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.
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.
Fadlan's famous account of the Russia Viking women's dress:
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.
Fig. 3. Spindle-whorls,
needles and textile fragments from York.
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
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.
possibly silk and pleated, also
attached to the brooches.
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
simple leather ankle boots or shoes
with a flat sole.
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.)
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!).
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
The weaving sword was used to beat up the fabric on the
loom to tighten the weave.
The sickle was probably used in harvesting.