How to Dress like a
Pirate Nobleman

Your guide to What the well-dressed Nobility will be wearing this season

 

While some alterations were made to clothing for greater comfort at sea, a 17th-century pirate's attire was not greatly different from others in his social class. The greatest distinctions in fashion can be seen in the clothing of the aristocrats of the day. While most pirates were of common birth, there were a few aristocrats who turned to piracy during this era, as well as many pirate captains whose plundered clothing gave them the appearance of English gentlemen.

The illustrations below depict the most distinctive differences in attire between men of the nobility across three centuries of piracy:

The capitans of the Spanish treasure fleet wore something similar to the above, as did John Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake, and the other privateers who preyed on them. Trunk hose (also known as "slops") were worn during most of the 16th century and first quarter of the 17th.

 

The stiff, formal look of the 1500s continued until the ascension of Charles I in 1625, whose French wife, Henrietta influenced English fashions with a quieter, more elegant style. The standing ruff gave way first to the falling ruff, then to the Rabat collar. Extremely popular during the 17th century, lace was a valuable pirate's prize, plundered from ships en route to colonies in the New World.

During this century, common sailors adopted the practice of cutting breeches off at the knee, allowing for freedom of movement. The term "slops" came to mean all articles of clothing sold by the purser to sailors of the Royal navy.

 

Piracy reached its "Golden Age" during the 18th century, when the justacorps (introduced during the last third of the 17th century) was at the height of fashion. Perhaps that's why this long, wide-cuffed garment is colloquially called a "pirate coat" today.

This 18th-century image is the pirate archetype popularized in books and movies such as "Blackbeard's Ghost," "Long John Silver," and "Treasure Island."
 

Pictured:
  • 16th-century: Spanish nobleman, 1533-1566

  • 17th-century: English nobleman, 1625-1640

  • 18th-century: French marshal, 1704-1730

  • Hand-colored illustrations: 2001 by D. Thomas Treadwell of the outstanding Pieces of Eight Website - Check it out!

Sources:
  • Braun & Schneider (Reprinted 1975)

  • Historic Costume in Pictures. New York: Dover Publications, Inc; Ruby, Jennifer (1988)

  • Costume in Context: The Stuarts. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd; Cordingly, David (1995)

  • Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates. New York: Random House

Click on the Piece of Eight to return to the Main Page