Clothing, an integral part of every civilization, often reflects the societal norms, traditions, and environmental conditions of a particular era. Among the most intriguing clothing in history are those of the Vikings, seafaring people from the late eighth to early 11th century. Their attire has been a subject of fascination and speculation, sparking various myths and misconceptions. This article delves into the intriguing history of Viking clothing, focusing on the myths and facts and shedding light on the historical Viking clothing. Stay tuned!
10 Facts about Viking Clothes You Didn’t Know Before
- Viking Textile Craftsmanship: Despite the perception of Vikings as brutes, they were skilled textile craftsmen. Evidence of looms and spindle whorls found at archaeological sites suggest that the spinning and weaving of cloth were common domestic activities.
- Bright Colors: Vikings loved bright colors. They used natural dyes derived from plants, lichens, and minerals to achieve vibrant shades of red, blue, yellow, and green in their clothing.
- No Horned Helmets: Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets, contrary to popular belief. This image was popularized by 19th-century romantic art and opera. Actual Viking helmets were conical and made of leather, often reinforced with wood or metal.
- Viking Women’s Apron-Dress: The “hangerok,” or apron-dress, was a unique Viking women’s garment suspended from a pair of oval brooches. Its length and decoration often indicated the wearer’s social status.
- Fur Usage: Viking winter clothing frequently used fur, but not in the way you might imagine. Fur was often worn on the inside of garments for added insulation rather than on the outside.
- Pants Innovation: Vikings are credited with popularizing trousers in Europe, a style borrowed from the nomadic peoples of the Eurasian steppes.
- Belt Pouches: Vikings used their belts for more than holding up trousers. They often attached pouches and tools to their belts, making the belt an essential multi-functional accessory.
- Embroidery: The Vikings appreciated embroidery. Some clothes, especially for special occasions, were adorned with intricate embroidered patterns using colorful threads.
- Viking Shoes: Viking shoes were usually made from a single piece of leather and were designed for practicality and durability. Shoemaking was a sophisticated craft in the Viking era.
- Jewelry as Status Symbols: Brooches, arm rings, and necklaces were integral parts of Viking attire. They were status symbols, often made from precious metals and sometimes adorned with gemstones or intricate designs.
Historical Viking Clothing: Practicality and Protection
Historical Viking clothing was primarily designed for practicality and comfort. The harsh climate of Scandinavia necessitated clothing that would provide warmth and protection against the elements. Vikings primarily wore tunics, trousers, and dresses made from wool, linen, and animal skins. They also wore cloaks, hats, mittens, and socks during the colder months. These garments were often simple in design, but some were adorned with intricate patterns and decorations, revealing the Vikings’ appreciation for art and beauty.
The historical Viking clothing was often dyed using natural sources like plants, berries, and bark, resulting in shades of red, blue, green, brown, and black. However, contrary to popular belief, they did not wear horned helmets. This is a myth popularized by 19th-century romanticized images and has no historical basis. Authentic Viking helmets were conical, made from hard leather with wood and metallic enhancements for better protection.
Traditional Viking Clothing
Traditional Viking clothing, much like historical Viking clothing, prioritized functionality over aesthetics. Men typically wore a long woolen tunic over trousers, while women wore long woolen dresses with a tunic over the top. Both sexes wore cloaks fastened with a brooch or a pin. The use of belts was also common, often used as a way to carry tools or weapons.
Footwear varied depending on the season and the task at hand. Leather shoes and boots were common, often lined with fur for additional warmth in the colder months. Simple leather sandals were often worn for less demanding tasks or warmer weather.
What Materials Did Vikings Use for Clothing?
The materials Vikings used for their clothing were largely influenced by the environment and resources available to them. The two most common materials were wool and linen, with the addition of animal skins and furs for added warmth in colder months.
Wool: This was the most widely used material in Viking clothing. The Vikings kept sheep, and the wool from these animals was spun into yarn. Wool was highly valued for its durability and warmth. It was used to create a variety of garments, including tunics, trousers, dresses, and cloaks.
Linen: Linen was less common than wool but was still used, particularly for undergarments. Linen was lighter and more comfortable against the skin, making it ideal for this purpose. It was also used for head coverings and aprons.
Animal Skins and Furs: In the harsh Scandinavian winters, woolen garments alone were not always sufficient for warmth. Vikings turned to animal skins and furs, often from animals they hunted, such as deer, bear, and seal. These materials were used as cloaks, boots, gloves, and hat linings.
Leather: Leather, derived from cattle or other animals, was primarily used for shoes and belts. It was also used in armor, combined with metal or wooden reinforcements for better protection in battles.
Through their ingenuity and adaptability, the Vikings were able to transform the resources available to them into practical and durable clothing that withstood the challenging conditions of their homeland.
Historically Accurate Viking Clothing
Despite the intriguing depictions of Vikings in popular culture, historically accurate Viking clothing was much more modest and practical. The typical Viking man wore a woolen tunic over a pair of trousers, held up by a belt from which hung everyday tools like knives and pouches.
Conversely, women typically wore a long, sleeveless woolen dress over a linen underdress. The over-dress was often held up by a pair of brooches, creating a sort of apron-like look. A cloak or shawl would be added in colder weather for warmth.
Importantly, their clothing was not drab or colorless. While the base material was usually neutral-toned, they loved bright colors and often dyed their clothes using natural dyes. Intricate patterns, weaves, and embroidery were common, showcasing their skill and love for ornamentation.
What Did Vikings Wear on Their Heads?
The headwear of the Vikings was both practical and diverse, and it varied depending on the situation, climate, and the individual’s status. However, one common myth about Viking headwear needs to be debunked: contrary to popular belief, Vikings did not wear horned helmets. This misconception is largely due to 19th-century romanticized depictions of Vikings in art and literature.
In everyday life, both men and women typically wore simple caps or hoods made of wool for warmth. These caps were often conical or rounded, covering the head and ears. For women, a linen headcloth, similar to a kerchief, was also common, especially among married women, as a sign of their marital status.
Some Viking warriors wore helmets in battle, but they were not as widespread as often believed. Helmets were expensive and time-consuming, so only wealthier warriors could afford them. Viking helmets were typically made from iron and were designed to be functional and protective, often having a simple conical or rounded shape to deflect blows.
Viking helmets did not have horns, but some, particularly ceremonial ones, may have been decorated with simple engravings or other adornments. The iconic image of a Viking with a horned helmet is a modern invention and not historically accurate.
How Did Vikings Color Their Clothes?
Despite living in harsh climatic conditions, the Vikings had a fondness for color, and their clothing often reflected this. The process of coloring their clothes was a meticulous and time-consuming task, carried out primarily by the women of the household.
Vikings used natural dyes derived from various sources available in their immediate surroundings. These included plants, lichens, tree bark, berries, and even minerals. Each source yielded a different color, enabling the Vikings to create a spectrum of vibrant hues for their garments.
For instance, woad, a flowering plant native to northern Europe, was a common source of blue dye. Madder root was used to produce a red dye, while weld, a biennial plant, was used for yellow. Even the humble onion skin was put to use, creating a range of colors from yellow to orange and brown.
The process of dyeing involved boiling the wool in a pot with the dye material until the desired color was achieved. The wool was then left to dry before being spun into yarn. It’s important to note that the colorfastness of these natural dyes varied, and garments would have needed to be re-dyed periodically.
Ultimately, the Vikings, with their knowledge of the natural world and the resources it provided, were able to bring color into their daily lives. Their clothing, dyed in various hues, was a testament to their resourcefulness and appreciation for beauty, even in a challenging environment.
Viking Winter Clothing at the Glance
In the harsh Scandinavian winters, Vikings needed clothing that could keep them warm. Viking winter clothing consisted of multiple layers, including under-tunics, over-tunics, cloaks, and accessories like mittens, socks, and hats, all made from wool or animal skins. Fur was frequently used for added insulation, and leather shoes were often stuffed with straw or grass for additional warmth.
Popular Myths about Norse Viking Clothing
- Myth: Horned Helmets: The horned helmet is perhaps the most pervasive myth about Norse Viking clothing. Despite their prevalence in pop culture, no historical evidence suggests that Vikings ever wore horned helmets. This image was popularized by 19th-century romantic art and opera and has persisted to this day.
- Myth: Vikings Wore Only Dark, Drab Colors: Contrary to this belief, the Vikings enjoyed vibrant colors in their attire. They used natural dyes derived from plants, berries, and bark to create shades of red, blue, green, brown, and yellow.
- Myth: Fur-Laden Vikings: While Vikings did use fur in their clothing, especially in the harsh winter months, they didn’t wear massive fur cloaks and vests as often depicted in movies and TV shows. Fur was typically used as a lining for warmth, not as an outer layer.
- Myth: Leather Armor: Vikings are often depicted wearing leather armor. However, historical evidence suggests that their armor was primarily made from iron or, in the absence of sufficient iron, from thick layers of woolen clothing.
- Myth: Elaborate Jewelry: While it’s true that Vikings wore jewelry, the common depiction of Vikings laden with gold and precious stones is largely exaggerated. Only the wealthiest Vikings could afford such luxuries.
- Myth: Viking Women’s Revealing Clothing: Contrary to the provocative outfits often seen in media, Viking women wore modest attire. Their outfits typically consisted of a linen underdress and a woolen overdress, providing ample coverage.
- Myth: Rough and Coarse Clothing: While the Vikings lived in a harsh climate and had to wear durable clothing, their attire was not as rough and coarse as often believed. They had skilled weavers, and their clothing, particularly that of the wealthier classes, could be quite refined with intricate patterns and designs.
By dispelling these myths, we can better understand Norse Viking clothing and the people who wore them. Their clothing directly reflected their environment, lifestyle, and societal norms, blending functionality with an understated aesthetic that is uniquely Viking.
What Was Historical Viking Women’s Clothing?
Historical Viking women’s clothing was a testament to women’s important role in Viking society. Women typically wore a long linen underdress (or chemise) with a woolen overdress that was pinned on the shoulders with a pair of oval brooches, a style unique to the Viking era. The overdress was typically ankle-length and split up the sides for easy movement.
In winter, Viking women added layers, including cloaks, shawls, and mittens, to protect against the cold. On their feet, they would wear soft leather shoes or boots, often lined with fur for additional warmth.
Women also wore a distinctive item known as the “hangerok” or “apron-dress,” which was a loose-fitting garment suspended from a pair of brooches or shoulder straps. This garment was not only practical but also served as a status symbol. It could be decorated with trimmings, and its length could indicate the wearer’s social status.
Jewelry was another key component of a Viking woman’s attire. Brooches, necklaces, and arm rings were not just decorative; they were a sign of wealth and status. These pieces were often crafted from bronze, silver, or gold and could be adorned with precious stones or intricate designs.
Did Vikings Wear Bras?
The question of whether Vikings wore bras is an interesting one, and the answer is a bit more nuanced than a simple yes or no. The modern bra as we know it today was not invented until the late 19th century. Yet, archaeological evidence suggests that Viking women did wear a garment that provided some support and coverage, although it was pretty different from today’s bras.
The primary undergarment for Viking women was a long linen shift or chemise. This simple, loose-fitting garment reached from the shoulders down to the ankles. The chemise provided a layer of comfort and modesty underneath the woolen overdress or apron dress.
However, this doesn’t mean that the Viking women went without any form of chest support. The apron dress, a unique feature of Viking women’s clothing, was held up by a pair of oval brooches fastened at the chest. This design created a form of natural support, similar in a way to the support provided by a modern bra.
Moreover, a find from a 10th-century burial site in Lønne Hede, Denmark, included a woolen bandeau-like garment with sewn cups, which could indicate that some Viking women wore a garment somewhat similar to a modern bra. But it’s still a topic of debate among historians and archaeologists.
It’s important to remember that clothing in the Viking era was primarily functional, designed to protect the wearer from the elements and the demands of daily life. The idea of a garment intended solely to support or enhance the breasts is largely a modern concept.
Even though Viking women did not wear bras in the way we understand them today, they had their support and coverage methods woven seamlessly into their daily attire.
Did Vikings Wear Skirts?
The concept of Vikings wearing skirts may seem unusual based on our modern perceptions, but the reality is a bit more complex. It is important to remember that the terminology and concepts of clothing have evolved significantly over time.
In Viking society, men did not wear skirts as we understand them today. The primary garment for Viking men was a tunic, which was a long shirt reaching down to the knee. This was worn over trousers, which were typically loose and comfortable. While the tunic might resemble a skirt or a dress in some respects, it was a distinctly different garment.
On the other hand, Viking women wore a garment that might be considered a type of skirt. The typical female Viking outfit consisted of a long underdress with a suspended overdress or apron-dress, often referred to as a “hangerok.” The hangerok was open on the sides and fastened at the shoulders with a pair of brooches. While the hangerok might be viewed as a sort of skirt, it was a unique garment specific to the Viking era and region.
While Viking men did not wear skirts, the women wore unique, skirt-like garments as part of their typical attire. These outfits, practical and well-adapted to their lifestyle and climate, tell us much about Viking culture and the roles of men and women within their society.
What Did Vikings Wear in Battle?
Vikings are widely recognized for their martial prowess, and their battle attire reflects their practical approach to warfare. Still, it’s worth noting that what we often envision as traditional Viking warrior garb, heavily influenced by popular media, isn’t entirely accurate.
In battle, a Viking’s primary concern was protection. The majority of Viking warriors wore a thick woolen tunic which, while not armor in itself, provided a basic level of protection. Wealthier warriors could afford a mail shirt, or byrnie, which was a garment made from interlocking iron rings. This type of armor was highly effective at preventing cuts from swords and axes, though it was less useful against thrusting attacks or heavy blows.
Contrary to popular belief, Vikings did not wear horned helmets. Helmets were less common than one might think due to the difficulty and expense of producing them. When used, helmets were simple, usually made from several pieces of iron riveted together into a conical or rounded shape to deflect blows.
Vikings often carried round shields made of wood, covered in leather for additional strength. These shields were not only defensive equipment but also offensive weapons used to bash opponents.
For footwear, Vikings typically wore their everyday leather shoes or boots. Trousers were held up by a belt, which could also serve as a place to hang a knife or a pouch.
In essence, Viking battle attire was a mix of practicality and resource availability, designed for maximum protection with the resources they had at hand.
The clothing of the Vikings, characterized by its practicality and simplicity, is a testament to their adaptability and resilience in facing the harsh Nordic climate. While the popular image of Vikings may often be embellished with horned helmets and ostentatious garb, the reality was a people who valued functionality, comfort, and a touch of personal adornment in their attire.
The study of historical Viking clothing, traditional Viking clothing, and historical Viking women’s clothing allows us to better understand the Viking people, their lifestyle, their culture, and their remarkable history.
From the humble woolen tunic to the intricate patterns on a woman’s apron dress, Viking clothing is a fascinating blend of necessity, artistry, and culture. It is a rich tapestry that helps us unravel the intricate story of these legendary seafarers. As we continue to unearth and study Viking artifacts, we are reminded that these were not just fearsome warriors but also skilled artisans, navigators, traders, and explorers who left a profound impact on the world.