you're anything like me, and I know I sure am, you love fancy dress -
especially the 'fancy' part of the equation.
I get asked a lot of questions when dressed as Jack Sparrow. One of the
most popular questions is 'where did you get your costume from?'
followed very closely by 'grow up.'
This is one of the
trickier costumes in terms of sourcing materials. There isn't a single
pre-packaged Sparrow outfit that's worth spending £50 on (which is the price
for most of the 'deluxe' items in fancy dress stores.) I'm not generally a
fan of all-in-one costume packs really, since they generally feature three
or four very low quality costume 'bits' which, when worn, give a half-baked
notion of the character you're going for. Sure, people will know who you
are, but you're not going to look great. To be fair, sometimes these packs
are good for 'harvesting' - buying them for the occasional good bits and
pieces which you can't find elsewhere to incorporate into your own design -
but of the three or four Sparrow packages doing the rounds there really is
nothing going for them.
To many, this may
seem like a frustrating fancy dress guide. There is no list of 'you need x,
y and z, here are URLs of where to buy 'em and how to add them to your
costume'. It also works out kinda expensive if you want to own an entire
Jack Sparrow costume (anywhere between £50 to £200, depending on what items
you already own.) What will follow is a guide to improvisation,
the essential ingredients to a successful Cap'n Jack Sparrow costume and also some
tips on how to make fancy dress work for you.
Here We Go!
A step-by-step guide
on how I personally pull off Captain Jack. Of course, I'm me and you're you
(I think that's how it works normally?) so I will endeavour to offer
alternate tips. The first of these tips pertain to growing facial hair.
This is me without facial hair. Well, this is me without a beard. Obviously,
Captain Jack Sparrow does not have awesome designer stubble like me. He has
a 'tash/beard combo thing going on.
Let's review the situation:
That's better. Now, the beard thing is probably the most difficult and,
in a way, essential aspects to this costume. Luckily I have my father's
genes when it comes to facial hair growth, and as such managed to grow
this from scratch during the course of a single afternoon. You may not
be so fortunate, so a bit of forward planning might be in order. My top
tip is to stop shaving on a Thursday morning - by the time the weekend's
over you'll be back at work having gotten over the hobo look of
non-shaving, and you can fashion it into a semi-okay looking goatee or
something until the night of the party. When the time comes, shave off
the side bits and below the indent bit below your lip, leaving a little
tuft which is great fun to twiddle with when you're thinking about
If you're a real man (grrr!) it should take between 2-3 weeks to harvest
a good pirate beard. Don't expect any smoochies during this time. If for
whatever reason you can't grow one, possibly for work reasons, time
constraints or you're a bit of a pussy, you can always look into fake
costume beards with a bit of modification.
Step Two: The Tan
This is obviously pretty easy - get a bottle of fake tan if you're pasty
white normally. Although its worth having a bottle if you're in the
habit of fancy dress, it can be pretty expensive (like £20 a bottle or
something stupid like that.) If you only need it for the one event,
borrow some from the nearest eighteen year old hairdresser from Essex.
Ask nicely or she'll gouge your eyes out with her nail extensions.
Just a quick note on fake tan - I cannot stress enough how little of
this stuff you need to use. Squidge slightly less than you think you'll
need into your palm, then half it. Also make sure you don't pick up tan
with glitter in it (pictured above) otherwise you're going to look
silly. Nobody likes a sparkly pirate.
Step 3: Make-up
Again, pretty simple. Sparrow wears kohl around his eyes - real kohl is
banned due to its lead content, but any quality pencil with 'kohl'
written on it will get the same effect. You can really use anything
here, but try not to go too cheap - by the time you get the wigs and hat
on your head will feel like it's in a pressure cooker so you don't want
something that's going to run.
As with the tan, don't go too mental with the eye make-up. A lot of
impersonators I've seen seem to think Jack Sparrow is a damn panda.
Apply it nice and dark, but don't spread out too much. Top lids and
about half a centimetre below the bottom will do the trick nicely.
Step 4: Boots
It can be very expensive to boots, and you can't really do without them
unless you want to go to your party as a pirate wearing white Reeboks.
When I first started doing this I did want to get some anyway, but
because of my size bajillion feet I couldn't find any that would fit,
and had to look at alternatives.
The good news is that most fancy dress outlets sell 'boot covers' -
these ingenious inventions do not cost a lot and even the ultra cheap
ones look excellent. The ones I wear were about £15 I think, and I often
get people asking where I bought my 'boots', not realising that they're
just black shoes with a cover on them. Essentially how they work is you
put your feet into them, tie them up then put your black shoes on.
underneath. It's not a great picture but I can assure you that the
resulting 'boot' looks seamless, so long as both the shoes and covers
are black and have a similar faux-leather tone to them.
The only problem I have is that the covers tend to fall down a bit. The
quick fix to this is to get some elastic strapping and tie it around the
top of your calf before flipping the top of the boot flap over it. This
has the extra problem which can only be referred to simply as 'hurting
like buggery' since you've got to tie the under-straps really tight, but
you'll get over it.
Before putting on the boots you'll need some baggy black or dark navy
trousers which you can bunch up. If you don't have any, the charity shop
is your friend (as with a lot of things in the world of fancy dress.)
Step 5: Shirt
Not sure where I got mine
from, but they do similar (if not the same) kinds of shirts in
ready-to-go pirate packs. Buying a shirt individually will set you back
between £15-£20, although having just had a little look it's difficult
to find one that doesn't look all frilly like
this one which crops up a lot in
Google. Ideally you want something a bit grungy, and definitely not made
A lot of the shirt will be hidden by the waistcoat, belts, sash etc., so
don't sweat it too much if you can't find something suitable. The next
best alternative is grabbing the biggest, baggiest white shirt you can
find in a charity store and modifying it a bit - hack off the collar and
cuffs, use some white cloth to replicate the chest lacing (if you have
time/inclination) and for best results blast it in the washing machine
without any powder at temperatures reaching that of the sun's core.
This'll take all of the crispiness out of it and de-starch it, leaving
you with a baggy canvas-feeling shirt.
Step 6: The Waistcoat
Not much to say about this step, really - just go and buy a waistcoat.
Make sure it's long, and try to avoid anything which looks too stiff:
with all the belts and crap you're going to put on it'll be hard enough
to move anyway, and you don't want a rock-hard leather waistcoat adding
to the mix.
Step 7: Belts and sash
You'll need two belts here -
one to go across your waist, one to loop across your chest. If you'd
rather not go down to Next and buy a couple, definitely hit up your
female mates for a loan - big belts are really in at the moment, and the
average girl owns about three thousand.
The best source for the sash which Captain Jack wears is the bathroom of
my old flat, in which you can tear down the curtains and hack them to
pieces without consulting the housemate who both owns the flat and the
curtains. Ever getting around to replacing them is optional.
However, if you don't have access to my old flat, your local material
store is likely to have something which will fit the bill.
Step 8 - Wigs and Hat
If you're a guy who has got long hair, firstly get a hair cut. You're
not a student anymore. But before you do that you can use your devil
locks to get away without wearing a wig for the costume - plaits and
braids will make a good substitute for dreadlocks then all you need is
trinkets and whatnot for decoration (which we'll get to.)
There's various ways around the hat/hair situation - I suspect the way
I've done it is in by no way the best, but what I find works is two
separate wigs - one slightly curly one which you can get all natty, and
one dreadlock wig to go over the top. Wrap a red bandana loosely around
before popping on a tricorn hat and away you go.
UPDATE: I wrote this about two years ago.
I've since picked up a good replica bandana/wig, and rarely wear the
hat, as can be seen in the final photos.
I managed to pick up
this dreadlock hat wig a few years ago
from a shop. All of the store photos I can find of this item make it
look rubbish, but the dreadlocks themselves look and feel really
fantastic. It also has a nice-looking bandana strip on it which is
handy. Only thing is the hat - it's basically just a tube of odd foam
stuff without a top, so it takes a lot of doctoring to get it into a
vague tricorn shape. I tried to sew it into three points but it kept
loosening, so I ended up using a few discreet safety pins to hold it
Here's the old hat from the above link. It's by no means bad, and
coupled with a standard black wig makes for a cheap combo. At the same
time, it doesn't look fantastic:
But hey, you can always put a black tricorn over the top of that one.
It's only foam.
Step 9 - Finer details
The key to a good Jack Sparrow costume is in the detail, but by no means
do you need to copy everything from the movies. I've picked up some
replica stuff off eBay since writing the first draft of this, but the
great news is that you can easily get away with improvisation. Here's
how I used to do it.
Firstly, hair stuff:
If you're crafty, you can always make stuff like this to adorn your
bandana/dreads with. I'm not, so I did the next best thing and nipped
down to Claire's Accessories. They sell loads of hideously gaudy tat in
there which works wonders on costumes - this earring came in a pair
(obviously) and cost about £3.50. Bargain!
A lick of nail polish and some beady wrist things, strips of fabric and
costume jewelery will get your hands looking all piratical.
All the beads and stuff for the hair can be found by simply hunting, but
if you do have a bit of disposable income then this site will happily
sell you some great stuff for your dreads. I find some cheap leather
strapping of various kinds works well on a couple of locks which you can
pick up for about a quid at your local material store. You may also
notice the pirate gold necklace from the first film - I've not seen one
since I got it, this was from (once again) Claire's Accessories and cost
about a fiver. Warning - the chain is as scratchy as hell.
Now, in terms of gold teeth, I can't think of any way to achieve this
other than a) having a gold tooth, or b) super gluing gold cigarette
foil to your tooth. It does come off afterwards, but seriously don't do
this. I am not suggesting you mess around with super glue near your
mouth, much less in it, and accept no responsibility if you're silly
enough to do this.
It's just a... er, suggestion.
And that's it! Pop a chopstick in your hair and a toy musket and sword
(or a real musket and sword, whatever) in your sash and you're good to
Getting out of this stupid costume is about as difficult as getting into
it, but it is kinda fun. When you've been clubbing in a hat and two wigs
for an entire evening, you can expect some serious hat hair:
After washing off all the make-up (if you're a guy and you've never gone
through this rigmarole before, it will really make you appreciate the
fairer sex) you'll get to shave off the beard that has been pissing you
off for the last two weeks. However, before you do, a bit of planning is
required. This is your opportunity to try out various styles of facial
hair, but you need to organise how you're going to get through each one
before you end up silky smooth. A pen and paper might be required.
zeke (at) tittybiscuits (dot) com