Are you thinking of going to your first pirate event?
Would you like some ideas on how to dress-up?
This guide is meant as a starters guide and should by no means be taken as gospel. I am aiming to make this as unbiased as possible so for some people it might not appeal but hopefully it should give you a starting point with where to get information on finding your own style, at your own budget.
Firstly, pirate gear isn't all about spending loads of money and can often be sourced from charity shops or made fairly cheaply at home. You can chose to spend thousands of pounds on your gear or tens of pounds and still look just as good - it all depends on what makes you feel happy to wear and most comfortable and what look you're aiming for.
The BOB festival is a proud mixture of authentic and non-authentic piracy (I'll explain what that is in a bit) but we aim to mix both worlds. In some areas of historical re-enactment, authenticity is king. Generally that is because you have lots of people in large, well established organisations, who are able to command large budgets or large groups of volunteers for putting on a show that is specifically to re-enact some particular local battle or event.
It is my personal opinion though, that piracy is different to many forms of re-enacting. It encompasses more than just a battle or event because it is showing an IDEA of piracy (because it would be very hard to depict real pirate battles without a ship and even then it becomes hard for people to see what's actually occurring on that ship.)
Most historical re-enactments are very clear about their particular regiment, battle or area and have a specific and exact date in mind whereas piracy is simply the definition of crime at sea, which has happened all over the world since people first decided to get onto a floating log and go and steal their neighbour's stuff!
Group or solo?
You have the option of just dressing up on your own or with a group of friends or family and portraying any sort of piratical style you choose or you could decide to affiliate yourselves with an actual pirate group. There are many groups in the UK and you can find details of as many as I know about on the links page (here) with details about where they are in the UK.
Some re-enactment groups or societies do portray very authentic styles from their chosen period or based upon a particular group of pirates, so to join there group you would usually have to fit in with their particular requirements, there are also less formal groups, based upon socialising and fundraising whilst dressed as pirates and these often don't have strict dress codes (or any dress code at all).
So in order to give you an idea about dressing as a pirate I first need to give you an idea about dates -because your first option is to decide which era of piracy you would most like to represent (can you see now why it's so mad for anyone to go crazy about authenticity for pirates when they range from the year dot up to now?)
Mostly, in my experience and according to almost every UK pirate festival, the general theme appears to be 17th to 18th century piracy. This is why you see so many people dressed the same as this covers an historic era, as well as covering the well known 'hollywood' pirate style films, which also aim towards the most dramatic sense of this era.
So - if you want to 'fit in' with most pirate festivals then you need to adopt a style common to 17th or 18th century pirates. This is also commonly called the 'Golden Age' of piracy which falls somewhere between 1620 and 1720 (anything labelled 1600's is the 17th Century and anything labelled 1700's is classed as the 18th century).
Caesar was once captured by pirates and threatened to have them all killed and was then captured again so literally speaking you could dress as a roman and still be a pirate. the vikings were also pirates. It's worth remembering that not all pirates were vikings but all vikings were pirates!
So from the age of enlightenment to the dark ages we had pirates but I will concentrate here on the golden age of piracy to enable the most people to fit in with the most popular forms of pirate re-enactment (although I make stick a few oddities in first).
An oddity but a very valid and historical form of pirate portrayal would be to enact the pirates of the China Seas or the Indian Ocean and the 'Barbary coast'. The Madagascan pirates and those of the South China seas came before the 'golden ages of piracy' but have some fascinating and different costumes and individuals (google is your friend here).
In particular some great female pirates because there are SO MANY people portraying Anne Bonny and Mary Read when the best female pirate was called 'Ching Shiz'.
There is only one faux paux, In my opinion in dressing up, and you might see it differently but to me I see is as poor taste to attempt to replicate a modern day pirate.
One, because many modern day pirates are from Africa and it's frowned upon to 'black-up' if you aren't black. And two, because this would require replicas of modern day weapons which wouldn't be appropriate.
SO..to the golden age of piracy and beyond!
(Links to buy patterns of items given below and I get sod all for advertising these people, it's just that I either know them and have ordered from them before or have seen their stuff or happen to known of them!)
You can choose to portray your own character, a character made famous in book or film or a real historical character!
Nearly all of the famous ones have been done many times before but that is no reason to stop you making your own individual attempt on him/ her or basing yourself on a famous character!
You can find a list of famous pirates here or simply do your own google search for famous pirates in your area.
You could also pick a fictional pirate character from books, films or TV. These can be fun to play and are very popular with passersby perhaps wanting to take their photo with a certain character.
There are some characters which have almost been done to death but don't let this stop you if you really want to try that character out - just be aware that you may find lots of similarly dressed people.
Captain Jack Sparrow
Other characters from the Pirates of the Caribbean Series
Characters from Treasure Island
Characters from TV series Black Sails (prequel to Treasure Island using some real characters)
Characters from Peter Pan
Characters from Steampunk Pirate novels
Alternatives to being a pirate!
This is an interesting one and I love it, personally! If everyone dresses as a pirate you still need townspeople and enemies, tradespeople and craftsmen and mythical characters that would have been popular at the time.
For example, you could dress up as a parrot! I've seen some brilliant parrots and its a very cute costume for children, especially when they are carried on the shoulders!
Redcoats, Militia, Customs men etc - the Forces of the Crown against the pirates and smugglers!
Merchants and well-to-do folk or nobility
Townspeople, wenches, ragamuffins and
Octopus/ Kraken/ sea monsters
Colours and jewellery:
History will tell you that only the rich were allowed to wear certain colours and to a certain extent this is true - but you are a pirate who has robbed a ship of a fine cargo of silks...pirates did not JUST pirate rum or brandy, they took anything that was a cargo which they could sell and this included tea, sugar, spirits, slaves and certain cloth.
If only the king of England was allowed to wear purple, do you think that would have stopped the pirates from making their own clothes out of purple? They were very skilled seamstresses and usually anti-royalty (because the king made many men sailors by pressing them unfairly so it's easy to see why they would join a pirate crew to survive and at least get a fair share of the plunder when many Royally endorsed seafaring folks were little more than pirates themselves. (privateers who took the letter of marque to hunt the enemies of the crown - and then supposedly stopped hunting the enemies of the crown once they were friends again but often conveniently 'lost' or never received the letters telling them that they were no longer allowed to hunt, for example, Spanish ships.
Pirates would have worn the spoils of their 'labours'. The booty won from ships may have been left with partners or wives but may also have been carried with them in the form of fine clothes (for wear ashore) and jewellery. Many poor sailors may have actually gone naked at work but the would have kept their finest clothes for best.
It would be a fallacy to suggest that pirates were in any way gallant or republican - despite their hatred of the kings forces. Nobody in history has, or ever will be, completely good or evil, morally speaking but it is true to say that many navy men were pure scoundrels of the highest degree, likewise many pirates were, perhaps famously so in some cases, very god-fearing and biblical men.
It has been suggested that pirates were the first democratic crews and were thus very morally proper (or more so than the crown at least) in giving to the destitute or disabled sailor.
Certainly there is evidence that pirate crew were given and equal share and a 'pension' for being injured in the line if their 'duty'. It had also been suggested that pirates were equal rights because they had female captains and gay personnel.
This cannot be proven but comes from the idea that some men, whilst having no female companionship at sea, chosen to leave all their worldly goods to another man who was a close companion.
Certainly there are letters between the admiralty and the crown which suggested an attempt to end the institution of buggery in the Royal Navy by placing a number of men on board who would 'pretend' to give over feminine charms to 'allure' the uncouth sailor to him and thus expose him as a homosexual. This practice was stopped when it was noticed that a number of the so called 'feminine' men set as traps were enjoying their role far too much and were in fact colluding with the crew and causing more cases of homosexuality than they were supposed to be stopping!
And history is abound with young women who dressed as men - a fact we might fine hard to believe in these modern time when a barely pubescent schoolgirl can look like a 25 yr old woman with the 'right' makeup and the 'right' clothes but in those times people were poor and often starving so puberty would have been offset to a far older age as well as the act that young women who were starving would have a far, far lower fat content in their bodies, leading to a far reduced breast size at a later age than than of young women today who often reach puberty by the age of 12, if not before.
The same as clothing, jewellry can be considered a personal thing. I personally find the most garish and outllandish item in the 'costume jewellery' box and declare that I have to have it. Gaudy is pirate because gaudy hows more captured wealth.
This is a greatly contested area so I will give you the very basic ideas and let you ask the rest:
Essentially there are three types of guns:
1) black powder firing: for this you need to hold a black powder licence and then you need to belong to a group that holds a black powder acquire or a black powder acquire and keep (store) licence. You will also need public liability insurance to use this weapon so regardless of whether what I have said here is strictly true or open to interpretation in the eyes of the law..a black powder weapon is expensive and relatively hard to but and hold a licence for.
2) A blank firing weapon - this means a weapon that has been adapted to hold a blank charge such as a black powder blank or a slightly quieter gel blank. This weapon is legally able to be bought, owned, fired and carried by anyone over the age of 16 in the UK. You may still find sellers who wish to only sell to 'certified' re-enactors (I'm not sure how they define this other than by only looking at re-enactment groups they personally know) but I can understand why they might do this because a blank charge, whilst not firing a ballistic item from the weapon can still fire out fire, heat and smoke and can hurt you or someone near you. You need to be and be seen to be being a reasonable and sensible, sober individual to purchase this item.
3) A cap firer, inert or replica. An inert gun may be an original historic piece (or modern piece) that has been modified so that it cannot be fired. A replica is something that looks exactly like a real gun but which cannot fire or can only fire caps.
The brand name for a replica is often called a Denix and they can be found cheaply in many places.
If you are ever unsure as to the worth or veracity of a gun listing then try posting the link to that weapon on the BOB pirates facebook page and people will soon tell you what kind of gun it is and what it's worth!
If you are in any doubt the visit the gunseller before you pay - DO NOT believe them that it is an inert replica, a black powder firer or a blank firer unless you know or unless you have someone with you who will know because many people try to sell off shit for too much money.
Most people think only of pistols and cutlasses but in reality the ordinary honest seaman would have fought with all he had available to him so why not pick an unusual and different weapon to make yourself stand out from the crowd?
What about a boarding axe (or carpenters axe - like the sailors axes or WW1 trench axes with a notch cut in for removing nails. These would have been used on ship for boarding, for weapons and also as a tool.
What about a belaying pin? A wooden pin designed to tighten a rope by turning it, but which can also be used to brain an enemy (mine is made by Keith Matthews of Ceolred Monger who makes exceedingly fine ones with little leather handles that are incredibly reasonably priced ( I promise I don't get paid for saying this lol) but you can buy them here.
Your costume/ kit
At the end of the day you could buy a charity shop shirt and wear a loose belt (like a sword-belt), wear a fancy cummerbund and a set of bucket top boots or boot top covers and look like a great pirate. It's not just how you dress but how you act - I've seen the littlest pirate wearing nothing much more than an adapted shirt and shortened trousers put to shame a fully dyed in the wool re-enactor because he has spirit and is giving it his all.
Who do you care about?
Yiu should only care about your captain and your crew and that's it. If your captain says it's OK then wear it! Dont't feel sad or ashamed or worried about what anyone else thinks - if they don't like it then shoot them or slit their gizzard! You are YOU abd that means that you are the only unique and special version of you that there will ever be.
If you want to be a steampunk, space, adventure, vet, doctor, explorer, pirate then rock it completely and sod anyone who tells you not to - not that anyone would at BOB Pirate festival!
If all you want to do is dress in such a way that nobody will notice you or make a fuss then still wear anything you bloody like and sod them all! Don't let anyone tell you how to dress!
Don't let anyone piss on your dreams - be the fairy princess pirate or the rufty tufty cabin boy that you feel you are in your heart!
Nobody is better than you because of how you dress. I've seen Royal Marines dress like fairy princesses and staid, sober accountants dress like fearsome pirates and they will have an equally fun time. It's all about whats good for you.
Having said that I would recommend the following outfitters, I don't get any money for doing so, but they are good...click onthe name for a link:
Lurcher gallery make very fine gear and they accommodate any size at no extra cost - so a 29 inch waistcoat will cost the same a a 56 inch waistcoat. They made Andy Smugglers wedding clothes last year. Please give them 6 to 8 weeks to hand made your fine clothes but you will find them very expertly made and they are very sturdy and beautiful. You can usually fine them ad BOB festival.
These outfit TV productions regularly - give them a message with what you need and they will help you - they are wonderful for any size and any outfit at the shortest notice. Not handmade but true professionals. They also stock replica (denix) pistols. YOu can usually find them at BOB festival.
See Keith for exceptionally fine and unique, belaying pins. He also stock a range of gear from pirate back to roman times and you can usually fine him at BOB festival.
Derbyshire arms and Calibre and bore gunsmiths:
There are also a very limited number of blank firing pistols, muskets and a blunderbuss available through me if you wish.
BOB also has a small and limited supply of very fine boarding axes and you can also contact me through this page to ask about them.
More links will appear here as I get them but for now please continue asking you questions on the BOB facebook page: