You and your guests don't have to dress up to enjoy the murder mystery. Some guests just adapt what they can find at home. (See a few general tips for adapting items you already have; more DIY tips are given for each individual character.). Other guests raid charity shops or make or buy an entire costume; the choice is yours.
But Yo Ho Ho, me hearties. There IS a Best Costume award - and many find that fancy dress helps transport you all back into those swashbuckling times and hugely adds to the fun of the murder mystery party. Some hosts even buy an assortment of pirate party accessories for their guests to wear - for example, bandanas, eye patches, hooks, toy weapons etc.
Costume Ideas for Each Character
"Fearsome" Male Pirate Costume Ideas
Game character = Ruthless Ragin' Redd. Redd is one of the most ruthless and bloodthirsty pirates your guests would prefer not to meet! His outfit should reflect his name. He was Billy Blood's First Mate but has now assumed the role of captain following Billy's sad demise. He can therefore dress as a Captain or as a First Mate.
Blackbeard, Cutthroat, Ruthless or Plundering pirate costume. Alternatively, reflect Redd's previous or new position with a First Mate or Captain outfit. A TOY (for safety) sword or cutlass is suggested for an optional (no contact) fight.
Blacks, blood reds and greys are ideal colors to reflect Redd's ruthless, fearsome image. Stripes are also great.
For the head: a black bandana printed with skulls, a black tricorn hat and/or black and red strips of cloth tied around the head and left to dangle past the shoulders.
Optional long black beard and mustache; long black hair could be worn loose, braided, or in dreadlocks.
Black, red, rey or striped trousers.
A black, grey or white loose-fitting shirt. Optionally add a black "jabot" or cravat - or wear the shirt open with a black shoelace threaded diagonally across the visible part of the chest. Optionally add black cuffs or a "fighting" cuff.
Wide black belt.
Black boots with optional boot cover tops.
TOY weapons (for safety) - ideally have several visible toy weapons such as a cutlass and pistols. A TOY cutlass is suggested for an optional (no contact) fight.
Large hoop or gold earrings.
Scars drawn with eyeliner or face paint. Or a tattoo sleeve.
Alternatively, take inspiration from Jean Leon Gerome Ferris's illustration of the capture of one of the most fearsome pirates ever to sail the Caribbean: Blackbeard (aka Edward Teach). Unlike the black outfits sold by many fancy dress companies, this shows Blackbeard wearing a blood-red coat over loose cream trousers. The illustration doesn't show this, but Blackbeard would also strike fear into the heart of his foes by setting lit pieces of fuse into his long hair and beard so that the smoke would give him a demonic appearance. (For safety reasons, this is not recommended for a party!)
"Fearsome" Female Pirate Costume Ideas
Game character = Cutthroat Kat. Cutthroat Kat prides herself on being as vicious as any man. She is also the captain of her own pirate sloop: The Scurvy Skull. Beyond that, guests are free to make their outfit as glamorous or as practical as they choose.
Cutthroat Kat has a TOY (for safety) cutlass for an optional (no contact) fight in Round 3.
Choose a female pirate, pirate captain or swashbuckling costume. Then add multiple TOY (for safety) weapons and an optional fake scar or two to transform your character into a fearsome fighter worthy of the name Cutthroat Kat.
For the head: black tricorn hat or black or red strips of cloth tied around the head and left to dangle past the shoulders.
For the feet: high black boots.
For the main outfit:
Red, black or brown jacket over brown or black leggings or trousers.
Or loose-fitting, self-colored smock-type blouse under a corset-type waistcoat; leggings or trousers or skirt
Or blood-red jacket over a black skirt and top with a white "jabot" or cravat.
Or, if skirts are worn instead of trousers, they can be ragged, short or long; they can also be hitched up to reveal fishnets or striped leggings.
Around the waist: a red sash or a wide black belt with a large buckle.
Several TOY (for safety) weapons.
Optional scars - buy fake scars or create them using face paint or makeup.
Large hoop or gold earrings
Alternatively, you may wish to take inspiration from two notorious female pirates who operated in the Caribbean: Anne Bonny and Mary Reid. This colorized engraved print by Benjamin Cole shows that these two women chose clothes that were appropriate for a male-dominated world. Their outfits were functional rather than glamorous.
Character = Crazy Karl. Karl is an optional game character in the larger game versions; Karl can be played by a male or female. Crazy Karl is the First Mate of The Scurvy Skull and is as dangerous as the name suggests.
Pirate First Mate costume.
Mix stripes with self-colors; jagged hemlines or sleeves are great; optional patches.
Knee-length trousers or skirt.
Tunic or loose-fitting top; optional vest worn over top.
Wide belt or sash worn around the waist.
Sash worn as a bandana.
TOY (for safety) cutlasses, daggers or pistols.
Drunk Pirate (Tavern-Keeper) Fancy Dress Ideas
Game characters: One-eyed Shark and Eye-Patch Snake. Both Shark and Snake are former privateers who lost an eye while raiding a ship. They have "retired" to run a tavern in the fictional pirate haven of Port Plunder. They are former "fierce" fighters who are now rather too fond of rum and are frequently drunk. They can be played by male or female guests.
As the names suggest, both characters have lost an eye so an eye-patch is a recommended prop.
Most forms of pirate fancy dress would be appropriate, including deckhand. (Shark and Snake never became captains.) An optional rum bottle or tankard shows their liking for drink. If played by females, a tavern wench outfit could be great.
Mix stripes (black, red and white) with self-colors.
Dark trousers or skirt; a ragged hem is optional.
Loose-fitting self-colored "smock-style" top.
Sash around the waist.
TOY (for safety) weapon such as a cutlass, sword, dagger or pistol.
Boots or bare feet.
Optional long hair with beard and mustache (if played by a male).
Bandana or strips of cloth tied around the head.
Optional rum bottle, grog bottle or tankard.
"Handsome" Pirate Fancy Dress Ideas
Game character: Handsome Hugh is a dashing, swashbuckling captain who believes he is irresistible to womenfolk. He is the captain of the Buccaneer Bounty. He also owns Squawks the parrot.
Hugh has an optional toy parrot and a bandage around an arm due to a previous duel fought with Rear Admiral. A TOY (for safety) sword or cutlass is suggested for an optional (no contact) fight during the game.
Try a Jack Sparrow, swashbuckling or pirate captain outfit.
Wig with long hair - braids or dreadlocks are great; optional beard and mustache.
Black or brown boots - fake boot tops are great.
For the main outfit, choose:
a dashing pirate captain costume - red tricorn hat, red coat with gold buttons, black pants, loose white top, black boots; wide black belt with large buckle; optional jabot or cravat; optional gold waistcoat. Alternatively, colorful sashes and materials add a dashing air.
red scarf tied around head; long, colorful jacket, loose-fitting self-colored smock-style shirt; self-colored pants; optional colorful vest; colorful sash around the waist.
Glamorous, Sassy Female Pirate Fancy Dress Ideas
Game character: Maroon-'em Mary. Mary is Billy's not-so-grieving widow who is currently wanting to marry Husband Number 6. Menfolk beware: Mary may be devastatingly attractive, but her heart is made of pure flint.
Choose a sassy, sexy or elegant pirate outfit. A tavern wench outfit would also be great.
Self-colored off-the-shoulder loose top; alternatively, a corset.
Short or hitched-up skirt reveals fishnet stockings and high boots. A jagged hemline is optional.
The tricorn hat could be adorned with feathers, ribbons or bows.
Sleeves and hemline could sport lace or ruffles.
Optional tricorn hat.
TOY (for safety) weapon.
Serving Wench Fancy Dress Ideas
Game character: Flirty Gertie. As her name suggests, Gertie flirts with anyone and everyone.
Choose a tavern wench outfit. Alternatively, choosea sassy, sexy or elegant pirate outfit.
make a similar type of costume to that for Maroon-'em Mary (above).
or opt for the tavern wench look with a corset, off-the-shoulder flouncy sleeves, and a self-colored apron over a short or hitched-up skirt. Fishnet or striped stockings are a sassy way to show off those legs. And maybe have a bandana or cloth strips to keep your hair tied back.
Governer's Daughter and Niece Fancy Dress Ideas
Game characters = Lady Dorothy Howard-Herbert and Lady Desiree
In the early 18th century, aristocratic women wore a mantua gown: a loose-fitting long underdress over which was draped a long embroidered “coat” with elbow-length cuffed sleeves and a long overskirt and train.
An Elizabeth Swann or Baroque costume is ideal although they tend to be expensive and hard to source. Rococo and Victorian ballgowns are not quite the right era but are easier to source and can be cheaper. For example, Bukine offer a Victorian ball gown which is available via Amazon. A Marie Antoinette outfit is from a slightly earlier era but it is often a mantua gown. Alternatively, Fun Shack offer a gold medieval queen outfit that is similar to a mantua gown.
Long skirt and top; optional lace panels attached to the front of the bodice and the front of the skirt could create the impression of an ornate ballgown. Optional lace around the cuffs. Baroque or Marie Antionette wig.
Guardians of the Seas
Game characters: Tempest and Torrent. They claim to have magical powers over the wind and the waves and they also claim to have the ability to see the past and to foretell the future. Tempest and Torrent can be played by males or females.
Choose between a Tia Dalma, Voodoo, Fortune Teller, Gypsy, Calypso or Caribbean costume. A "Day of the Dead" costume or a ghost pirate outfit might also work. In addition, Tempest has a seashell and Torrent has a sea stone (or ordinary stone) to help with their "magic"; both have a toy monkey.
For the head: dreadlocks or long hair - or head scarf or "ghost pirate" hat; fake tattoos on the face; dark or black lipstick; dark, dramatic eyeshadow.
Main outfit: layers of material with different patterns and textures including lace and netting; if wearing a skirt, the top material could be ruched up to reveal an underskirt. Sleeves have jagged strands of lace or netting.
Jewelry could include a necklace of shells, stones, colorful beads - or mini skulls and crossbones. Long dangly earrings.
Admiral Fancy Dress Ideas
Game character = Rear Admiral Percy FitzGeorge
Admiral needs a TOY (for safety) sword for optional (contact-free) "fights" in Round 4 and the Whodunnit round. He also has a bandage around arm due to a previous duel fought with Handsome Hugh.
Admiral costume. A Lord Nelson outfit is from a slightly later period but it would also be possible. A Pirate Commander Costume (available via Amazon) gives an approximate version of the jacket and cravat.
Knee-length socks worn over self-coloured trousers or leggings.
Knee-length dark blue jacket with gold buttons and optional braiding.
Optional white jabot or cravat.
English Parson Fancy Dress Ideas
Game character = Parson Perry FitzGeorge
In the 18th century, English parsons wore similar clothes to (poor) gentlemen. Colours tended to be dark. However, as Parson had been sent to the Caribbean by Lady Amelia Russell, some guests prefer to add a touch of glamour to the outfit.
18th-century male costume in dark colours. Rococo and Victorian costumes are not quite the right era but are acceptable.
Dark-coloured knee-length jacket with dark waistcoat.
Knee breeches and stockings (or knee-length socks worn over trousers).
White cravat or two white Geneva/Preaching bands with an optional clerical collar. (Preaching bands are two rectangular strips of white cotton worn at the front of the neck.)
If you wish to take inspiration from photos of an 18th-century parson, then there are various photos of Parson Woodforde online. For example:
Mr Collins (Pride and Prejudice) is an example of a clergyman from a slightly later period.
General: Some Simple Ideas to Adapt Items You Already Have for DIY Pirate Outfits
A colorful scarf or sash can be hung from the waist or used as a bandana.
A single dangly earring can be worn.
A child's TOY gun or sword can add that touch of mock danger.
Strips of white, red or black tape or material could be added to contrasting self-colored trousers, skirt or top to create a striped item of "pirate" clothing. (Please do your own checks for how this will impact the item of clothing if you want to wear it in normal use later.)
Makeup could be used to draw fearsome scars on your face or arms; alternatively, try a tattoo sleeve.