Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Anatomy of a Pirate Costume

You are staging Peter Pan or some other show featuring pirates. Captain Hook is a pirate, and everyone knows what he looks like.  But what about Smee, or other pirates with less name recognition? How does the audience know for sure that they are pirates, too? The obvious answer is that they look like pirates.  Here are some hints on how to make that happen, even if you are on a tight budget.

Most pirates- and their costumes- are a form of historical fiction. While there is some truth in this image, there is more that is the product of the imagination. If you do it well, your show should carry its audience off into the world you have created. Bad costumes are a distraction and an impediment to this.  Since most Americans think “Disney Captain Hook” or “Johnny Depp” when you say the word pirate, sticking to this sort of imagery works well.   Without buying cheaply made and expensively priced commercial costumes, how do you accomplish this?

Start by looking at pictures of pirates and visually dissect what they are wearing.  Some of the things I noted were blousy shirts, open at the throat, knee breeches or pants tucked into boots, heavy belts, sashes, vests, long coats, things that lace up, ragged edges, stripes, eye patches, bandanas, earrings, and hats.  I also used billowy skirts and corset style belts for some of the lady pirates.

Go thrift store shopping and start looking for these elements. Almost all of the guys wore something from the ladies rack, because in our culture, women generally wear more varied and interesting clothing than men do.  One day I went looking just for pants. I found stretch leggings with pleather on the front of the thighs, loose fitting heavy knit pants with faux diamond trim down the sides, and flared capris with eyelets and lacing on the outside of the leg. The leggings and blingy pants were worn with high boots or boot tops, and the pirate wearing the leggings also wore a coat that covered his thighs.  

The next time I hit pay dirt on belts- most of them heavy leather, studded with metal brads. Another day I went looking for vests.  I was amazed at what I found when I walked through the store thinking “pirate vest.”

 Bandanas can be cut, raw edged, out of suitable fabric.  I made a lot of hats (that is a blog entry unto itself) but I was also able to turn dollar store straw hats and a couple thrift store wool felt hats into pirate hats with minimal work. 

 Once you set your mind on the pirate channel you begin to see pirate in clothing items you might not have considered before.

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