Dressing Like a Pirate

Dressing Like a Pirate

(initial posting c. Feb. 2015)


Pirate Fest was one of the motivators for me to make a costume. When I attended our local event in October 2014, I thought I was in character pretty well (see pic with friends at right). I had a great hat which I had picked up at a Pirates of the Caribbean (PotC) screening, mainly because it was only $2 (on clearance). I wasn't thinking at all about a full pirate costume at the time--I just thought the hat might be fun. It fit my head (not always easy) and, at that price, how could I go wrong?

So when Pirate Fest came around, I figured it was a perfect occasion to wear the hat. I had a do-rag from my cancer experience to wear under the hat. I put some braids in my hair and attached an Afghani coin (I happen to have some of those because of my bellydance activities) to give a bit of a Jack Sparrow look. I wore my "Time Flies When You're Having Rum" T-shirt to go with my usual shorts and sneakers. I also wore socks that look like sharks eating my legs, but you really need to be pretty close up to see that. Anyway, I thought it was all pretty cool.

Appropriate, perhaps. But you can see from the pic it doesn't really look very together. From the neck up, looks pretty good; not so much for the rest. So... motivation for a better outfit for next year. (By the way, the gray furry thing on my shoulder is a "dormouse" puppet that I bought from Midsummer Knight's Dream at the event. I thought it would be cool, as a pirate, to have a critter perched on my shoulder.)


The first question was, what exactly should my pirate costume be like? Obviously, it had to go with the hat, and the hat is clearly a Captain's hat--it has gold trim and feathers. So that immediately eliminated any ragged-poor-sailor look.

Now, women usually go with the long full skirts, puffy blouses, corsets, and the like. I decided against that idea, mainly because it seems more a gypsy-wench type thing, rather than a captain-y thing. Also, Elizabeth in PotC is very much anti-corset. And besides, I already do lots of "gypsy" in my bellydance activities.

So... Some kind of blousy shirt, maybe with ruffles or something, along with pantaloons of some sort. Since Pirate Fest is outdoors, natural fabrics were a must, and long sleeves would be preferable, although I probably didn't want an actual coat or jacket. Probably mostly earth tones. And as usual, I didn't want to spend a whole lot of money. I figured it shouldn't be too hard to find some suitable stuff already in my closets.

I had a "poet's blouse" style shirt that Bob had used many years ago for Ren Fest, but it was polyester--never mind! I had a cotton gauze lace-up shirt that I'd gotten in Key West a while back ... but alas, it had a "Key West" logo on the left chest... but I might be able to hide that with a vest or something, so maybe... I was pretty sure I had a silk ruffly blouse that I'd used for bellydance some years earlier, but I wasn't able to find it. So, I went poking online... found some suitable stuff (like this lace-up shirt on Amazon), but the prices were a bit too high. A peasant top from Dharma Trading seemed likely, but I still needed to see what else might come together with it.

I had lots of pantaloons from bellydancing. Alas, they were all unusable--the good colors were bad fabric content; the good fabric content was glittery or the color was too bright. I also have a few salwar-kameez (Indian-style pants and tunic) sets, so I checked them to see if any had suitable salwar, and sure enough, there was one or maybe 2 that might work.


It so happened that, while I was online looking for tops, I also did some searching for pants as well, just out of curiosity. Did you know that if you search for "hmong pants" on eBay, you'll get a whole assortment of unusual, inexpensive pants? (I don't quite remember how I figured that out--it was actually quite a while ago, when I was searching for something completely different.) Anyway, I ended up ordering 2 pairs of pants from eBay, one dark-colored and the other light-colored, that I thought would work quite well for pirate pants. There's a bit of a longer digressive story about my getting them, considering I had determined that I already had suitable pants, but I won't go into all those details here--I'll just mention that the eBay ones having pockets was an important selling point.

Both pairs were shorter, like knickers. The dark-colored pair fit just perfectly, but, alas, the other had cuffs at the bottom that were just a bit too small to fit properly around my calves--they were going to need some fixing.

I figured it would be real easy to extend the cuff if I had the right piece of fabric. As you can see in the pic on the left, the cuff fabric has an interesting design on it, looking almost like embroidery. It occurred to me that I had a fair assortment of pieces of embroidered trim; perhaps I might find a reasonable match there. Well, I didn't find anything to go with the cuff, but I did find some that coordinated amazingly well with the pant leg.

Sure enough, it was an easy fix (see pic at right) and now I had 2 pair of pirate pants.

Putting It Together

So now I had to see what might actually make an outfit with these pants. I wasn't so sure about the Dharma top now, so I decided to start by checking my closets more carefully.

I found a couple of embroidered vests from my gypsy-bellydance collection, but they just didn't look right. Then I found another tapestry-type vest among my regular clothes (possibly left over from my working days, I don't recall) that seemed likely.

I found the silk "gypsy" shirt I wasn't able to find previously, and it was just perfect. It made a great outfit with the dark-colored pants and the tapestry vest over it.

But that shirt wouldn't work with the light-colored pants--it was too close in color and didn't look right. Then I noticed an odd shirt that was in my closet that I'd forgotten about. It was a freebie that came with some other clothes that I had purchased several years ago. I'd never worn it because the styling was, well, funky--it had a peplum, and ruffled sleeves. But hey, it might just work as a pirate shirt. It was a nice cotton and the colors were perfect to go with the lighter pair of pants. The print was perhaps a little odd, but when I put the outfit together, I thought it actually looked rather good.

I still needed appropriate footwear to complete the outfits. Because the pants were shorter, I figured I needed to have "real" boots. At that time, I only had very short, bootie-height boots--I'd need to buy something taller. Fortuneately, this was all coming together after the Christmas/holiday season and it was fairly easy to find nice boots that were marked down drastically. I picked up a pair of lace-up type boots at Target for about $10. (I didn't really want a high heel, even if it might have been piratical.)

So, I'd only intended to get 1 pirate outfit, and now I had 2.


Costume 1

It wasn't long after I originally got the outfits all together that I had occasion to play pirate. Our local Ren Fest was having a pirate-themed weekend, and I had a friend who wanted to go with me then. The weather was quite warm, so I thought the lighter-colored costume would work better. I had been thinking that the top needed something like a belt across it (a gun belt or something?) to break up the expanse of fabric. So I used a leather bag with a long strap that I wore across my chest; it would also hold a water bottle. Here's the whole outfit, including the dormouse (which I named Dori):

I'm not quite happy with the strap across the chest; I think it's probably too skinny. So I may still have to mess with that.

(following added 10/25/15)

Costume 1 Update

You may recall that after last year's local Pirate Fest, I had promised myself I'd have a better outfit the next time I went. Well, that happened just yesterday, and I fulfilled my promise. Because of expected higher temps, I went with costume 1 again. But I've been able to make some improvements:

The major change, as you can see, is that I added a wide belt. (The ties across the front of the belt are just decorative-it's not a corset.) I think this fixes the issue with the skinny strap across the chest. I also added some feathers to the hat, and added and rearranged some of the dingles on the headscarf/hair area. Plus, I added a blue scarf on the leather bag to help balance out the blue around the head area. I'm pretty pleased with the updated result.

(following section added 11/10/15)

Costume 2

This past weekend I was in St. Augustine at the same time as their Pirate Gathering, so I brought up the other costume to wear to that event. The pirate thing was incidental to my main purpose there, and I was a bit pressed for time, so there are some minor details that aren't quite what I'd like, but I was pretty pleased overall. I think this pic, taken with my friend Nadira, shows it best:

My friend Anne, who is a member of the Ancient City Privateers (the group that organizes their Gathering), was impressed with my outfit!

(following section added 2/13/16)


Some time back, a friend suggested that I should add one of my dance swords if I wanted to really look like a pirate. I basically rejected the idea, because of philosophical and practical issues with cosplaying with weapons. A dance sword would have real practical issues, especially.

But recently, while poking around the house, I noticed this scabbard (right) that I've had for many years. It came from Joharah, a dance vendor whose name is on it; she was giving them away to anyone who wanted one. I happened to have a sword that did not have a scabbard, so I took this one, thinking it would fit. Alas, it did not. I'd been holding onto it thinking that maybe one of my dance friends would be able to use it, but that never happened, and I had just about decided to discard it. But now, I realized it might work as a basis to make a decent-looking fake sword for a pirate costume. It's made of tough fabric, kinda like canvas, so it's a bit flaccid, but I figure that's actually a good thing because it avoids a lot of the practical problems one would have with a "real" weapon.

So, I figured all I needed was a hilt to attach to the scabbard to make it appear there was a sword in there. I looked on eBay, and they do have sword hilts there, but any decent-looking ones cost more than I was wanting to pay. Then I checked out a couple of the real swords I did have, wondering if perhaps the hilt part might detach and be usable. One did detach, but didn't look right; the other looked good, but didn't detach. But, I figured it wouldn't be too hard for me to make something similar, using the good-looking sword hilt as a model. So that was the plan.

I thought a paintbrush handle would work for the sword handle. I have several dollar-store paintbrushes around because occasionally they come in handy. So I took one of those and removed the bristles, and I had a sword handle that would even fit my hand nicely (even though I never planned to use it).

For the hand guard, I copied the shape from the real sword to thin cardboard and attached it to the handle. Then I covered the guard part with a couple of layers of papier-mache (pic left) to give it extra sturdiness. A coat of gold paint and voila! I had a sword hilt (pic at right).

It was then a simple matter to finish the sword by connecting the hilt to the scabbard (pic below).

But it soon became apparent that connecting the sword to the rest of the costume was not going to be such a simple matter. I knew I'd need some kind of a belt to hold it, so I figured I'd use one of the waist packs I'd gotten for cosplay with guns. But you can't just stick the sword into the belt, you need some kind of a holster-thing to get it to hang in a reasonable way.

So, I had to do some research. I found out these holster-things are called sword "frogs," and they come in a variety of designs. I considered making one on my own, but realized I didn't have suitable materials on hand. I would have needed to purchase some, and it just didn't seem worth it to spend money for materials, and then spend the time and effort to make the thing, when I could find one already made on eBay for less than $10. So, I bought my sword frog from eBay. The pic at right shows it on the belt, holding the faux sword. And the pic below shows me in costume 2, with the new addition, taken today at the Florida Ren Fest (with my friend Maggie).

You may note in the pic above that the hilt looks like it's at a bit of an odd angle, relative to the scabbard... Alas, I think the scabbard is a bit TOO flaccid. I think it needs some more work done with it.

(update 2/14/16) OK, I believe I got the the flaccid sword issue fixed. I found a dowel that was long enough to go most of the way down the scabbard, and narrow enough to fit nice and tight in the hilt handle (and I just happened to have this dowel lying around the house). I think it even helps connect the hilt to the scabbard better than it was before.

(update 7/22/16) Boot addenda: You might also note in the above pic that I am wearing different boots than I had in the earlier pics. The first pair of boots were lace-up style, which I chose because I figured they would also work for work boots for my Kaylee costume. But since then, I've had various other cosplay ideas happening, so this past boot-sale season I decided to get a plain pair, in brown so I could also use them for Malcolm Reynolds or similar.

(update 2/14/17) A new picture from the Ren Fest this past weekend, showing the (updated) sword better:

I had to make one other change in addition to what was already noted above. I wore the sword at last October's Pirate Festival, and I was dancing around quite a bit to the great music, and the hilt started slipping out of the scabbard, showing the cardboard that was supposed to be holding it in... so, needed a bit more glue and a few stitches. I think it's looking pretty good now.

(following section added 10/31/18)

Costume 3

With 2 costumes already (and those still evolving), I honestly was not feeling any need to create another pirate costume. But then one day on Facebook, I saw an ad that attracted my eye. It was a very piratey-looking tunic, with big flowy sleeves. I debated for a while, but it was just SO pretty I decided to go for it.

Then I had to assemble a costume around it. It looked good with the darker pants, from costume 2, but needed some kind of belt/sash. The one from the costume 1 update didn't look quite right, but I went thru my stash and came up with something that I thought looked pretty good (yay, no additional cost there), and wore it to a new Pirate Fest in Ft. Lauderdale this past May. Of the pics I got there, I think this one (with friend Maggie) shows it best:

I wore it again this past weekend at the Boynton Beach Pirate Fest (the original one, that started all this), with a bit of variation in the belt area, which I liked better:

You may note, in the pic above, that I have a flask hanging from my belt. It's a Firefly flask that I got at a con a while back (detail pic at right). I'd been wanting to add it to the costume, but needed a place to put it. I'd given some thought to how I might make a holder-thing out of materials I had on hand, which would allow me to hang it from my belt. So, the night before the Pirate Fest I was making that holder. It worked great, but, alas, the flask didn't. When I tried putting water in it for the first time, the morning of the Fest, it showed a leak. So I emptied it out, but wore it anyway because it still looked cool. I eventually was able to fix the leak with clear nail polish.

(following section added 5/22/19)

Variant Costumes

(following added 10/25/15)

Picking a Pirate Name

So I'm figuring, if I'm going to be playing pirate, maybe I should have a pirate name. There are quite a few pirate name generators on the Internet, so I tried out several of them. The following was my favorite:

My pirate name is:
Captain Charity Bonney
Even though there's no legal rank on a pirate ship, everyone recognizes you're the one in charge. You can be a little bit unpredictable, but a pirate's life is far from full of certainties, so that fits in pretty well. Arr!
Get your own pirate name from piratequiz.com.
part of the fidius.org network

Besides the fact that I do a lot of charity work, I figure "Sherry" could be short for "Charity", right?

But an interesting thing is that 2 of the name generators, 2 separate ones, came up with "Mad Legs" as the name, or part of the name, for me. I decided that relates to dancing, so I figure that's my pirate nickname. Many pirates had nicknames, after all. For example, Edward Teach was the real name for Blackbeard.

So... I am Captain Charity "Mad Legs" Bonney!

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