Renaissance Pirate Costumes
Choosing the Kind You Want
With the recent popularity of pirates in the media and in costuming, there's a lot out there to choose from. However, movies like the Pirates of the Caribbean series have muddied the waters when it comes to figuring out what's fantasy and what's historically accurate. While there's nothing wrong with wearing a pirate costume that's not strictly historical, it's good to know whether yours is based in fact, or just in fun. Here's an overview of what pirates might have worn during the Renaissance to help you decide what kind of costume you'd like to put together.
Since the Spanish and others were regularly shipping gold and other supplies gained from New World conquests across the Atlantic, piracy was alive and well in the 16th century. Not only were there outlaws who preyed on any ship at all that might cross their path, but privateers, too. These were pirates in the legal pay of a country - Sir Francis Drake was one of England's most famous privateers, known for taking Spanish ships.
Costuming for a 16th century pirate would come in one of two forms. If you're portraying a gentleman officer of the ship, like Drake, you'd probably wear more fashionable clothing, while a common seaman would wear simple clothes that are easy to work in. However, for both classes, the basic components of the costume are the same.
Start with a shirt - this is a relatively simple garment, made out of rectangles and triangles, and easy to move in. Sleeves were voluminous in period, but if you worked on a ship, yours would be narrower out of necessity. Most shirts were white, but later period pirates were known for wearing blue and white checks, and other checked patterns.
Over the shirt, you'll need to wear trousers - seamen wore two basic types. Long, straight, open legged trousers made of canvas made it easier to work onboard a ship. Wide legged breeches were also worn, and were called slops, especially in the later Golden Age of Piracy (the 17th century). You may also find that looser, plain versions of middle and lower class 16th century breeches are appropriate. If you're an officer, you may wear paned trunk hose (popularly called pumpkin pants by modern reenactors) or Venetian breeches, but you should realize that this is the equivalent of wearing a formal suit!
Doublets for sailors should be short (to the waist), not too heavily ornamented, and loosely fitted enough to move in. That doesn't mean you have to give up on interesting clothing, of course. Sailors are mentioned as having worn bright colors and unusual patterns, so you have some room to use your imagination, even if you want to be authentic.
Of course, if you enjoy a fantasy portrayal, these rules can be bent. They're only for a reasonably authentic Renaissance pirate costume. If you don't mind a little fantasy, tricorns and bucket boots are fine. However, you should know what's accurate, especially since some Renaissance faire guilds and other reenactment organizations have very strict rules! Before you buy a garment, whether it's online or from a shop at the faire, decide if it gives off the impression you want. That and a little research are all there is to getting a Renaissance pirate costume that'll work for you.