There you are, standing in front of the mirror in your new-to-you pirate togs. You’re probably wondering “What the Hell do I do now?” First just take a moment and admire yourself because everyone looks bad ass as a pirate. Plus you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and that definitely deserves a moment of patting yourself on the back. Bravo! Now that that is done… No, really, pull yourself away because I have more ideas to take your costume from “cool” to “dayum, you look great.”

You have the foundation for a costume. That’s great. Right now, you are a concrete building from the 1970’s: stark, solid, but a little dull. You need some character and that takes a few details. Or, if you’re willing, a lot of details. How do you go about adding these details so you look like a pirate and not a walking garage sale? First off, remember to keep your attitude firmly in place and then get ready to have some fun!

Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow

Take a good look at this photo of Johnny Depp as the famous, or infamous, Captain Jack Sparrow. Go ahead, click on it to enlarge and really look at all the stuff that is packed onto his body.  He’s got multiple belts, stuff in his hair, things dangling from all of the belts, and the list goes on and on and on… you get my point. Now before you go running out to hit up a thrift store’s costume jewelry section, let’s take a moment a really give this image a good look. Each and every piece was chosen deliberately. Each and every piece has a reason it is present. Hollywood costumers (ok, really, any costumers) always make conscious choices when they add details. Here are a few questions to ask before adding a piece to your outfit:

1. Does this fit my character?

If you are playing a ragged-looking simple sailor, are you really going to be wearing a chest full of gold necklaces? If you are a captain, would you be wearing a ratty headscarf? Keep everything at approximately the same level of richness.

2. If this fits my character, why is it being worn?

Is it something useful like a sword or pistol? Then get comfortable with how it hangs and moving in them. A pirate would not be wearing a weapon without some familiarity with it. Practice at home. Trust me, there is nothing more embarrassing than knocking over something important with your sword because you forgot how much clearance you needed. Being comfortable with how your outfit moves and affects your environment is very important.

Is it something purely for decoration? If it’s decoration, why is it being worn? Is it a lucky piece? Is it sentimental? Give yourself some little stories to go along with your decorations. That way, when someone asks, you can regale them with the stories and up your pirate factor. The sentimentality can be from your or your character’s standpoint, or your own personal standpoint. I have a piece that was given to me by a dear friend. It’s not historically accurate, but it does have a heraldic device on it and makes a pretty necklace. When I am missing my friend or need a little of his wisdom, on it goes. It looks close enough to add to my costume and it has become a great talking point about heraldic devices and jewelry. My characters each have a piece that is specific to them as well. It makes the character a little more real.

3. Where did this piece come from?

Hand in hand with “why is it being worn” comes this question. Is this a piece that looks (on the surface) like it could have come from a pirate’s time period? No one is going to be coming up and inspecting you from inches away but you do want to have an overall feeling of realism. Don’t add a chunky piece that is obviously from the 1980’s to a 1600’s pirate. This isn’t the masquerade episode of “Dynasty.” Just try to keep each detail feeling “old” or “historical.”

4. Does this piece work with the whole costume?

There’s a famous quote by Coco Chanel that states “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” Fashion advice works, no matter what kind of fashion you are wearing. Make each piece count. Make each piece important. Edit. Edit. Edit. Too much stuff and you look like a walking display case. Too little and you look like you aren’t even trying. It will take some work to find the proper balance. You know what helps to find that balance? Yeah, you guessed it: Attitude. If you can wear it and wear it well, go with it.

You have questions to ask but you are probably wondering what kinds of details I am talking about. You’re in luck because that’s the second part of this….