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Early 18th Century Pirate Attire

When designing stage costumes for early 18th century pirate attire it is necessary to consider not only historical accuracy, but also the comfort of the costume and the movements the wearer needs to make.

Historically authentic costumes for the pirate captain

Early 18th century male attire consisted of a three piece suit of a coat, waistcoat and breeches. The suit coat of the time had a full cut with wide sleeves and large cuffs. The waistcoat was generally long, and the wealthy wore heavily brocaded and embroidered pieces and baggy breeches. Wigs were worn in conjunction with the familiar high-cocked hat. An appropriate costume for a pirate captain was higher status clothing, perhaps mismatched and worn with rather ragged lace to demonstrate the fact that the clothing was the product of plunder of other peoples' goods. The heavy knee-length boots often seen in pirate movies are impractical for a ship. Contemporary illustrations show pirate and other ship captains wearing knee breeches, stockings and buckled shoes.

Common seamen

There is less information about historically accurate dress of the crew, but it is likely to follow the lines of other seamen of the time, practical clothes with short jackets, loose cut trousers and bare feet or basic shoes. Kerchiefs around the neck and simple knitted caps were widely worn.

Pirate accessories

A short sword of some sort was likely the weapon of choice for the pirate captain. The familiar curved cutlas of the pirate movies is, in fact, a product of the later 18th century. In the earlier time period, a straighter blade was likely used. Short flintlock pistols were also appropriate. Seamen would carry short boarding axes, belaying pins and other blunt instruments as well as pistols and short swords.

While this provides a guide to historical accurate costumes, do not forget that it is often appropriate to sacrifice historical accuracy for both comfort and style. Audiences have a fixed view of what pirates should look like based on Hollywood movies , and sometimes it is better to give them what they expect to see!

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