The event is Gasparilla and it’s Tampa’s favorite excuse to play dress up.
Pirates of all shapes, sizes and ages participate in the annual event and costumes are a big part of the celebration.
It’s no wonder that a store in Tampa claims to be the largest pirate costume shop in the world.
Tiger Lee is the owner and he migrated to Tampa from California by way of St. Augustine.
Early in his life, Lee worked as a photographer and soon learned there was another way to make a living when one of his friends was hired as a “professional pirate”.
“He got paid to dress like a pirate, drink rum, and flirt with women,” said Lee.
Lee came up with the idea of a traveling photo studio that allowed customers to put on clothes and pose for pictures. While similar photo operations focused on cowboys and indians or Civil War Soldiers and bar maidens, Lee decided to start offering pirate outfits.
“I always loved costuming, it just appeals to me to sort of get out of your normal self and become something different,” said Lee.
Eventually he started selling pirate outfits when he realized there are 150 events around the world that offer participants a chance to dress up and play out their fantasies.
“Eventually the clothing sales was greater than the photo sales,” said Lee.
His store in Tampa now sells costumes, prop weapons, shoes, hats and just about anything you else you can think of to outfit a basic sailor all the way up to the Captain of the ship. The shop has a variety of costumes for both men and women.
Many of Tampa’s Gasparilla Krewes dress in a pirate theme, but it’s not just Gasparilla pirates who shop in his store. A variety of events all around Florida feature a pirate theme and Lee has something for all.
The costumes can come at a price, starting at about $100 for a basic sailor outfit, all the way up to $1,500 or more if you want to be a Captain for a day, but the clothes are of high quality and look more like they belong on a movie set than a dime store halloween rack.
Lee has a bell set up at the entry to his make believe world and asks customers to ring the ship’s bell and ask permission to board before they come in.
Once they do, Lee and his staff work with customers to come up with the perfect look as long as they have enough treasure to pay for it.