'Crossbones' pirates work the embroidered silk cuffs

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When you think about men's fashion in the 1720s -- for those of you pondering such unusual thoughts -- what must strike first are the cuffs.

The cuffs were outrageous. Sometimes they were folded back to the elbow. Other times, as John Malkovich models in his portrayal of Blackbeard on NBC's "Crossbones," airing Fridays, they fan off from his forearm and make him look as if he could take flight.

The summer drama revolves around Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, in 1729. It's the usual scurvy lot of raggedy-looking men, some in tattered uniforms, others in whatever finery they picked up in their travels.

Costume designer Caroline Harris scouted around to ensure the accuracy of the costumes.

"Historically, we have a decent idea of that, and we know what they wore on ships," Harris tells Zap2it. "Pirates often came from other ships because life on the ocean ways were so brutal, so any chance to get away was an element of freedom. It was far more democratic than working under a captain on a ship."

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Still, having a solid grasp of the times isn't the same as being able to pop by Topshop or Zara and pick up a couple of tops and pairs of pirate pants, which incidentally, were called slops.

Slops were a shirt and a pair of baggy shorts, roughly the length of culottes, the misguided invasion of the 1970s. The length and width of the pants allowed the pirates to move easily around the ships. The shirts originally had sleeves, but these pirates were in the Caribbean, and sleeves were not needed.

"What they were wearing on ships were work clothes, and they would wear them until they were threadbare and repair them with bits of ship mast in order to save money for more extravagant clothes when they hit the ports," Harris says.


As far as extravagant goes, how much more over the top could it get than Blackbeard's jacket?

"It is made from a bedspread found in a French market, actually," Harris says. "It is beautiful, probably old, old, old. I cuffed it and lined it with red silk, and that was his kind of a crossover from his old world to becoming Blackbeard in his new world. It was typical of the period, early 18th century. There is something grandiose about being able to wear those cuffs. The pants are made out of woven hemp, a very strong, hard-wearing sort of fabric, like a linen."

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Though women's wear is not the first item that jumps to mind when going piratical, women were there, and the cleavage-baring gown is an accurate representation.

Selima (Yasmine Al Massri) wears what Harris describes as "an off-white, very simple, full-cut dress, with long sleeves, and the rust [overlay] is like a cocoon that goes over it and protects her and turns it into an outfit.
Photo/Video credit: NBC