Historical Norse Clothing Pt.1
Welcome to my first blog post in a monthly series! For this post, we will have a general overview of historical findings. Then onto Norse clothing, who wore what, and what the clothing was made from. The next posts will get much more in depth, and hopefully a show and tell workshop for those interested in the construction of Norse clothing.
It is not easy to gather strong evidence of what the Norse men and women wore during the Viking Era. Fabric and fibers break down easily and it is difficult to find intact garments.
We look to archaeological finds, historical accounts that have been preserved, and imagery that has survived time. Locations like Birka, Haithabu, Skjoldehamn and Thorsberg have yielded quite a bit of textiles and remnants for us to get an idea what clothing was like.
Archaeologists have also made a large discovery in the icy mountains of Norway last year. They uncovered quite a few artifacts as well as a tunic! The tunic is said to be dated back to the year 300, quite possibly the oldest clothing find. However, there may be quite a bit more as the ice melts down and they rush to collect and preserve what is hidden beneath. We will discuss these more in depth in the upcoming posts!
Lendbreen Tunic, found in Norway. (Lendbreen ice patch)
Photo: Secrets of the Ice
Meme from Redd.it
Video games and tv shows have been exploding with Norse culture and themes. With shows like Vikings and video games like Assassin’s Creed, you can’t blame people for wanting to release their “Inner Viking”. Unfortunately, the average ‘viking’ was a farmer, and their clothes were fairly simple. They wore linen and wool, and had few leather or armor items. Wealthier people would have such things, and more use for them. Leather was expensive for the common man, as well as swords, maille, helmets and the like.
Clothing and Fibers
What did the Norse people wear? What fibers did they use? Close examination of the textiles extracted tell us that most of the clothing was flax linen or wool. We have found that the clothes were made to be warm and durable, and fairly simple. For the most part, the Scandinavian countries had similar styles throughout. As travel and trade grew, clothing started to change in style as well as colors. The Norse people enjoyed colorful textiles, and trade made it possible to dye fibers of all sorts of different colors and shades.
Since it would get cold and wet in these countries, wool was the most common fiber to use. It was durable and warm, even when it got wet. It would be sheered from sheep, washed and carded. Then it would be spun into a skein for weaving. Wool would typically be made into a coat, cloak, hood, or felted socks and gloves.
Flax fibers were harvested and woven into linen. After harvesting, flax would be broken, scutched, combed and then brushed into fine fibers for spinning. Linen would also be made into dresses, tunics, and pants. Leg wraps, hose or leggings were also made. Clothing could be decorated with embroidery, or woven bands were stitched on as trim. Linen was worn in warmer weather, as it was light.
Men wore tunics and trousers with a thin leather belt to hold items like tools and pouches. A linen shirt would be worn under the tunic. The basic tunic was flared at the bottom, and reached down to mid thigh or to the knee. The sleeves could be short or long, and the length of pants also varied. Most pants were full length, and held with a woven band or rope at the waist. Woolen leg wraps were wrapped about the foot and leg, both for warmth and protection. Pelts were used in the winter.
Women’s Clothing Women had a linen undergarment that reached down to the ankles, or a little above. A woolen or linen apron dress would be worn over the bottom garment, and the length would be between mid calf or full length. Styles and construction varied. The straps of the apron dress would be tied in place, or pinned with brooches. Instead of a leather belt, women used a woven band about the waist. Although, it was common that women would use either one depending on what they liked. It wasn’t common, but a woman could wear trousers and tunic. This was more common with warrior women.
Since most Norse people were farmers, their clothes were more plain. Vibrant clothing, and clothing with extra fabric were usually for the wealthy, merchants and traders. Wool and flax fibers took a long time to harvest and process. It took a long time to spin and weave, and then make the clothing. The dying process depended on what resources were available, and importing resources made the garment or material much more expensive
Thank you for reading! Hopefully my future posts will bring a lot of insight to the reality of what was worn, and what is fantasy.
There will be more in depth posts in monthly installments, every third Friday.
“A Viking Archaeologist Shares 6 of the Most Fascinating Finds from a Slew of Recent Discoveries Made in Melting Ice.” Artnet News, 27 Jan. 2021, news.artnet.com/art-world/most-fascinating-viking-artifact-discoveries-1939220.
.“Viking Men: Clothing: Trousers and Breeches.” Www.urd.priv.no, www.urd.priv.no/viking/bukser.html#evidence. Accessed 24 Mar. 2022.
“The Vikings | Teaching Resources.” Www.tes.com, www.tes.com/teaching-resource/the-vikings-6118562. Accessed 24 Mar. 2022.
“Flax to Linen Display.” Life-Giving Linen, www.lifegivinglinen.com/flax-to-linen-display.html.
“Hurstwic: Clothing in the Viking Age.” Hurstwic.org, 2019, www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/clothing.htm.