Intro to Viking Clothing

Intro to Viking Clothing

Have you ever wondered what Vikings wore? There is a lot to look at when it comes to the clothing of the Viking age, from the materials to the historical record of the garments. In this article, we hope to give you an intro to Viking clothing. We will not be diving too deeply into the clothing of men or women at this time. For a more in-depth look at men’s clothing during the Viking Age, we will have an upcoming article on the topic. Similarly, we will also have a more in depth look at women’s clothing during the Viking age in the future as well. For this article, we look at the general picture of Viking clothing.

Where We Get Most Info

Few fabric remnants from the Viking Age remain. So how do we know what they wore? Well, historians get info from a few different sources. The main source comes from archaeological finds. Of course, fabric decomposes, so most extant examples are small. These examples have appeared in various ways.

One way was that the Vikings would use worn-out clothing for other purposes such as torches or in shipbuilding. Some of their torches were never lit, and thus the tar or pitch put on them preserved the fabric. The use of worn-out clothing in shipbuilding meant that a whole pair of men’s pants survived when normally the fabric would have disappeared. Another way the weave of a fabric was accidentally preserved was through jewelry. Chemicals in the clothing would etch the jewelry that it was resting against, thus preserving the thread count and style of the fabric even while the fabric disintegrated.

In addition to archaeological finds, the various sagas and other written texts such as laws tell us more. They give us clues to not only what kinds of garments were worn but also the societal implications of some. For example, the Kjalnesinga saga describes one person’s outfit that the characters in the story find ridiculous. Other stories give clues to how and when certain clothing was worn as well as who wore them.

Intro to Viking Clothing
A pair of reconstructed garments based on graves dated to the 900s, Image from the National Museum of Denmark by Roberto Fortuna

Materials and Processing

For the Vikings, nearly all clothing pieces were made of either linen or wool. While textiles such as silk existed, it was very expensive, therefore kept to the wealthiest and rare in overall Viking society. Linen for the Vikings came from flax. This is the most common source for it today as well since hemp linen is rarer. The flax plants must go through a laborious process to be made into linen. This process was done by the women of the household. It was skilled labor. The women would also process the wool from sheep for clothing. Most undergarments consisted of linen fibers, while most outer garments were wool.

These fibers could then be made into cloth. There were a few ways to make it. For smaller pieces, tablet weaving was utilized. This method was easiest for pieces of trim or leg wraps, called Winingas. Weaving them rather than cutting them ensured that they didn’t fray as easily at the edges and therefore lasted longer.

Once the cloth was prepared for the clothing, then the dyeing process could begin. The Vikings could enjoy a range of colors, from browns and yellows to reds and blues. The vibrancy and brightness of the colors would help to indicate the wealth of the Viking. This is because more vibrant colors often required multiple runs through the dyeing process. Since the process for making clothing was so laborious, even for simple items, clothes were relatively expensive compared to other household goods. This meant that the Vikings carefully maintained their clothing and had few pieces of clothing.

Intro to Viking Clothing
Reproduction of the clothes of the Mammen prince from Jutland Denmark, Image from the National Museum of Denmark

Clothing Styles

As mentioned previously, we will not be diving too deeply into womens and men’s Viking clothing here. However, we will note that across different areas and locations, the general dress for Viking women did not vary greatly and neither did men’s clothing. This means that most Viking women and men, regardless of location, wore the same general clothing with some variation to color or decoration. These variations most likely had more to do with wealth than with location. Also, unlike today, there was not a clothing style for children. At the moment, historians believe that children likely wore what adults wore, just sized down. Of course, regardless of gender, the Vikings had to dress for the weather and their clothing reflected this. Wool was more popular for colder weather and linen for warmer weather.

There is a lot to look at when it comes to Viking clothing, from the materials used to styles and more. Here, we gave an intro to Viking clothing. In future articles, we will dive deeper into men’s Viking clothing and women’s Norse garments.

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