Trinkets, Treasures, and Loot: Styling Cues from Pirate Fashion

Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno for the May 2024 Issue of Vogue Philippines. Styling and Direction by Meg Manzano.

If the revival of centuries-old aesthetics and hyper-accessorization is any indication, a pirate fashion resurgence is imminent.

During Coachella 2024, Filipino internet personality Bretman Rock donned a billowy white blouse, an underbust corset, paired with shiny sea-themed accessories. “It’s giving Jack Sparrow’s gay son,” Rock writes on Instagram, alluding to the lead character of the film franchise “Pirates of the Carribean.”

Around Metro Manila and beyond, various vintage markets open every weekend selling various forms of loot: secondhand clothing and accessories, ephemera, and even vintage devices. You might consider them akin to the trading docks of yore, where merchants also provide services such as tattoos and piercings. As this heatwave endures, so does a growing interest in personalization and the acquisition of miscellaneous trinkets to adorn body and clothing. A question then forms on the horizon: will pirates soon be fashion’s next big trend?

There’s a romanticized version of a pirate that is conjured up whenever one thinks of pirate fashion. Its strong presence in popular culture can be attributed to stories such as Treasure Island, Peter Pan, and the Pirates of the Carribean film series, where these adventure-loving buccaneers are often clad in steampunk-esque outfits: long, velvet frock coats, tall hats, parrots on their shoulders, and an assortment of weaponry, including swords, cutlasses, pistols, and daggers which are not just functional but also key visual elements that add to the swashbuckling image.

Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno for the May 2024 Issue of Vogue Philippines. Styling and Direction by Meg Manzano.

From an aesthetic point of view, pirate fashion consists of intricate, vintage-inspired clothing and accessories, which include elements of pirate attire such as tricorn hats, corsets, waistcoats, and lots of layered clothing.

These elements are evident whenever pirates occasionally take center stage in fashion, as they do in Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s 1981 collection. John Galliano plays pirate captain in his appearance at Dior’s Spring-Summer 2005 collection, complete with an oversized jacket and pirate’s hat. In 2008, Jean Paul Gaultier adorns his muses in layers of lace, leather, feathers and tulle, ending the show with a group of pirate brides. From these examples, pirate fashion through the eyes of these designers and fashion houses directly play into the romanticism of the pirate life.

However, considering that these media depictions are rarely historically accurate, you can only imagine what pirates actually wore based on their material circumstances. Many pirates were former unemployed seamen who, finding themselves jobless and impoverished, drove themselves to piracy.

In an essay entitled “Who Needs Pirate Heroes?,” C.R. Pennell writes, “The behavior of pirates is so dramatic in its content, apparently romantic in its action, so photogenic in its possibilities that the temptation to focus on that, and to ignore the ‘one-two-three’ for the ‘yo-ho-ho’ is very attractive.” Keeping this in mind, pirates would have dressed more practically to aid in their lifestyles on the high seas, but that doesn’t mean the flair and flamboyancy of it all had dissipated.

Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno for the May 2024 Issue of Vogue Philippines. Styling and Direction by Meg Manzano.
Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno for the May 2024 Issue of Vogue Philippines. Styling and Direction by Meg Manzano.

Famous pirates in the Golden Age of Piracy were often recognized through their clothing, and pirate captains distinguished themselves from ordinary sailors. An example of this was the pirate Bartholomew Roberts or “Black Bart,” a Welsh pirate who was known to have worn bright red silks in battle, and made sure that his crew was also well-clothed from the clothing they acquired from raids, like uniforms. Jack Rackham, who went by the alias “Calico Jack,” was called so because of his use of calico clothing, an assortment of black, white and brown patterns. Clothing was also used by pirates for other purposes: the pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read reportedly crossdressed as men to conceal their feminine identity in the ruthlessly masculine line of work.

Pirate attire often appears as a mix-and-match collection of items, embodying a spirit of rebellion against societal norms and conventions that set them apart from life on land. Notably, pirates in the Golden Age of Piracy were notorious for breaking the Elizabethan Sumptuary Statutes, laws in Elizabethan England that forbid people from wearing certain colors and fabrics. Pirate clothing also varied greatly based on wealth and stolen goods, often resulting in ill-fitting and mismatched garments for ordinary seamen, who wore tight-fitting clothes for safety during arduous tasks.

The use of sturdy, weather-resistant fabrics like leather, wool, and heavy cotton, suited for the harsh conditions at sea. Multiple layers of clothing provide both practicality for changing weather conditions while providing a rich, textured look. In recent times, the rise of DIY culture and the desire for unique, personalized fashion pieces have led to a resurgence in styles that can be customized and individualized. Pirate fashion, with its layers, accessories, and eclectic mix of items, lends itself well to this sentiment.

Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno for the May 2024 Issue of Vogue Philippines. Styling and Direction by Meg Manzano.

Although pirates may not be directly referenced, the incorporation of the sentiments of freedom, fantasy, and self-expression are very evident in modern fashion. In Vogue Philippines’ May 2024 issue, photographer Artu Nepomuceno and stylist Meg Manzano put together an assortment of pieces that capture a more subdued yet still-romantic essence of piracy. “On the shoot day, everything just seemed to fall into place,” Nepomuceno shared.

Looking back at the question, “Are pirates the next big fashion trend?” the answer might just be hidden in plain sight. As we analyze its roots in fashion in the past, and peer into new-age affinities for resourcefulness and the relentless exploration of personal style, the hypothesis is that pirate fashion is less of a trend, and more of an attitude to life: one that lends itself to adventure, exploration, and imagination.

Vogue Philippines: May 2024 Issue

Photographs by ARTU NEPOMUCENO. Styling and Direction by MEG MANZANO. Hair: Mong Amado. Model: Siobhan Moylan. Photographer’s Assistant: Choi Narciso, Ignacio Gador, Rojan Maguyon. Hair and Stylist’s Assistant: Rojan Maguyon.
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