Pirate Accessories for the Disfigured
It has been postulated, on a very popular TV show, that the eye patch might have been used by pirates to counter the extreme changes in light intensity brought on by moving from above decks to t below decks on a pirate ship. In other words, the pirates that sported the eye patch were not covering up a weird disfiguring injury, they were simply using a technique to keep their low-light vision good in one eye. Personally, though this does seem to work (according to the good folks at Mythbusters), I think this idea is full of crap. Eye patches were a piratical piece of clothing, an accessory if you will, that was used to cover up the absence of an eye.
In fact, most people suffering an eye injury at sea would not have made it back to shore to be treated, to have the remaining portion of the eye removed. Much like those that lost limbs, most pirate charters contained policies on what a pirate who lost a limb or an eye would get paid for losing that part of the body in the service of the crew. Getting injured on the deck of a pirate ship would leave you with many complications due to infection and the lack of proper medical care. Heaven help you if you if the carpenter (the pirate that usually worked as the surgeon) was killed during a battle, you could go untreated for days before you got back to shore.
In most cases, the pirates who survived the lose of an eye would get a patch made or they would fashion one themselves. They wore these patches on ship, but like most pirate policies, they would probably have a prettier patch to wear while they were in town. The had to pretty themselves up so that they could find the best wenches. They couldn’t have a huge gaping hole in their head staring out at the world or they would not be allowed in the bars in the famous towns like Port Royal and Tortuga. The patches served the purpose of letting them back into piratical society. No other purpose. Simply an accessory that made sure the people around you were not as grossed out when you came near. Of course, if the patch was kept clean it could also work to stem any infections that you might pick up while you were on deck or in town.
It is also possible that you might be born with a deformity. Maybe there was no eye there when you were born. The patch gave you a much more sinister look then the lack of an eye. To this end, pirates made use of the eye patch and the patch has become a symbol of pirates the world over. In fact, the eye patch made it into one of my favorite pirate movies: the Goonies. At the final reveal, when Mikey is in the cabin with One Eyed Willy by himself he lifts up the patch to reveal solid bone where the eye should have been.
Next time you are at the Ren Faire or Pirate Festival, browse through the leather vendors and try on an eye patch or two. See how they feel. Get a look through the eye of the one eyed pirate (or maybe Nick Fury). I purchased one at the GRF many years ago. It is leather that has been hardened. It covers my left eye. It has slits cut in the leather, that allow me to see perfectly through the patch. From far away, it looks like a solid eye patch. When you get closer you realize that you can see my eye through it. I have also put a piece of red cloth behind it, those making it a true patch but also giving me a huge color pop. The eye patch is a great accessory. It can be steampunked, it can be worn with a kilt, you can make it part of your Templar outfit if you are going as a knight. The eye patch crossing boundaries. They can also be made out of almost anything. In fact I have tried one on that was made of chain maille – it was very cool. Get a patch, if you are going to go pirate, go all the way.