The Vikings, a group of seafaring people from the late eighth to early 11th century, have been fascinated and intrigued for centuries. Their clothing, a significant aspect of their daily lives, has become a topic of interest for many historians, archaeologists, and enthusiasts alike. In this article, we will explore the Viking clothing history. We will also look at Vikings’ shoes and delve into historical and ancient Norse clothing.
Viking Clothing History
Viking clothing was mainly functional, intended to keep the wearers warm and protected from the harsh weather conditions of Scandinavia. The clothing was typically made from wool, linen, or animal skins, and the various garments were held together with brooches, pins, or belts. The clothing was generally straightforward, with little embellishment or decoration, although wealthier individuals might have worn more elaborate garments. Archaeological evidence and ancient Norse sagas provide much of our understanding of Viking clothing history.
Historical Viking Clothing
Over the years, archaeological findings and historical records have provided valuable insights into the clothing Vikings wore. While some garments have been preserved, much of our knowledge comes from interpreting the remnants of clothing found at burial sites and in various settlements. Norse sagas and artwork, such as the Bayeux Tapestry and Oseberg tapestry fragments, have also offered visual representations of Viking clothing.
Ancient Norse Clothing
Ancient Norse clothing, worn by the people who inhabited Scandinavia before the Viking Age, shares many similarities with Viking clothing. Like their Viking descendants, the old Norse people wore clothing made from wool, linen, and animal skins, and their garments were designed for functionality and protection from the harsh climate.
Yet, there were some differences in style and design. For instance, the tunics worn by ancient Norse men were typically shorter and more fitted than those worn by Vikings. Women’s clothing also evolved, with earlier garments being more simplistic and less embellished than those of the Viking Age.
What Did Viking Women Wear?
Viking women’s clothing was simple and practical, consisting of several layers for warmth and protection. The typical outfit consisted of a linen or woolen underdress, a longer dress or apron dress (hangerok), and a shawl or cloak. The apron dress was held up by two brooches, usually oval, attached to the front and back of the dress. The shawl or cloak provided additional warmth and was fastened with a brooch or pin.
Viking women’s hairstyles varied, but it was common for them to wear long hair, sometimes braided or tied up in a bun. For adornment, women often wore jewelry, such as brooches, necklaces, and arm rings. The jewelry was not only decorative but also served as a symbol of wealth and status.
Did Vikings Wear Bras?
No concrete evidence suggests that Viking women wore bras as we know them today. However, they did wear supportive undergarments as part of their clothing. The typical outfit for a Viking woman included linen or woolen underdress, which supported the breasts.
In addition to the underdress, Viking women wore an apron dress (a hangerok), a sleeveless, overdress held up by a pair of brooches at the shoulders. The apron dress also provided some support to the breasts, as the fabric was tightly wrapped around the chest and held in place by the brooches. While this arrangement was not exactly a bra, it did serve a similar function by providing some support and coverage for the breasts.
It is worth mentioning that some archaeological finds from the Viking Age have uncovered remnants of textiles with evidence of pleating, which some researchers have speculated could be part of supportive undergarments. But these interpretations are debated, and there is no consensus on whether these textile fragments represent bras or other garments.
What Shoes Did Vikings Wear?
Viking footwear consisted of simple leather shoes, boots, or wraps. The shoes were made from a single piece of leather and were fastened with leather laces or straps. Boots were more common in colder regions and were often lined with fur for extra warmth. Another option was leather wraps, which were strips wrapped around the foot and lower leg, providing a more flexible and lightweight form of footwear.
What Kind of Hats Did Vikings Wear?
Viking hats, as with the rest of their clothing, were primarily functional and designed to provide warmth and protection from the elements. While the popular image of Vikings wearing horned helmets is a myth, they wore various head coverings depending on the weather, occasion, and social status. Here are some examples of the types of hats Vikings might have worn:
- Woolen caps: Woolen caps or hats were common among the Vikings, especially during colder months or in colder regions. These caps were usually simple in design, featuring a rounded or conical shape that covered the head and ears. Wool was popular due to its insulating properties, durability, and availability in the region.
- Hoods: Vikings also wore hoods as separate garments or attached to a cloak or tunic. Hoods were practical, as they could be pulled up or down to provide varying levels of warmth and protection from the elements. Like caps, hoods were typically made from wool or sometimes from linen.
- Fur hats: In extremely cold climates, Vikings might have worn hats made from animal furs, such as reindeer, bear, or fox. Fur hats would have provided superior insulation and warmth compared to wool or linen hats. These hats could be simple, like a fur cap, or more elaborate, with fur-lined flaps to cover the ears and neck.
- Headbands: Vikings might have also worn simple headbands or strips of cloth to keep their hair out of their faces and provide minimal protection from the elements. These headbands could be made from linen, wool, or leather and might have been adorned with simple embroidery or other decorations.
- Ceremonial or high-status headgear: Although not common, some evidence suggests that higher-ranking individuals or those participating in ceremonies may have worn more elaborate headgear. For example, a few depictions of Viking chieftains show them wearing metal or leather helmets decorated with metal bands, animal figures, or other ornamentation. Still, these examples are rare and not representative of the average Viking’s headwear.
What Did Vikings Wear in Battle?
In battle, Vikings wore clothing and armor designed to provide protection and ease of movement. While Viking armor might not have been as sophisticated as that of other medieval European warriors, it was functional and effective. Here’s an overview of what Vikings wore in battle:
- Helmets: Contrary to popular belief, Viking helmets did not have horns. Viking helmets were typically made of iron and were designed to protect the head from blows. They often had a simple, conical shape with a rounded cap and a nose guard extending down the front to cover the face. Only a few Viking helmets have been discovered, leading historians to believe that they were not commonly worn by all warriors but were reserved for higher-ranking individuals or those who could afford them.
- Body Armor: Vikings wore the most common type of body armor, a chainmail hauberk, also known as a “byrnie.” This armor consisted of interlocking metal rings, which provided good protection against cutting and stabbing attacks. Yet, chainmail was expensive and time-consuming to produce, so not all Viking warriors would have worn it. Some warriors may have worn padded or leather armor, while others may have gone without body armor, relying on their shields and agility for protection.
- Clothing: Underneath their armor, Vikings wore linen or woolen tunics and trousers. These garments provided a layer of padding and comfort while protecting the body from chafing caused by the armor. In colder climates or during winter battles, Vikings might have added layers of fur or wool for warmth.
- Shields: Viking shields were a crucial part of their battle attire. They were usually round and made of wood, with a central iron boss for added strength and protection. Shields were used for defense and as an offensive weapon, with Vikings employing them to push, strike, or pin their opponents.
- Weapons: Viking warriors typically carried a range of weapons, including swords, axes, spears, and bows. They would choose their weapon based on personal preference, skill, and the specific demands of the battle.
Norwegian Viking Clothing
Norwegian Viking clothing was similar to that of Vikings in other regions of Scandinavia. But some regional differences in style and materials have been noted. Norwegian Vikings tended to wear more fur and animal skin clothing, particularly in colder regions. In addition, the archaeological site of Kaupang in Norway has provided valuable insights into the local Viking clothing, revealing that they used more colorful fabrics and embroidery in their garments.
How to Dress Like a Viking
If you’re interested in dressing like a Viking, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to achieve an authentic look:
- Start with the base layer: Wear a linen or woolen tunic and trousers for men. For women, wear linen or woolen underdress.
- Add the outer layer: Men should wear a long, knee-length woolen tunic, while women should wear an apron or longer dress.
- Keep warm: Add a cloak or shawl, fastened with a brooch or pin, for both men and women.
- Accessorize: Wear leather belts, pouches, and simple jewelry such as brooches, necklaces, and arm rings.
- Footwear: Opt for leather shoes, boots, or wraps, for a complete look.
The clothing worn by Vikings and ancient Norse people was primarily designed for practicality, with the primary goal of providing warmth and protection from the elements. Garments were made from materials such as wool, linen, and animal skins and were typically simple in design. On the other hand, wealthier individuals and regional variations led to more elaborate and decorative clothing. Viking women wore practical yet elegant outfits, while Norwegian Viking clothing often included more colorful and intricate details.
By understanding the clothing history of Vikings and the ancient Norse people, we gain valuable insights into their lives, culture, and social structure. Whether you’re simply curious about their attire or looking to dress like a Viking yourself, this article provides a comprehensive look into the clothing of these fascinating seafarers.