C&D Jarnagin Company
When it comes to period clothing, shoes are one of the biggest hangups around. For a true pirate reenactor (which I am not), the first challenge is just getting into the “shoes, not boots” mindset – boots would rarely have been worn by pirates, if we’re to be perfectly accurate. But even then, the trouble is just starting – historical shoes should be straight-lasted (meaning no left or right), have relatively large tongues and small buckles, be butt stitched, etc. etc. The sad truth is, there’s really no perfectly accurate shoe on the market for the golden age of piracy. There are many close-enough shoes for the casual pirate – some of very high quality. But almost none that would meet the standards of a true, dyed-in-the-linen historical reenactor.
For true period footware, the only real option is to have it custom made. There are only about three companies that do this, and two of them are in the UK. And considering today’s exchange rate, I opted to go with the third company, who happened to be out of Mississippi – C&D Jarnagin.
Jarnagin offers an “Early 18th Century Buckle Shoe” that is fairly close to what would be appropriate to a 1715ish pirate – with a few modifications. The shoes are already straight-lasted and have a considerable tongue – but I made the additional requests for a slightly squarer toe than normal (actually a personal preference) and reduced, 3/4″ latches. Most buckles you see on pirate feet these days are much too large, which is why I special ordered some more appropriate buckles from Gentleman of Fortune (an excellent site for anyone wanting to master the “proper” pirate look.) Jarnagin was happy to comply to my special requests – my emails were answered promptly, but briefly.
The first thing to remember when special ordering footwear is time – this is not a fast process. I ordered several months ahead for these shoes that I’d hoped to break in at Pirates in Paradise, and even then it was going to be close. But Jarnagin assured me they could do it. I measured my feet, placed the order, wrote my check and waited.
As Pirates in Paradise loomed closer, I began to feel nervous and sent some email requests for a status update. I was soon informed that my shoes were done, and “should” be there in time. I opted to forward a few extra bucks for expedited shipping, just to be safe. And indeed, the shoes arrived with a few days to spare, thus allowing me to work with them before heading off to the Keys. I carefully affixed my Gentleman of Fortune buckles and strutted my new shoes around the house.
Fit: Length and width-wise, these shoes were pretty much perfect. And yet my feet still slid all over the place. Soon I realized the problem was that no matter how tightly I chinched them down, I couldn’t make the shoes fully tight on my feet – I guess my feet are just to skinny. This was easily remedied, however, with a little experimentation. The final, working setup I found was to place some insoles, trimmed to be the front half of the shoe only. Then I wore a pair of thick period cotton socks over some smaller, moisture-wicking sports ankle socks. This combination made for a perfect fit – sort of. It seems that the design of these shoes is in many ways more like sandals than shoes – the latches, when buckled, tighted around the top of the foot, but can’t tighten around the ankle. This means that even when buckled down, my ankle was still fairly loose and free to wiggle about more than I’m accustomed to. This issue was exasserbated by my choice to use smaller latches. At first, this worried me. But I soon realized that there was no rubbing occuring, the shoes weren’t going anywhere, and they seems pretty comfortable – they fit differently than modern shoes, but in their own unique way, they seemed to fit just fine.
Appearance: As with any new product, these shoes out of the box didn’t look remotely piratey. But a little handling, working and curling of loose edges such as the tongue and latches, and just a touch of fine sandpaper soon gave them the weathered, used look befitting a pirate. Of course, they really began to look the part when seeing hard use in Pirates in Paradise, where all the sand, coral dust, and endless walking saw them endure a virtual crash-course in wear and aging.
Comfort: I honestly hadn’t expected it upon first trying them on, but these shoes are some of the most comfortable imaginable. I spent nearly a week at Pirates in Paradise, and wore them day-in, day-out. I was genuinely surprised when other participants began to complain of blisters – the thought never even occured to me, my feet were so happy (and the necessary addition of moisture-wicking socks likely only helped matters for me.) Never once throughout the entire event did my feet hurt.
In the end, I couldn’t be happier with my J&D Jarnagin 18th Century shoes. The looseness of the heel and ankle did concern me at first, but the final product after my tuning and tweaking fits like a dream. They were a good deal pricier than stock footwear, but for anyone who appreciates detail, they’re worth every dollar. Combined with Gentleman of Fortune’s period buckles (available in brass or silver), they’re about as close as you can currently get to the genuine article.