The Sensible Heel, The Hairdo, and The Real Pirate

I want to be a pirate for Halloween. I’ve already declared this earlier here, and I’m excited to see how the costume will actually turn out, but just out of curiosity, I clicked around to see what other people have come up with. The female pirate is a fascinating thing only because we don’t know whether she actually did or does exist. The feminist part of me likes to think she did.

But I don’t think she would have worn any of these outfits. See for yourself, in my Museum of Unlikely Ship Wenches.

Exhibit One: Once the men got over their connection of bad luck to women, which I think would have been easy, she would have been put to work. Thus, the headband thing is believable and the droopy shoulders on the blouse are believable. After all, a man’s shirt only fits a girl so well before it goes drooping in places. The corset is somewhat believable. She might have worn it as she got on board originally, underneath her dress; she then might have altered it or worn it differently to make the man’s shirt fit better and easier as she worked in the sun and the salt. She wouldn’t have worn it nearly as tight as it was designed for, of course.

The heels are completely impractical. So is the jewelry. The skirt is borderline impractical. Being a Renaissance girl, she would have picked up a pair of men’s slacks, but if none were to be had, well, women worked just as hard as men in skirts. I am debating the length, though. Is that long enough to withstand wind and men’s hands and being tumbled about on a water-blown deck? She probably didn’t want it floor-length, but I would have wanted it mid-calf, for practicality’s sake.

Exhibit Two: If she didn’t have the sword, everyone would be asking her what she’s dressed as. However, the color scheme is probably more historically realistic that the previous exhibit; the colors would have all faded to brown or off-white. This pirate girl is awfully vain, though. She hasn’t lost the stupid shoes either, and she’s got silk ribbons woven in her corset. She probably had silk ribbons when she came onto the

ship, but if I were her, I would have tucked them away in some cranny of the ship. Silk was valuable, as was gold. I’m debating on whether these girls are stupid or brilliant for wearing their share of the treasure around their neck. A good way to get instantly killed, either by a stray, snaggy rope or by a stray knife. And this girl’s hair? Way too clean

and brushed-out to be a real pirate. Of course, the lace would have ripped and become a pile of lint long before she became accepted by the crew. But when it’s the only thing you’ve got to wear…

Update: Here's What I Ended Up With. Yaaaargh.

Exhibit Three: This girl has lace, ribbons, and pearls all tucked away under the good linen dress and the books in her personal chest in the hold. She’s still got heels, but at least they’re square and are less likely to give her a broken ankle. She’s still far too clean, and the hat looks weird. It could just be the angle, though. I like the boots purely on a style standpoint.

Exhibit Four: She fails. Miserably. She’s trying to look Spanish but she’d get left somewhere fast and she wouldn’t know it until she realized she wasn’t in her shaded hammock. The costume doesn’t even come with the hat or the boots, and without those, her shoulders would surely get sunburned from being forced to work. Silly girl, trying to be a pirate.

After reading about real pirates in history, and then letting my storytelling imagination run wild with this Women In Piracy page, I’m happy to only be dressing up as one. I’ll take my stories and my computer and my bed-and-afghan, thanks. But I also won’t be buying lace or spiky boots anytime soon. I like my chunky heels.

And in all seriousness: how should I do my hair? It’ll have a red kerchief on it, and dreads would be too intensive and too long-lasting. It’s waist-length, which narrows my options quite a bit. Maybe I’ll just put it up and make it look like I chopped it off; that’s what the real pirate girl would do.


About The Original Kate

Along with artistic tendencies, Kate enjoys unusual people and is constantly striving for some sort of nonconformity. Kate offers a perspective that is thoughtful but well-written and full of images within the words. Other tidbits that might intrigue: she has very long auburn hair, and, you guessed it, her favorite color is orange.

Posted on October 16, 2008, in From Rabid-Mormon Land Known As Utah and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Anne Bonny and Mary Read both passed for quite some time as men in their well-attested piratical careers (obviously, Calico Jack Rackham must have been in on the masquerade – nudge, wink). Not sure what Grace O’Malley wore but suspect that she left her farthingale at home when out on the high seas.

    I recommend Jo Stanley’s Bold in her Breeches: women pirates across the ages as being a serious historical investigation of the subject.

  2. ——-Anne Bonny and Mary Read both passed for quite some time as men in their well-attested piratical careers (obviously, Calico Jack Rackham must have been in on the masquerade – nudge, wink). Not sure what Grace O’Malley wore but suspect that she left her farthingale at home when out on the high seas.
    I recommend Jo Stanley’s Bold in her Breeches: women pirates across the ages as being a serious historical investigation of the subject.

    • Thanks, Hedgehog. I’ll add it to my Wishlist. Do you have any historical book recommendations for whores/prostitutes/courtesans and why I’m so fascinated by their lifestyles and their profession? They’re glamorized by the media, and they obviously contract horrible sexual diseases, but do/did they also get superiority complexes because of their active and sometimes dominant sex lives?

      • There are a number of relatively popular works on successful courtesans/grandes horizontales singly and collectively (there was one actually called Courtesans by Katie Hickman which came out a few years ago), but it’s often quite hard to find (ahem) hard data about their lives since the stories about them are so often based on their own memoirs, which were written as a literary genre written to capitalise on their reputation, usually when their personal physical charms were getting a little worn.

        Most of the historical work on prostitution has dwelt on the vast majority of the profession, which was less high profile and had less spectacular rewards, but much more of a concern to public authorities. I produced the following bibliography for an encyclopaedia article on the subject a few years ago, with a bias towards the specifically European tradition. I’m pretty sure there’s now a fair amount on N America, and there are certainly some recent studies of China, or at least the possibly rather atypical situation in Shanghai, including the shift from traditional models to more Westernised versions of the sex-trade.

        Paula Bartley, Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in Britain, 1860-1914, Routledge, 1999
        Laurie Bernstein, Sonia’s Daughters:Prostitutes and their Regulation in Imperial Russia (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press 1995)
        Edward Bristow, Prostitution and Prejudice: the Jewish fight against white slavery, 1870-1939 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982)
        Alain Corbin, Time Desire and Horror:Towards a History of the Senses (London: Polity Press 1995)
        Alain Corbin, Women for Hire: Prostitution and sexuality in France after 1850 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990)
        Frances Finnegan, Poverty and Prostitution: A study of Victorian prostitutes in York (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979)
        Mary Gibson, Prostitution and the State in Italy, 1860-1915 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1986)
        Jill Harsin, Policing Prostitution in Nineteenth Century Paris (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985)
        Philippa Levine, Prostitution, Race, and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire (London; Routledge, 2004)
        Linda Mahood, The Magdalenes: Prostitution in the nineteenth century (London: Routledge, 1990)
        Judith R. Walkowitz, Prostitution and Victorian Society: women, class and the state (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980)

      • Wow! Thanks for the references. You were definitely the right person to ask.

  3. Historical costume notes:
    The “corset” in the first picture is really a bodice, and would not have been an undergarment at all! If you look at renaissance dress and slightly after, bodices in a range of fabrics were worn over dresses. Likewise, droopy shoulders were more ladies-style than woman-in-a-man shirt. Heels are indeed impractical, jewelery would have been impractical for day to day wear, but she is a pirate after all, I’m sure if she was getting gussied up she’d want to show off some of the plunder. The striped fabric is modern and inaccurate. Mostly the fabric used in those days was linen, wool, or silk for the rich.

    Agreed about comments on exhibit 2.

    The tight pants in exhibit 3 bother me. For one, it wasn’t what was worn by the ladies or the men who were working in the Caribbean or other pirate routes where it was HOT. They also didn’t have spandex back then, so anything that tight is going to restrict movement.
    Also agree with you comments about number 4.

    Honestly, I think a lady pirate (which absolutely did exist, there’s a book about seafaring women, including pirates, downstairs) would have worn normal female clothing of the time, peasant-y in character, but she would have had some nice duds to dig out of the closet when occasion called for it (probably stolen from other ships). I think they definitely might have added their own anarchist flair to things, and even the women who were openly women might have worn pants, But I think the bodice over the shirt/dress is likely to have been a staple. This is a time before bras, after all, and our more buxom pirates would have needed to keep the pain factor down while they were running all over the ship. Hats or headbands seem likely, boots seem very likely, but with about as much heel as cowboy boots, if anything. Also, they probably would have worn belts to hold their various weaponry, tools, perhaps a money pouch on (like many people did back then).
    I love history and I love costuming (as accurately as possible), thanks for giving me the opportunity to geek out!

    • Hey, you’re welcome. Any chance to let you show off your theatre skillz.

      Bodices. Right. My friend M’Linda would kill me for not remembering that.

      • My theatre skills are limited, but my historical bookworm skills abound, and I do like to get my geeked out halloween costumes accurate as much as the next super-geek-of-historical-persuasion. I tried to be a roman lady of standing last year, but it turned out I didn’t have enough fabric in the end. I was going to go as Julius Caesar’s wife, since my best friend was going as Caesar. We had fun making her costume far more accurate than the usual sheet toga affair, though.

        We’ll keep it between us so M’Linda doesn’t have to devise a punishment 😉

      • *shudder* Punishments from her could get very creative, even long-distance.

        I’d like to get as historical as possible with my costume, but I only have so much energy and so much time. This post is all about what would be the ideal costume for a pirate, but I’ll probably end up wearing a B&W striped shirt and a loose, silk, yellow button-up that goes to my knees. I’ll wear black pants and black knee-high boots that have a chunky heel. I have the eye patch and a red scarf that I’ll wear on my head. I even have some goldd coin jewelry that M’Linda bought me.

        Only half historically accurate, but it’s a lot better than stiletto heels and some of the other stuff they’ve here. I’m shopping for a loose white shirt this week because I’ve got the time and the transportation, but I also don’t have a ton of money. I’m not about to buy a new pair of boots just for Halloween; I could justify it because I kinda need a new pair anyway, but I’m too cheap. A bodice is definitely out of my range; because of M’Linda, I know how expensive they are.

        In the end, it’ll be a mix between what’s socially popular and what’s historically accurate.

      • Sounds good. The only time I really care about historically accurate costuming is in movies that have the budget to get it right and choose not to because they’re too lazy. That’s just irritating. In terms of halloween costumes and other casual dressing up fun, the main criteria should be fun, and it sounds like you’re going to have lots!

  4. Silly Kate. Women costumes like those aren’t made to be accurate…they are made to be slutty. Look at any halloween costume for a female…cop, nurse, nun…all sluttly outfits. Halloween is an excuse for girls to dress as whores without actually being one. It is sad really because I love Halloween and I don’t like dressing like a whore for it. *shrugs*

    I can’t wait to see how your costume comes out! 😀

  1. Pingback: Those Homemaking Girls and My Protest | Explore with Twine

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