it with an open-front vest. While on deck, the pirate crew went barefoot, but you can adapt your costume with a pair of plain leather or canvas shoes

Hair and Makeup

Hairstyles and beards were an important part of pirate fashion, especially for the captains. If you have long hair and a beard, accent it with small braids, beads and feathers. Or, wear a wig and false facial hair. Go for the full Blackbeard look or copy Jack Sparrow's mustache and braided goatee. You can also use makeup to draw beard stubble on your face. Pirates didn't wear eye makeup, but eyeliner and shadow intensify your pirate stare. Both pirate captains and crewmen bore physical evidence of their hard lives on the high seas. Use lip pencil and eyeliner to draw scars on your face and arms. Dental hygiene wasn't a priority on pirate ships. Wear decayed-looking false teeth from a costume store for added authenticity.

Accessories and Weapons

Whether you're dressing like a captain or crew member, tie a bandanna or scarf around your head. If you're a captain, top the scarf with a floppy black hat decorated with feathers. If you're a crew member, cover it with a knitted cap. Wear a broad sash around your waist and tuck a plastic sword in it. Gold chains, medallions, earrings and rings -- stolen of course -- were favorite fashion accessories among pirate captains. Wear costume jewelry with your captain costume, but limit your jewelry to a gold hoop earring if you're a crew member. The life of a pirate was a violent one. Accessorize your costume with toy pistols and knives, and wear an eye patch or tuck a plastic hook up your sleeve to flaunt your battle injuries.

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