19 August 2014

Everyday Fashions: The Vikings + flash giveaway

By Michelle Styles

To a certain extent, it is hard to know precisely what Viking women wore and how they wore their hair. The are no portraits of Viking women and very few representations of them in statues or on coins (the usual sources for such things).

However, unlike Christians in this period, their graves can be full of grave goods but textiles are rarely preserved. Enough scraps have been found to attest that the Vikings seem to prefer bright colours and good quality cloth. It is known that sometimes cloth was given as a high status gift, particularly silk. 

We know that women wore two broaches which fastened their apron dress to a long under-gown.  The apron dress might or might not be pleated. Sometimes the long under gown had a train. The under gowns always seem to have gone to the floor.  Given the types of cloth found, plus the fragments of looms, we know the gowns were often trimmed with  embroidery or gold or silver shot ribbon.

Reproduction of a Viking woolen apron dress
The shape and decoration of the broaches indicated where in the Viking world the women came from but most were oval. And when they are discovered in a grave, it is a huge indication that the grave belongs to a Viking woman.

Around their waist, they often wore a chain  or chatelaine where the keys to various trunks and items used for personal grooming such as an ear-spoon or tweezers. It is postulated that a Viking woman’s status is very much tied to the quality of her chatelaine and the various objects which hung from it.

We know from an Arab account about a visit to Hedeby, Viking woman wore eye make up to increase their beauty. There is some evidence that men wore eye makeup as well!

As necklaces of beads are often found in graves, we can assume that women wore beads. The beads are often imported, showing that they did help give the woman status.

On her head, she most likely wore a line head dress which tied under the chin.

In cold weather, she might a cloak with fasten on one shoulder. Depending on her status, it might be made of fur.

As the Viking Age progressed, there is evidence that women abandoned their traditional style of dress to ape the fashions of the Carolingian and later Ottoinan courts. Basically, the oval broaches start disappearing from the graves and more silver pendants are found.

Various items would hang from the belt as they did not have pockets.

For men, everyday clothing consisted of a long tunic, belted over trousers. They wore leather shoes laced up around the ankle. Any cloak would be fastened with a single broach.
The clothes were simple but functional. It was rare for cross-dressing but it could occasionally happen. For example a woman who was a shield maiden might wear masculine dress to emphasize her status. If the sagas are to be believed, when she stops being a shield maiden, she returns to female dress.

Michelle Styles is offering  a signed copy of her latest book SAVED BY THE VIKING WARRIOR to one commentator. The winner will be chosen from the comments on Friday 22 August. Void where prohibited

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide range of time periods, including the Viking. Her latest SAVED BY THE VIKING WARRIOR is published today 19 August 2014.


CrystalGB said...

It is fascinating to learn about dress during that time period. Thanks for the giveaway.

Claire B Goodbody said...

Is it always presumed that the women wore skirts or does that come from evidence? Thanks, Claire.

Andy Pandy said...

Is this international? If it is I would like to participate with this comment. I think the time of the vikings is one of the most mysterious ones, but yet one of the most vivid and full of life. It is very interesting to know how women used to dress at the time.


Michelle Styles said...

Thank you all for commenting. Yes, I do ship anywhere in the world.

Claire the evidence that women wore skirts, rather than trousers, comes from the various statuettes that were found, the other representations of women and the graves of Viking women tend to have the distinctive broaches.
In some of the sagas about shield maidens (and there is a debate as if they existed! I think they did) it would seem that they did wear trousers and when they stopped being a shield maiden, they put on female clothes. IN other sources, there does seem to be a strong delineation between what men did and what women did. Therefore I think it is safe to assume that they did wear gowns.
Equally when various gods are pretending to be women (Loki and Thor at the bridal feast for example) they wear dresses. Trousers when worn by Viking women seem to be saying *I am engaged in masculine pursuits*.

Unknown said...

Isn't it amazing how much we can learn from sifting the evidence and then putting at together with significant insights. Here I am sitting in Australia absorbed by what I read of Viking dress and absolutely loving it.

Ian Lipke

Coralie Clune said...

I agree Ian. We are so far away from all things Viking here in Australia, but I learn't a bit about them at our local Abby Medieval Festival. It is indeed fascinating.Thank you Michelle Styles. I had not heard of Shield Maidens and I intend to look into that further. It sounds very interesting.
Coralie Clune

Coralie Clune said...


Michelle Styles said...

I put the comments into a hat (one per comentator) ANd the first one picked was Coralie Clune. I will send you an email Corlie so that I can your postal address.
Thank you all for your cmments.

Ian -- One thing I love about dark age history is that there remains a huge amount of evidence to sift. We don't even really know what we have got. I suspect it is far more than we think...

Unknown said...

Hi Michelle,
Your point is well taken. I choose to write about the Australian aborigines whose presence in my country goes back 40 000 years. Very few novelists pay them more than scant attention. There is a belief that the various tribes all dwelt in harmony with each other. My story attacks that idea. I don't think a white skin means that we alone have a pugnacious gene. I'm a bit controversial. There is absolutely no written history of aboriginal life before the coming of the whites.