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Pirate Clothing

Picture of Pirates

Picture of Pirates on their Ship

Pirate Clothing
The Golden Age of Pirates. The pirates who operated during the Age of Exploration have become synonymous with a definite style of   Pirate Clothing.But what pirate clothing was fact and what pirate clothing was fiction? The legendary apparel of a pirate has created a pirate stereotype.

But much of the pirate clothing was developed through necessity and befitted the lifestyle of a pirate seaman.

Pirate Clothing - the 'Slops'
Many pirates were recruited from unemployed seaman - there was plenty of work for a fighting sailor during times of was but during peacetime the seaman became impoverished and turned to a life of piracy. In 1628 the British Admiralty established sailor's clothing (which were called 'slops') to be worn by men who had been press-ganged. This type of clothing consisted of a  canvas doublet and breeches, knitted caps called Monmouth caps, cotton waistcoats and drawers, stockings, linen shirts and shoes. So much of this clothing was adopted by the seamen who turned to the life of a pirate.

Pirate Clothing - the Monmouth Cap and the Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws
The woollen cap referred to as the Monmouth Cap dates back to the 1500's. In 1571 the Elizabethan  Sumptuary Laws were passed which ordered everyone over the age of six to wear a woollen cap on Sundays and holidays in order to help England's wool trade. The Upper Classes were excused from obeying this law.

Pirate Clothing - Flouting the Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws.
Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws dictated what color of clothing and the materials and fabrics which could be  used for each social level.The Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws therefore enforced what clothing individuals were allowed to own and wear, an easy and immediate way to identify rank and privilege. Pirate clothing, especially that of the successful and wealthy pirates took great delight in flouting the Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws. Anything went - fine velvets and silks and such fabrics which had been previously banned to anyone other than those in the Upper Classes.

Pirate Clothing - The Motley Crew
The fabrics used in pirate clothing depended on how wealthy they were and what clothing had been stolen. Pirate clothing for the ordinary seamen was therefore often ill-fitting. Motley was a multi-colored woollen fabric woven of mixed threads in 14th to 17th century England. The clothes of pirate seamen were mismatched with multi-colors - hence the expression 'Motley Crew'.Many of the tasks performed by the pirates were extremely arduous - clothing could be easily ripped, tattered and torn. The pirate clothing for ordinary seamen, by necessity was tight fitting. Loose fighting clothes would be dangerous when performing tasks like climbing the rigging. The clothing of the captain or pirate clothing worn on land did not need to follow such requirements.

Pirate Clothing - the Fabrics and Materials
The fabrics used in pirate clothing depended on how wealthy they were and what clothing had been stolen. But basically there were no rules. The practical fabrics used for ordinary pirate clothing included canvass, leather, wool, linen, cotton and sheepskin. The fabrics and materials used in pirate clothing when on shore, or by the Pirate Captain, were far more flamboyant and expensive. Velvet, silk, damask, sarcanet, camlet and taffeta were included in the fabrics and materials used for this type of pirate clothing - exotic feathers were also favored.

Pirate Clothing - Colors
The colors of pirate clothing included the colors which had previously banned by the Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws. Crimson, violet, purple and  deep blue were typical of the colors which had previously banned for anyone other than the Upper Classes.

Pirate Clothing - The clothes worn by a Pirate Captain
The typical clothes worn by a Pirate Captain are illustrated in a description of the clothing worn by Black Bart (Bartholomew Roberts). He was described as flamboyant dresser. His waistcoat and breeches were made of velvet in a rich crimson color. His hat was decorated with an exotic red feather. An expensive satin and leather sash diagonally decorated the front of his coat and a sash was tied around his waist. The clothes of this pirate captain were adorned with gold jewellery and ornaments.

List of Pirate Clothing
The following list details the items of pirate clothing and some interesting facts and information about various items of Pirate Clothing:

  • Motley clothing - bright mis-matched colors
  • Bandana - A pirate clothing item which kept the sweat out of the pirate's eyes
  • Tri-cornered hat - made of various materials including leather
  • Doublet or coat - Expensive item of pirate clothing. Long clothes, including the doublet were a style of pirate clothing best suited to land. Decorated with ornate braids and fabrics
  • Breeches - trousers were generally only worn by English pirates
  • Knitted caps called Monmouth caps
  • Waistcoats - flamboyant addition to pirate clothing
  • Drawers - tight fitting to allow for the difficult tasks of a pirate
  • Stockings - Woollen stockings for practical apparel and silk for land use
  • Shirts - The puffed sleeves were suited to pirate clothing on land
Pirate Clothing - the Accessories
The famous accessories of pirate clothing.

  • Gold Hoop Earrings -  A sign of wealth but also believed to serve a practical purpose in easing sea sickness by applying pressure to ear lobes.
  • Bracelets, chains, pins and pendants - Gold, silver, precious jewels and pearls
  • Sash - Alsio called a baldric made of fine fabrics, sometimes overlayed with a leather sash to take the weight of pirate weapons
  • Braids and ribbons - adorned various elements of pirate clothing but were also used to braid a pirate beard or hair. Blackbeard was famous for tying black braids to his beard and hair and famous for sticking lighted matches under his hat on either side of his face to terrify his enemies
  • Pirate Boots - Ranged from bootcovers, to Bucket boots up to thigh-high boots, Pirate seamen often went barefoot - a practical decision when a task might include 'swabbing the deck'
  • Pirate belts - these wide belts were worn around the waist and diagonally across the shoulder in order to take the weight of pirate weapons
  • Buckles - Ornate buckles were used to adorn pirate belts and shoes
  • Fancy buttons - a decorative addition to pirate clothing
  • Scarves - a flamboyant addition to pirate clothing
  • Wigs - stolen or purpose made - favored by Pirate captains
Pirate Clothing - the Weapons
The famous weapons which accompanied pirate clothing.

  • The pirate cutlass - A heavy curved sword with only one, but deadly, cutting edge
  • Daggers - often held in the leather sahes or belts
  • Pistols

Pirate Clothing - the Stereotype Pirate
All of the items of pirate clothing have been covered but other elements became synonymous with the pirate. These related to the injuries which befell men who followed the pirate's life. Fighting was an important skill but inevitably pirates were wounded. Pirates lost eyes during battle - hence the famous pirate eye patch. Limbs were often amputated as the only resort for a badly injured leg - hence the wooden peg leg. Hands which were lost were replaced with hooks.

Pirate Clothing
Some interesting facts and information about Pirate Clothing. Additional details, facts and information about Pirates in the Age of Exploration can be accessed via the Elizabethan Era Sitemap or the following links:

Famous Elizabethan Pirates
Famous Pirates
Famous Women Pirates
Famous Pirate Ships
Pirate Flags
The Pirate Song
Pirate Code of Conduct
Anne Bonney
Mary Read
The Age of Exploration
Elizabethan Era Index

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