You’d have to be three sheets to the wind to set sail on the high seas without a sturdy coat on your back! Let the good folks at pirateclothingstore.com tell you all about the outerwear worn by the infamous pirates roaming the seas during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Golden Age of Piracy, which spanned from the late 17th century to the early 18th century, was a period marked by maritime exploration, colonial expansion, and the rise of piracy. The coats worn by naval personnel and pirates during this era not only served practical purposes, but also represented aspects of their identities, social status, and allegiances. This essay will explore the various types of coats worn by naval personnel and pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy, examining their design, significance, and the cultural influences that shaped their style.
If you ever wondered, what is a pirate's coat called? Then there are two possible answers, the name originally associated with style is justaucorps, but sailors of the time often wore a similarly styled garment, cut from a much heavier material to withstand the rigors of sea life, and these were called frock coats.
Justaucorps: A Coat of Authority
The justaucorps (or frock coat) is a long, fitted coat with a flared skirt and a popular garment among naval officers and some pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy. This coat, which originated in France, was characterized by its knee-length cut, narrow waist, and wide cuffs, creating an elegant silhouette that conveyed authority and prestige.
The justaucorps was typically made of wool or other high-quality fabrics and was often adorned with intricate embroidery, buttons, and metallic trim to denote the wearer's rank and wealth. Although the justaucorps was more commonly worn by naval officers, some pirates who had acquired wealth or had a background in the navy would also don this garment as a symbol of their status and success.
Frock Coats: The Practical Choice for Sailors
The frock coat was a practical and versatile garment worn by both naval personnel and pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy. These coats, which were typically made of durable, weather-resistant materials such as wool or canvas, featured a loose, unstructured fit that allowed for ease of movement and layering. Frock coats often had a shorter length than the justaucorps, reaching mid-thigh, and featured functional details such as large pockets and adjustable cuffs. While these coats were not as elaborate or ornate as the justaucorps, they provided essential protection from the elements and were well-suited to the demands of life at sea.
Pea Coats: A Maritime Staple
The pea coat, a short, double-breasted coat made of heavy wool, was another popular choice among naval personnel and pirates alike. This coat, which originated in the British Royal Navy, was prized for its warmth, durability, and resistance to harsh weather conditions. The pea coat's distinctive wide collar and lapels provided additional protection against the wind and cold, while the double-breasted design and anchor-embossed buttons reinforced its maritime origins. Pirates who adopted the pea coat often customized it with their own buttons, patches, or other embellishments to reflect their personal style or allegiance to a particular crew.
Waistcoats: A Layer of Style and Function
Waistcoats, also known as vests, were a common garment worn by naval personnel and pirates as a layering piece beneath their coats. These sleeveless garments were typically made of wool, linen, or silk and featured a buttoned front, a high neckline, and a fitted waist. Waistcoats served both practical and stylistic purposes, providing additional warmth and a polished appearance. For pirates, waistcoats could also serve as a canvas for expressing their individuality, with some opting for brightly colored or patterned fabrics that set them apart from their naval counterparts.
Keeping Dry Onboard a Pirate Ship of the 18th Century
Before the invention of plastics and modern weatherproof treatments, sailors and pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries relied on a variety of natural materials and techniques to waterproof their clothing and protect themselves from the harsh maritime environment.
One common method for waterproofing clothing during this period was to coat the fabric with a layer of oil, typically linseed oil or fish oil. This oil would permeate the fibers of the fabric, creating a water-resistant barrier that prevented moisture from seeping through. Sailors and pirates would often apply oil to canvas or cotton garments, such as coats, capes, and hats, to create a makeshift waterproof layer known as oilskin.
Another technique for waterproofing clothing involved the use of wax. Beeswax or paraffin wax would be melted and applied to the fabric, which was then left to cool and harden, creating a water-resistant coating. This method was particularly effective for canvas or heavy cotton materials, such as sails and tarps, but could also be used for garments like coats and hats.
Tarring and tallow:
Sailors and pirates would sometimes use a combination of tar and tallow (a form of rendered animal fat) to waterproof their clothing. This mixture would be heated and applied to the fabric, forming a water-resistant barrier when it cooled and solidified. While effective, this method could be quite messy and leave the garments with a strong, unpleasant odor.
Grease and lanolin:
Woolen garments, such as pea coats and Monmouth caps, provided a natural level of water resistance due to the presence of lanolin, a waxy substance secreted by wool-bearing animals. This natural grease could be further enhanced by rubbing additional animal fat or grease into the fabric, increasing its water-repellent properties.
Layering and water-resistant materials:
In addition to these treatments, sailors and pirates would rely on strategic layering and the use of naturally water-resistant materials to help protect them from the elements. For example, heavy woolen garments were less prone to absorbing water and provided insulation even when wet. Leather was another material that, while not fully waterproof, could provide a degree of protection from moisture when properly maintained.
While these methods were not as effective as modern waterproof treatments, they allowed sailors and pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries to adapt their clothing to the demanding conditions of life at sea. By relying on natural materials and time-tested techniques, these seafarers were able to mitigate the impact of the elements and maintain a degree of comfort and protection in the face of harsh weather.
The coats worn by naval personnel and pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy reveal a fascinating interplay between function, fashion, and symbolism. From the authoritative justaucorps to the practical frock coat and pea coat, these garments not only protect from the elements but also communicated aspects of the wearer's identity, status, and cultural influences.