There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to Vikings. Because they lacked written records to preserve their culture, it is difficult to truly say what Vikings were like, especially since the Viking Age was centuries ago. Luckily from the excavations and discoveries made by archeologists over time, it is possible to paint a picture of the Viking culture, including how they groomed and dressed.
Contrary to popular beliefs, Vikings weren’t dirty barbarians, dressed in drab brown and gray clothing. In this article, we will expound more on what Viking men and women used to wear. We will look at what the dress code was, their attitude towards dressing, and what their clothes were mainly made of.
The Viking Dress Code
Fabrics are unfortunately great at surviving underground unless it is in dry regions like Egypt. So, although there is a lot that has been recovered from Viking settlements, there are very few fabrics that survived. That is why, what is known about Viking dressing, is not just dependent on what has been discovered. The rest has been pieced together from written sources and laws at the time.
Even though it is not a clear picture, there are certain facts about Viking dressing that are known with certainty. To start with, the Vikings were known for their practicality. They used everything within their resources to survive and never wasted anything. This translated to their dressing as well. What they wore was mainly influenced by their environment. As you may know, Scandinavia mostly experienced cold weather, some seasons colder than others, especially in the inland regions. As such, their dress code was mostly to keep them warm and protect them from the elements. They would therefore use fish oil and beeswax to keep the fabrics waterproof. Aside from warmth, the clothes were also practical and functional, especially for the ordinary Viking. That is why Viking farmers, hunters, and warriors, wore similar clothes.
Also, contrary to popular belief, Vikings had a variety of color choices for their clothing. Aside from white, brown, and black, Vikings also had clothes in the colors, blue, yellow, red and so many more, although some colors were harder to come by compared to others. Red, was in fact, the most expensive color. That’s because the color was gotten from the madder plant root, which wasn’t found in Scandinavia and had to be bartered from European countries. As such the value of red clothes was high and a lot of prestige was attached to them. Aside from the bright colors, Vikings also included a lot of patterns in their clothing.
Despite being painted as dirty barbarians; Vikings took presentation seriously and valued status and individual worth. Their clothing was also a way of them showing their status. Those higher up the social hierarchy were able to get clothes that were more beautiful and of better quality. Poorer Vikings had to barter for their clothes. Fashion was therefore something important to the Vikings. They used their clothes to make themselves more appealing and to set themselves apart by showing their standing in society. Silk clothes, for example, were only reserved for the rich since they were the only ones who could afford them.
Accessories were also present during the Viking age. The most common accessory, you may be aware of are the brooches which they used to hold their garments in place. They also had necklaces, rings, and arm rings. The necklaces were mostly worn as amulets in respect to the Norse deities and for protection. They bore significant symbols like Thor’s hammer. Vikings were never known to wear earrings unless they picked it up from their interactions with the traders in Europe. Their jewelry was mainly made of silver and gold and had done a better job of surviving compared to the fabrics they used at the time. Aside from jewelry, there was also their footwear which was majorly ankle-length boots made of leather and stitched by hand. They also had bags which they wore on their belts like utility belts and used them to carry essentials like coins or small tools. During the colder seasons, they would also put on caps, mittens, and scarves made from wool, animal skin, or fur, for those who were rich enough.
What Did Viking Men Wear?
Male Vikings weren’t just fierce warriors who spent their time fighting and raiding places. Most of them spent their time farming, fishing, hunting, and raising livestock, to feed and sustain their families. Regardless of their occupations, whether it is plowing the fields or on the battlefields, it was important for Viking men, that their clothes were function as well as warm and comfortable. They also had to be durable and water-resistant or at least dried quickly.
Keeping this in mind, the essentials of a Viking man’s wardrobe was mainly tunic and trousers. The richer few would also have linen undergarments that they would wear below the tunic and trousers. Tunics were made mainly of linen or sometimes wool and were worn by practically every Norse man as their base top cloth. The design was mainly simple, although sometimes may have patterns woven on them depending on the status and significance of the wearer. The tunics were buttonless and long, reaching the knees. They were also sleeved, long or short depending on whether it was winter or summer respectively. The trousers were also made of linen for the warmer seasons and wool for the colder ones. They came with a simple drawstring waistband that the poor used to hold up the trousers, although the rich also may have used belts, given the number of belt buckles discovered from their settlements. Warriors may have also used their belts to hold their knives and axes. The trousers varied in length, tightness, and patterns or design, as per a person’s preference and ability to afford it.
Other essentials were also cloaks and leg wraps. The leg wraps were worn on top of the trousers. They were two strips of cloth, mostly wool, wrapped around the leg from the knees to the ankles. The cloak was a simple rectangular woolen or linen cloth used mostly during the colder seasons, although some wore the cloaks as a sign of their status or because it was in their favorite color. Warriors used the cloaks to hide their weapons. There were many variations of cloaks based on their color, thickness, size, and patterns. The cloak was held in place using the brooches. Hats were also worn on occasion, especially during cold periods. They were made of leather, wool, or sheepskin and had ear flaps for warmth as well as chin straps to hold them in place.
As for Viking warriors, the wealthier ones would wear a leather padded tunic, under chain mail shirts that reached below their knees when they went into battle. The less privileged warriors would only put on the leather padded tunic for protection since the chainmail was too expensive. Warriors also wore iron helmets. Standard ones came with nose guards, although the more expensive ones had eye guards as well. Unlike what most people believe, the helmets did not have horns.
What Did Viking Women Wear?
Like men, Viking women also had many responsibilities when it came to sustaining the family. They were expected to cook, clean, care for children, tend to livestock, and work on fields gathering food. It is not directly stated anywhere, but it is believed that some women were also warriors. That is why women’s clothes were also made to be functional in as much as it was to keep them warm. But like other cultures, women’s and men’s clothes were distinct in Viking culture. They were also made of wool and linen, but that is as far as the similarities went.
For women, the essential clothing for them was their undergarment and their overdress. The undergarment also known as smocks was a sleeved dress made of lined and was ankle-length. The overdress, which went by many names including, the strap dress, harness, or the hangerock, was worn over the undergarment. It was a dress, slightly shorter than the undergarment, with two straps and made of wool. The two straps were fastened at the front using two brooches. The women would also hang small essential things like keys from the brooches. As a way of decoration, there was a string of beads, amber, or other gems joining the two brooches. The overdress was colored but was either plain or patterned based on the Viking community a woman was from. There is also a belief that wealthier women, wore tunics that were longer than the men’s, and had a longer back that trailed on the ground. Silk garments were also believed to exist but were rare because they had to be imported and only the filthy rich could afford them.
As headgears, Viking women were believed to have worn knotted kerchiefs as their headdress. What is not clear however is whether the headdress was worn daily, only while cooking or on special occasions. Other accessories that women wore, included belts, from which they hung their bags. Their bags were however woven and not made of leather like the men’s. They use the bags to carry essential tools and items they need for their daily work. They also wore cloaks similar to the men’s, for the same purpose of keeping warm or as a show of status. For the wealthier Viking women, their cloaks could have been made of fur or had decorative embroidery or stitching.
How The Vikings Made Their Clothes?
As a Viking enthusiast, you may know, that Vikings made a point of using the resources available to them to survive and never wasted any of it. Given that wool and linen made from fax was an abundant resource, these were the materials used to make most of the garments worn by Vikings.
For wool, the Vikings would start by sheering the sheep. The wool was cleaned and combed into long fibers which would later be spun into yarn. A wooden staff called a distaff was what was used to spin the wool fiber. The yarn would then be woven on a vertical loom to create a fabric that was used to make the clothes. Linen, on the other hand, had a long preparation process. It involved drying soaking and stripping the flax stalks to create fibers. The fibers would then be combed repeatedly and spun into thread which was later woven into fabric. Linen was lighter and more comfortable and was therefore the preferred material for undergarments.
For smaller, clothing items like socks, mittens, scarves, women’s headdresses, and woven bags, Vikings used yarn to knit them. They used a traditional technique called Nálbinding, or needle-binding, which involved large needles used to tie yarns into knots. The fabrics and yarn used for the different clothing items were all naturally white. They were dyed with plant-based colors and the available options were black, yellow, brown, blue, and red, the rarest color.
As for the leather items like belts, leather shirts, shoes, and bags, the process was different. To make the leather, the Vikings would start by treating animal skin with bee wax to make it softer and more flexible. They would then apply fish oil on the skin to make it waterproof. The shoes, leather shirts, and bags were then hand-stitched inside-out and then turned over and worn. The designs of the shoes varied, but the majority of them had laces and most were ankle length. Unlike the clothes, belts, and bags, the shoes didn’t last for longer than a month due to faster wear and tear. They, therefore, had to be replaced often. Vikings also made their brooches and other forms of jewelry. They used Iron or bronze. The wealthier Vikings had the option of using silver and gold instead.
Vikings were a more sophisticated society that they are given credit for. They were as fashion-conscious as any other group of people at the time. They also enjoyed color and pattern in their clothes. There are, however, no specifications on what color or patterns were for men and which were for women. The patterns did, however, change depending on the Viking community or social status. Viking children were also believed to have worn the same clothes as the adults. So, now the next time you want to attend one of the Viking festivals that happen all through the USA and the world, you have a better idea of what Vikings wore and what your costumes should look like.