The Pirate Shirt – Yesterday and Today

Pirate ShirtPirate Shirt

The traditional pirate shirt is also known as a poet blouse. There are several clothing styles that fall into this category. They were originally worn by men in the 17th and 18th centuries, during the years when the most famous pirates sailed the seas. One of the features separating it from other shirts of the time is the ruffles or frills on the front and at the cuffs of the sleeves.

The blouse is usually loose fitting and made of linen, cotton or satin. The frills are sometimes made of the same fabric but may also be composed of lace. It was usually worn by wealthy men and though referred to as a “blouse”, it is not because the garment is designed specifically for women. Some women do wear this type of blouse today, but women typically did not wear this kind of garment in years past.

The shirts usually have open necks. They were originally laced up to a V-neck and were basically collarless. Later designs included a standing collar or one that was folded over and pointed. The “modern” poet’s shirts have elements of the fine 17th and 18th century styles often worn by wealthy gentlemen and the loose open-necked shirt usually worn by workmen. 

Romanticism inspired our modern versions of the pirate shirt. Romanticism is an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in Europe late in the 18th century, peaking between the years of 1800 and 1850. One of the leading figures of the Romantic Movement was the poet Lord Byron. He favored the “frilly” shirts and paintings portraying him show him wearing the style beneath an over-garment.

Young boys were often dressed in the shirts during the 19th century. Tailored versions were considered fashionable for young men in the 1960s, especially in London. They were sometimes called “Byron” shirts, especially in high end men’s clothing shops. 

Pirate Shirts Today

Pirate T ShirtPirate T Shirt


The pirate shirt became popular for men again in the 1980s. Members of the bands Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran wore the shirts on stage and in their videos. At that time, the style was called the

“New Romantic” fashion.  The shirts have always been seen in theatrical performances and in movies. It was not just pirates that wore them. They were also part of the costume used in historical movies. They became associated with vampires due mostly to the movie Interview with a Vampire. The costumes worn by Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt usually included frilly shirts.

In films, the are often worn with a wide belt, sash or some other item of clothing that holds it closer and tighter to the body. It is likely that real pirates wore their shirts in the same way. The shirts were basically considered undergarments. When fully dressed, a man would always have on a vest, coat, sash or belt and possibly several of those things on top of the blouse.

The success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series sparked new fashion trends that revolved around the pirate shirt in recent years. The shirts could be found in men’s and women’s stores. Women might wear the long shirts with a belt and hose or spandex pants. Gold accessories are considered a necessity to complete this look.  

Of course, you will need a frilly  type of shirt if you are attending a costume party. Luckily, the shirts are pretty easy to find online.

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