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Gentlemen of Fortune

Pirate Living History 1680-1725

Getting Started With a Basic Kit

The pirate re-enacting/Living History community is filled with captains, and very few "crew" members. Or in other words, lots of chiefs and very few Indians. Our modern interpretation is that "Captains" dressed a certain way, (pirate coat and pirate bucket boots) and crew members dress another. This was probably the exception, rather than the rule during the GAoP.
While there were no restrictions put on sailors on Pirate ships as to what they could wear and what they couldn't, the fact is that being a sailor was an occupation that required a practical suit of clothes that was suited to the profession..

18th Century Sailor's Clothing

Josh Red

Most of the evidence that survives from the GAoP suggests that a "period" pirate looked much like other sailors of the same era.

This is not too surprising, really, as sailors wore specific sailor clothing to do the job of running a ship. Much like a blacksmith wears particular clothing to suit the specific needs of his craft (heavy apron etc).

The historical record (period wills and probate sales pertaining to seamen) show that sailors had several sets of clothes... but that these are normally the same types of clothes, just varying in quality and possibly materials. So instead of a sailor having a short jacket for sea duty and a Justaucorps for going ashore, what we see is that a sailor would have had a short jacket to work in, and a nicer short jacket for going ashore.

It seems that sailors were partial to sailor clothing whether they were on shore or on land.

Navy Slop System

Before we go further, lets discuss the meaning of "Sailors Slops" and put it into a historical perspective.

The term "slops" is the old 16th century word for the fashion of wide, puffy trousers with a knee band that came into style in the late 16th century. They were popular with seamen because they were easy to move in.
The knee bands would be left open, and by the early 17th century they cut it off.
This was the birth of the seaman's trousers. They were called slops until the 17th century, when the English navy introduced the 'slop' system.

Sailor's Clothing

Sailor's Clothing ca 1700 - Hermitage

Slops then became a term applied to all sea clothing sold by a Purser. So by the late 17th through the 18th centuries, if you said 'slops' everyone would think that you were talking about seaman's "fit outs" or sailors clothing in general, not a pair of trousers.

An interesting set of supposedly original sailor clothing comes to us via the Hermitage Musuem in Russia. Peter the Great spent a good amount of time visiting Dutch and English sea ports and naval yards. Upon his returned to Russia, he reinvigorated the Russian Navy modeling at least some of it on what he saw while abroad.

The set to the left is a sailor's jacket, breeches and hat, that look like they could fit with any western sailor of the time. The jacket lacks pockets, but has the split cuffs closed by 3 buttons. The cut of the jacket follows the body closely including the arms. There are a ton of buttons on the jacket that go from the throat to slighlty below the waist where the jacket then flairs. The buttons appear to be made like the ones from the Gunnister and Arnish Moor jackets, that is, the same material as the body of the coat over wooden discs.


A few years ago I was asked by someone, "What should I get first?" This is really under the parent question of, "What things do I need to get to participate?". This led me to develop a Top 8 list of the "basics" one needs whether they are just starting out or have been around a while. The folks at Gentlemen oF Fortune encourage all pirate groups (and individuals getting into the hobby) to develop a basic list of clothing items that their members are advised to acquire. As they gain experience and learn more about the History of the GAoP and its dress, they can add to the basic kit to flesh it out, or, obtain a different one to create a particular "persona", and still have their basic stuff to serve as a loaner to other new members.


SAILORS and PIRATES TOP 8 LIST


#1 SHOES

GoF ranks shoes as the number one piece of kit that a pirate re-enactor should acquire. Now, I have been accused of having a shoe fetish, and while that may be true, its not the reason that this is the number one item to have folks buy.

Here is why they are number 1

17th Century Shoe

From "Elizabeth and Mary" Wreck

Correct shoes seem to be the bane of most re-enactors, not just the pirate re-enactor. If you pardon the expression, shoes are often the Achilles' heel of an otherwise authentic kit. Shoes and buckles in the 18th Century could be expensive clothing items and authentic reproductions are expensive today as well.

In general, shoes should be constructed from vegetable tanned leather, have timber or leather heels, a square or round toe, and be straight lasted (no right or left designation).

So, if a person has made the commitment to do pirate living history (that is, not just a casual thing) they should immediately contact a shoe maker (cordwainer) and begin the process of having some shoes made.

For detailed info on GAoP shoes and buckles, please follow the links to Footwear and The Shoe Project

#2 SEAMAN'S TROUSERS

Trying to decide what comes next, is a tad difficult. You need them all, but often there are stop gaps available until you can get your own righteous pirate kits items. So, next I suggest you get sailors trousers. This is a simple item that you really can make yourself.

Woodes Rogers

Woodes Rogers 1712

There is a debate raging about what kinds of trousers, shorts, or breeches that GAoP era sailors (or pirates) would have worn. The pictorial record of 1690-1720(ish) seems to show that trousers or a pair of breeches seem to be the most common type of garment used to cover the legs. At the same time, we have a vision of a sailor with the wide leg shorts that have become synonymous with pirates, and we need to put them in historical perspective.

Dutch Sailor Slops

Dutch Sailor - Picart 1720

The information that we do have about them is that there are written references to open knee'd' breeches being worn, and by the 1730s, we begin to see the pictorial evidence of the “slop shorts” that we are familiar with. What is uncertain, for now at least, is how the evolution of these develops during the GAoP.

When we talk about sailor's leg coverings, we can divide them into different categories.

Of these, the most commonly pictured are the long trousers, followed by breeches. Breeches are specifically referred to in the 1706 Admiralty Slop Contracts, and are the fashionable thing for the landsmen of the time. Petticoat breeches or britches were a holdover from the 17th century, and for the most part are dying out during the beginning of the GAoP.

#3 Sailors Short Jacket

Look through any period pictures of sailors during our GAoP period (see Woodes Rogers above) and you will notice that just about every sailor/pirate wears some sort of short jacket. You should be wearing one too.

If you are already moaning because its brutally hot in your area, get one in linen. Some had pockets, some didn't. Most have a split style "mariners" cuff. Brass, pewter, or bronze buttons (with shank) are appropriate.

#4 Neckerchief

If you followed my advice above and took a look at contemporary pictures of pirates and sailors, you should have noticed that 99% of the time, the sailors/pirates in the picture are wearing a neckerchief. This is a double edge sword as it makes it a bear to find supportive information about shirt collars using the pictorial record because the damn things (neckerchief) are blocking the view of the shirt. But at the same time, it can be used by the re-enactor to hides a lot of sins in the "I ain't got a decent pirate shirt" department.

You have a lot of options for neckerchiefs, but the simplest would be a 1 yard square piece of linen. You can slightly roll the edge and whip stitch around it to keep it from fraying, and by the time you finished re-watching a Firefly episode, the thing will be done. Silk is nice, but it doesn't have to be silk. My particular choice as "The best option," would be a 1 yard square of block printed hand woven cotton calico. Please steer clear of paisley prints and cowboy look-alike bandanas.

#5 SHIRT

The shirt of this period is best made from linen, hemp, or fustian, and dare I say, cotton. This will not be the place for a discussion of cotton textiles, but I will go into if further on a different page. Right now, recommended fabrics for shirts that are unarguable would be blue and white checkered linen (in line with the Admiralty Slop Contract of 1706 & 1717), or light to medium weight plain linen.

You can make your own shirt with directions at this site. And there is another shirt pattern here.

The basic "shirt" pattern seems to be the same or similar for the mid to late 17th Century through the mid-18th Century. It is has two square front and back panels, a stand up collar, and gussets under the arms. There is some evidence that shirts this early had a "yoke" (support piece that strengthened the shoulder line) and for a fold down collar, but you can't go wrong with a stand up collar and a yokeless shirt. Gathers at the wrist and neck can be made with linen tape going through a button hole and then tied.

If a shirt is being marketed online as a "pirate shirt", I would almost certainly stay away from it. The shirt is a very simple item to make. With a little time and effort, you can make an authentic piece of kit with your own grimy little hands.

#6 HAT

The options here are a cocked hat/tricorne or one of the knitted styles. For a cocked hat, I suggest getting a wool felt blank and cock it your self. It is probably the best way to get one that you like (for the least amount of coin).
There is more information, and links to hat sellers at the Sailors Hats page.

#7 STOCKINGS

There are no authentic knitted stockings available. Authentic stockings were shaped to fit the leg (either by reductions if knitted by hand, or seamed that way if knitted on a frame) rather than stretching to accommodate the leg & foot like cotton/lyrca modern reproductions. Plus there should be a seam up the back (if frame knit) or a fake seam up the back (a column of purl stitches to simulate a seam) if hand knit.

The current recommendation is to choose a light wool or cotton stocking. It was fashionable to have stockings that match the color of your clothing so don't feel limited to just "white". Also, a friend of mine had a great idea to tone down the bright white of his new stockings. He "dyed" them on the stove in hot water and a couple of tea bags and/or some instant coffee. Keep an eye on these though unless you want a brown pair of stockings. 5-8 minutes ought to be enough to dull them to a more reasonable shade.
If wearing breeches, stockings during the early 18th Century were being worn over the knee and over top of the breeches instead of tucked in underneath.

#8 WEAPON

Flintlock Pistol

Dutch Pistol 1710

Now, I know a lot of you are pissed off that I rank weapons so low on the priority list. Its not that I don't think they are important, its just that, of all the pirate gear available, weapons are usually available to "be loaned to you." Most re-enactors don't have a pair of correct shoes, but they probably have 3 swords, 2 pistols, and a Brown Bess.

The other sticky wicket is that very few weapons on the market are authentic to our time period, despite what the vendor says. I go into more detail about specific weapons on the Firearms page. You can get away with a cudgel for a shore going weapon, as most period pictures of sailors and pirates depicted on land have some sort of stick with them.

I guess I have officially just taken all the fun out of pirate re-enacting if I have recommended a "stick" over a sword or gun for a newbie to get, but I would rather the new folks get their feet wet in the hobby before jumping in and getting something that might not be appropriate.

Its a good idea to find out what the members of your group, or the group that you would normally do events with, does as far as weapons go. If you are with a group that demonstrates period sword fighting techniques, or with one that likes to fence with each other, you should probably get weapons that will be compatible with the other group members.