Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What Did They Wear?

What should a pirate wear? I saw some debate on this over the weekend. Some people insist that they were indistinguishable from regular sailors. I disagree.

First, a side-note. I'm talking about real pirates, not Buccaneers from the GAoP (Golden Age of Piracy). Buccaneers signed on for one raid at a time and were often recruited from poor hunters. Even the name "buccaneer" refers to this group hunting wild cattle and drying it over a slow fire (boucanning). The folks I am talking about were sailors who became full-time pirates.

First of all, pirates would be more exotic than your run-of-the-mill Jack Tar fisherman. Pirates were often widely traveled. A pirate cruise could go from the Caribbean to Canada and back or over to Africa. Sometimes they even went around to Madagascar. Even if they couldn't stop and do some shopping, there would have been opportunities to pick up (steal) some exotic souvenirs.

The codes that pirates sailed under called for sharing all plunder equally. The only exception was clothing. If you needed a new piece of clothing you could take it from someone your size.

Assuming even the slightest amount of success, a pirate would have more money than the average sailor. That was the whole purpose of pirating, after all. While he might not bein port long enough to have a tailor sew him some new duds, the used clothing business was thriving.

I've seen speculation that only a captain would dress fancy. This overlooks the fact that the captain was elected from the crew and a new captain could be elected at any time. The clothes did not come with the title. That would leave a fancy ex-captain.

The captain's share might not be all that large. The most commonly reproduced set of articles calls for the captain to get two shares. That would let him dress a bit better.

One big difference between a pirate and a regular sailor was weaponry. Most sailors only wore a short utility knife with no point (points would snap off). A pirate, on the other hand, usually wore a sash with one or more pistols tucked in it. These were good pistols, also. There are accounts of them bidding a fortune on fancy weapons.

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