It is very difficult to say for definite what the Vikings wore, as clothing just rots away when buried and all we have left is a few pieces preserved through contact with metal, on the backs of brooches for example. The rest of our information has to be gathered through other sources such as pictures on stones, art and sagas or stories.
Swedish pendant of woman in Viking dress.
Fig. 1.  Swedish pedant showing a woman wearing a trailing dress and shawl with a festoon of beads hanging probably from a brooch on each shoulder. Her hair falls loosely from a knot behind her head.
   Ibn Fadlan's famous account of the Russia Viking women's dress:

Silk cuff.
   We know that most clothes were made of either linen or wool, woven and dyed at home with vegetable and minerals. The quality and design of the clothes depended very much on the wearer's status as the rich could afford finer fabrics and expensive dyes. Feast or special occasion clothes would be lavish, decorated with embroidery in silver and gold threads, and even silk from China. The poor had to make do with plain garments of coarse undyed cloth.
Fig. 2.  Part of a cuff showing embroidery in silver thread.

The making of clothes was a very intense process. First the sheep had to be shorn by hand and the wool collected; then it was washed and the bits picked out; then combed, spun and finally woven into fabric. Linen was obtained from the flax plant, which had to be harvested, rotted, beaten, combed, spun and finally woven, the whole process taking about three weeks.

   Viking men loved colour and decoration. As traders and raiders, they would have had ample opportunity to get their hands on rich dyes and elaborate jewellery, all of which they wore to great effect. Their dress consisted of an under-tunic; an over-tunic; trousers; footwear; lots of jewellery; a belt; headwear, and a coat. Less wealthy Vikings' clothes would be more simple without the under-tunic and a cloak instead of the coat. One complete Viking costume, which has been excavated, still had traces of dye adhering to the fabrics. When reconstructed this costume was very elaborately decorated and had orange, red, and pink colours in it.

Neddle, spindle-whorls and textile fragments.
Fig. 3.  Spindle-whorls, needles and textile fragments from York.
Reconstructed Viking costume.
   The women had two very different styles of dress, one for everyday wear and one for special occasions. This special costume, would really only have been worn by the very wealthy individuals and consisted of:

An under-dress
most probably a pleated linen dress, reaching to the ankles with long or short sleeves and an open neck closed with a brooch or drawstring. One example from Denmark was a type of wool coat lined with down.
An optional over-tunic
a simple wool or linen dress.
An apron or hangerock
two rectangles of fabric with shoulder straps fastened by brooches. No belt buckles have been found in women's graves, but they may have used fabric belts, as a Viking saga describes a women whose dress was pulled in at the waist to show off her figure.
A train
possibly silk and pleated, also attached to the brooches.
A shawl
a triangle of thick fabric or fur, possibly lined with feathers fastened in front with a brooch.
Some form of headwear
once married Viking women liked to cover their heads with some form of headscarf. Young girls wore their hair loose, tied in a knot or with a head-band.
Lots of jewellery
neck, finger and arm rings, beads, brooches and pendants were all worn. The more jewellery, the richer you are.
Some footwear
simple leather ankle boots or shoes with a flat sole.
Personal items
hung from the brooches; knife, comb, scissors, needle-case, etc.
Fig. 4.  Reconstructed Viking costume worn at the Yarmouth Viking Festival 1998. (You can see this costume in detail on the 'Specific Costumes' page.)
   The everyday dress would most probably have been a simple wool dress worn over a similar linen one (after all who wears their Sunday best to weed the garden!).
   These objects were found in the grave of a young woman and her newborn baby in Orkney. She had died soon after giving birth, which happened a lot in Viking times.
   The weaving sword was used to beat up the fabric on the loom to tighten the weave.
   The sickle was probably used in harvesting.
Grave goods.

 

© Rosie Monument 2001
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