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How Do We Know How The Vikings Dressed?
Finding clothing intact after being buried for hundreds of
years is very unusual in archaeology. The fabrics people used
in the past were made from wool and linen. Being organic, they
quickly rotted. Very little is left for archaeologists to find
In Scandinavia archaeologists have managed to find some
clothing fragments, especially clothing belonging to Viking
women. Since it was customary to bury Viking women in full
traditional dress and with all of their personal belongings
beside them, some pieces of fabric survived usually underneath
metal jewelry such as the brooches.
This was not the case for the Viking men, however. When a
Viking warrior died or was killed in battle, he was first
dressed in full battle dress. The warrior was then cremated,
destroying not only his body, but all of the clothing. His
ashes and all of his weapons were then entombed in burial
mounds. Some of these graves were outlined with stones that
were carefully placed to resemble a Viking ship. Because they
were so easily discovered by looters, many graves were robbed
of their valuables over the ages. Only historical records,
tapestries (large murals) and stone carvings have provided
enough details to give us a complete picture of how Viking men
Viking Fashions For Men and Women
The clothing styles of Viking men and women depended on three
things; 1. where in Scandinavia they lived, 2. their
importance in a village and 3. how rich or poor they were.
While all Vikings did not dress exactly alike, there were many
similarities in the type and style of clothing worn. It is
certain that as Vikings met each other, they exchanged ideas
about many aspects of their lives, including clothing styles.
Viking men and women dressed more for purpose and comfort and
less for fashion. The clothing worn suited the jobs they were
doing. And, because the Scandinavian climate is cold, the
clothes were a snug fit, not baggy as they were in warmer
The Vikings loved bright colours. The linen and wool used to
make their clothing was often brightly coloured using dyes
extracted from various types of plants that grew naturally
near their villages or in their vegetable gardens. Bright reds
and blues came from berries. Green and yellow came from
vegetables. Earthen pigments, like brown and black, came from
Every Viking household had its own weaving machine. Linen and
wool were spun into fibers which were woven into large pieces
of fabric and finally fashioned into clothing. Because making
clothes was very time-consuming, the cut of each piece was
simple. Most pieces were pulled over the head. Necklines and
armholes were made by not completely sewing the seam. Winter
clothing, which consisted mainly of wools and animal hides,
were cut and sewn the same way.
The Vikings often returned from their European raids with fine
wool cloth and silk. Since these were very expensive, they
were used mainly by wealthy Vikings like kings, earls and
Viking Female Clothing
The average Viking woman wore an ankle-length dress made of
linen. She also wore a long apron over the dress to protect it
from being soiled by her many household chores. She also
carried some household items including a knife, a pair of
scissors, fingernail cleaners and keys. These either hung from
a belt worn around the waist or from a brooch attached to the
apron about shoulder high. These items were carried this way
because Viking clothing had no pockets.
To complete her outerwear, a Viking women covered the dress
and apron with a shawl. It was also fastened with a brooch at
the base of her neck. The shawl hung down her back but could
be brought forward for extra warmth, particularly when working
outside. Her shoes were made of leather. For increased warmth,
the fur was worn inside. Knee-length wool leggings completed
If a Viking woman was married, she wore a tight fitting head
band or scarf that was knotted near the base of each ear. This
type of garment is fashionable even today.
Viking girls wore smaller sized versions of their mothers'
The most common finds at many Viking archaeological
excavations across Scandinavia are clasps, pins and brooches.
Since the Vikings rarely used buttons or had no zippers,
brooches were used to fasten clothing. They were first used by
men to fasten a linen or fur cloak. Later, women used them as
a fastener for dresses, aprons and shawls. It was only late in
the Viking Age that brooches were considered a piece of
Some of the brooches recovered from dig sites are hallow
underneath and are often round or oval in shape. Others are
shaped like animals. All are made of silver, bronze or iron.
Needle brooches were also found but they are made of bone and
were worn by poorer Viking women.
Brooches were used to fasten the back and front pieces of the
dress and apron. When worn near each other, the brooches were
often connected with a chain or string of glass beads. These
beads often indicated wealth.
Vikings loved bright jewelry too. Viking artisans made
exquisite pieces of jewelry from silver, bronze, gold and
bone. They made brooches, finger rings, arm-rings, bracelets,
pendants, ear rings and necklaces. The designs were based on
everyday objects in their lives. Others pieces were based on
designs observed in jewelry looted on raids in other parts of
the world. Variations on designs seen in other parts of Europe
were common in Viking jewelry. The richer the family, the more
jewelry they owned. As it is today, jewelry was considered a
The Vikings used silver to buy and sell anything they needed
but could not make or grow themselves. Because most Viking
jewelry was made of silver, brooches, rings and pendants were
often used in place of coins. When payment for goods was
required, a sliver of silver was cut from a piece of jewelry.