Many unique features make up the attire of a pirate in most people’s imagination. These include hooks, wooden legs, a red bandana, and, more recently, dreadlocks. But are dreadlocks based on a legitimate historical style, or are they yet another myth about pirates?
Pirates didn’t have dreadlocks. The only pirate known to have worn dreadlocks is Blackbeard. Pirates wore their hair short or in a pigtail, following the style of other sailors at the time. Dreadlocks as a pirate hairstyle were popularized by Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.
For better or worse, most common knowledge about pirates is either false or greatly exaggerated. Dreadlocks are yet another of these misconceptions. However, pirates may have indeed had particular hairstyles, even if they weren’t as flashy as dreadlocks.
How Did Pirates Do Their Hair?
Pirates probably wore their hair short. However, it’s likely that some pirates took on the hairstyles of sailors at the time, which included the pigtail. The pigtail is a long, taut tail traditionally associated with sailors.
The first image of a pirate that comes to people’s minds usually corresponds to the Golden Age of Piracy, which lasted from the 1650s to the 1750s.  This is where films and books about pirates have drawn inspiration from since the 19th century.
Sadly, there are very few descriptions of pirates from that era. They were, after all, criminals, and most of the people who wrote books during the 17th century didn’t get too close to them. Photography didn’t exist at the time, and there are very few surviving portraits of pirates made at the time.
Although it’s not impossible that some pirates wore dreadlocks, there isn’t any reason to believe they did. However, it’s possible to make some assumptions about how pirates wore their hair.
Pirates, before anything else, were sailors, so it’s safe to say that many of them wore their hair the same way sailors did at the time.
The most likely case is that sailors, including pirates, wore their hair short, without any particular style. Having long hair meant it could get tangled in ropes and nets, which would have been a major annoyance. There’s even a possibility that having short hair was a marker of sailor subculture.
The nearest thing to a sailor hairstyle there was at the time was the queue. The queue wears some resemblance to a dreadlock, so that may be where the myth comes from.
The queue was worn by British soldiers during the 18th century, but it became a staple of the Royal Navy. The hair was pulled into a very tight tail, wrapped with a piece of leather, and then greased and powdered. Sailors, and probably pirates too, used tar instead of grease. This style came to be known as “pigtails.” 
Perhaps some pirates picked up this hairstyle. However, pigtails were probably only reserved for captains and successful pirates. Most of the crew wouldn’t go around with a fancy hairstyle while on the ship.
Regardless of how pirates wore their hair at sea, they likely took on the customs of their time when they spent time on land. Maybe they would even wear a wig for special occasions.
If you look at the hairstyles in old portraits of famous pirates, you’ll notice that none of them have dreadlocks—on the contrary, they have similar hairstyles to what you would see in any other portrait of that period.
For example, Captain Kidd wears a white wig in his most famous portrait. Henry Morgan wears a large, black wig in his. Francis Drake sported short hair. Sadly, there aren’t reliable portraits of many of the most famous pirates.
Did Pirates Have Beards?
Most pirates didn’t have long beards, but some notable pirates did. During the time of pirates, it was fashionable for men to have a clean shave, and pirates likely did the same.
In fact, pirate ships usually had a barber. Pirate ships having a barber might seem like a thing out of an adventure novel, but many naval ships have carried their own barber since ancient times. The main reason is that the barber would also serve as a surgeon.
Having a clean shave was the standard during the 19th century in Europe—or, at the very least, something most men aspired to.  It was seen as a symbol of masculinity and refinement.
A long beard would have made you seem eccentric, and famous pirates with beards were probably looking for that. Some examples of pirates with beards are Blackbeard and Redbeard.
Still, pirates didn’t always sport a clean shave. They probably shaved once a week, and the event was likely a social occasion.
Besides, at the time, razors were reserved for the rich. Even if a pirate got their hands on one, he might not have been able to use it without cutting himself. These razors weren’t like modern ones—they were sharp across the entire edge. This is another reason why ships had their own barbers.
Did Jack Sparrow Wear Dreadlocks?
Jack Sparrow wears dreadlocks in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Jack Sparrow is a fictional character, but his hairstyle might have been inspired by Blackbeard, one of the most famous pirates in history.
The main reason people believe that pirates wore dreadlocks is because of their portrayal in the media, and there’s one specific character that has popularized dreadlocks as pirate attire: Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean (2003). Since then, many pirate cosplayers have included dreadlocks in their attire.
Although much attention was paid to costumes in Pirates of the Caribbean, having dreadlocks in a pirate doesn’t necessarily come from an attempt at historical accuracy.
However, this hairstyle might have been inspired by Blackbeard, the only historical case of a pirate who wore dreadlocks.
Blackbeard famously wore dreadlocks, which he supposedly used to hold matches and way to terrorize his enemies. He wore his long, black beard in braids.  Blackbeard is one of the exceptions that make the rule—his long beard was unusual and probably a way to startle others.