What do you imagine when you think of a pirate and what he wore? Most people would envision a man wearing a baggy white shirt, striped pants, a vest, and possibly a bandana to cover his hair. Are you curious if pirates dressed the same or want to know the differences between pirate captain and lowly crew member attire? Read below to learn more.

Influenced by Gentlemen Attire

A standard outfit for a gentleman in the early 1700’s consisted of a shirt, vest, suit, coat, and short tight pants known as breeches. Shirts were baggier than shirts modern men use today, and instead of a tie they wore a long, narrow strip of cloth that was around the neck and tucked down the front of the vest. Black, wide brimmed hats with the brim fastened up on three sides were also worn. This style of clothing was standard for middle class men of the era, so it was natural to be worn by ship captains as well.  Pirate captains also wore this style of clothing, and although they generally began their pirate careers as sailors they were able to steal the fancier clothing from ships they overtook during their career.

Common Sailors

Common sailors wore much more casual clothing than the pirate captains. Not only did they have the ability to afford finer clothing, it just did not make sense to wear such clothes during a hard days work. The crew was responsible for the hard labor which included hauling heavy lines and lifting massive cargo, and restrictive coats, vests and short, tight breeches were too constrictive. Instead, common sailors preferred long, looser trousers instead.  They often left the shirt open at the neck and went barefoot, and wore scarves and hats to protect their heads and faces from the sun. To protect their backs from the hard labor on deck, sailors also commonly wore wide, supportive belts and a pirate sash was worn under the belt to absorb sweat and keep them cool. Another funny detail about pirate costumes is that the pirate’s shirt was never untucked…this is due to the fact that to reduce bulk under their pants, the pirates always went without underwear.

Gold Earrings & Clothing Repair

As pirates rarely visited ports or had access to purchase new clothing, they had to take care of ny repairs needed to their clothing on their own. They had to be resourceful and use whatever tools they had handy on board which included some of the good stolen at sea such as exotic silks and fabrics.

Another way to differentiate a pirate from an ordinary sailor is that pirates often wore jewelry. Jewelry was an easy way to keep your money and wealth close to you at all times.  Rings and necklaces were easily portable wealth and hard to steal since they were on their person. A famous pirate captain named Bartholomew Roberts was known for wearing a huge diamond-encrusted gold cross as a souvenir that was stolen from the Spanish royal family. Common sailors were known to wear a single gold earring in one ear. Besides being portable wealth, a single gold earring had an important purpose for the pirates. Religion influenced people to believe that in order to get to heaven, you needed a funeral. As life expectancy was limited during the 18th century, and pirates had an even shorter life expectancy as they lived a dangerous lifestyle, the single gold earring was often used to pay for their funeral after they died.  What a way to prepay for your funeral!

Interested in learning more about pirate costumes or want to see authentic clothing for yourself? Check museums in your area to see if they have a pirate costume collection you can view up close and in person!