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How to Dress Like Jack Sparrow - A Fancy Dress Costume Guide
Otherwise known as "realising this Pirates of the Caribbean costume page was getting me loads of traffic, even though it was never properly featured on tiitybiscuits.com, so I'm putting it right up front."


If 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 things.

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 of satin.

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 into place.

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 go!

Getting Undone

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





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