Some items of clothing, like the tri-corn hat, are considered stereotypical of pirate dress. However popular among pirates, they weren't the only ones wearing this style. During the late-seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries pirates dressed much the same as most sailors. Life at sea was not easy, and like all seamen of the era, pirate clothes needed to be practical and sturdy.
Common Pirate Clothes
The basics of pirate clothing included items that had to serve them in all weather. What a pirate wore was partially dictated by where he sailed, and the clothes they wore were often the only clothes they owned. In the ancient Mediterranean, when the weather was good it wasn't unusual for pirates to serve aboard ship naked. Captains usually dressed much the same as the crew unless going ashore.
While the stereotypical image of pirates often includes a long frockcoat, most pirates wore short jackets that measured to just below the waist or reached to the hips. These jackets were made of heavy cloth. Such jackets were commonly worn by seafaring men. Some had pockets others did not. Other details like cuffs, buttons and cut differed. After all, this was a working-man's jacket and not a uniform.
17th century pirates wore a thigh-length linen shirt called a blouse. Designed in a straight cut, these shirts had full sleeves to make it easier to move in. These shirts doubled as a night shirt, too.
Pirates commonly wore loose-fitting trousers that were cut off between the knee and ankle. Another looser-fitting style was known as petticoat breeches or rhinegraves. They looked like a divided knee-length skirt and allowed the pirate to move freely.
Common stockings for common folk of the era were often made of worsted wool. This created a harsher fabric than stockings made of cotton, linen or silk.
Pirates wore head coverings to protect them from the elements and to absorb perspiration. Three of the most common head coverings worn by pirates included:
- Knotted scarf: Scarf was worn flat against the forehead, across the top of the head and secured with a knot at the back or on the side of the head.
- Tri-corn hat: Also known as a tricorne, this pirate hat got its name because it has three sides.
- Monmouth cap: Round, knitted brown hats with a button at the crown.
While bucket-topped boots are a popular style worn sported by film pirates, real pirates did not generally wear them, as they were riding boots. The truth is that aboard ship pirates seldom wore shoes because they didn't grip the deck well, but when they did where shoes, the footwear was usually a black or brown shoe with a square toe. During this period, shoes were still hand crafted and could be worn on either foot.
Fabrics and Colors
Pirate clothing wasn't like a uniform and tended to be more flamboyant than clothing worn my sailors. As with the average person, a pirate's style of dress varied depending on how rich the individuals were or what booty they stole from their victims. Practical fabrics of the day that could withstand the harsh elements at sea included:
It wasn't unusual for pirate captains to choose more exotic fabrics, and when going ashore some of the crew also donned fancier duds. These could be made of fabrics such as:
Pirates lead dangerous, hard lives. The very nature of life at sea was hard enough, but they also found themselves embroiled in battles with authorities. They spent months at sea and without the ability to bathe, were forced to forego basic hygienic needs. With only one set of clothes to wear on ship, this made them quite odoriferous. When they finally arrived in port, bathing was not usually high on their list. Instead they were off to find booze, female companionship and other luxuries. Unfortunately, even if they had a clean set of clothes to wear ashore, their body odor would have been quite pungent.