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Dress For Ship-cess: Why Pirates Wear Ey ...

Dress For Ship-cess: Why Pirates Wear Eye Patches

Oct 02, 2021

When a matey wonders which accessories Arrrrrr in fashion this plundering season, eyewear is never in question. Specific sashes and boots and buckles and tones may become washed-up (sometimes literally) from year to year, but eye patches will always be in style. 

Whether you are a swashbuckling history buff or simply buff (hey, no judgment- every sea-worthy vessel needs fierce enforcers), you may benefit from knowing the reason your ancestral buccaneers began this facial tradition.

So, why do you think pirates wear eye patches? Some options:

A. To be recognizable for Halloween. 

B. A parrot pecked their eye out.

C. They got in a good fight/they were defending their treasure. 

D. It helps them see in the dark. 

E. They fell on a broken rum bottle one night when partying just the right amount.

F. To keep their delicate internal, zen-like balance (as well as actual physical balance on the rolling oceans), they performed a ritualistic sacrifice of the eye on whichever side is opposite to the side their peg-leg is on.

G. A siren or a sea witch demanded they entrust one eye to her in exchange for safe passage through the tumultuous waters of the world. In this way, she can always keep an eye on them.

For the record, this author and her parrot would both choose H: all of them. 

But if you guessed D, you may be entitled to not walk the plank for at least the next month- in reward for likely being the most correct. 

There is no written verification of this (the closest we come is MythBusters’ pirate episode from 2007, where, of all the tests, only the eye patch test emerged as a plausible pirate myth). But science suggests that pirates Arrrrrr smarter than they look. 

It takes the average human eye 20-30 minutes to achieve complete “dark adaptation.” In other words, imagine you are sword-fighting on the deck when a cannonball rips through your pathway. Suddenly, you and your foe find yourselves in the belly of the ship… well, you just might have to inquire, “Look here, old chap, could we pause this engagement briefly while my sight adjusts to the dark- thus enabling me to better stab at you?” To which your adversary might reply, “Indubitably, old chum. That will give me time to use your facilities and, additionally, refuel with some trail mix. Plus, my eyesight needs a moment too. By the way- which way to your loo?” 

But if you’re wearing an eyepatch, you can simply flip it up when your environment changes and retain the upper hand (or, well, eye, in this case), thus unequivocally winning your fight because one of your eyes is ready for the dark at all times.


Now you can choose for yourself whether or not to continue this inherited custom when setting sail from your piratical lair. (If it helps any, rumor has it that Nordstrom is coming out with a new, 100% waterproof eyepatch line this year, called Maelstrom. I’m considering pre-ordering one in sea-foam green.)

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