Thursday, September 09, 2010

Viking Fashion

Two women-figures in silver from the Viking period, Sweden.

An experiment! I imagine the woman to the left has a fur collar and fur-pompoms on the red woolen cape, the woman to the right has a cape in gold-brocade.

Clothes for Viking men and women are known from some findings, especially in a tapestry from the Oseberg-ship in Norway. In the male dress the Viking was seen in full coat of mail with a white-painted shield and a spear, in his civilian clothes he also had his indispensable spear. The civilian dress is a coat or pea jacket coming to the middle of the thigh or a little higher; it has long sleeves, maybe a belt , but usually loose-fitting. But it is tailor-made with a dart like in a tight-waisted coat. This coat is also known from Gotland picture-stones, and a coat almost similar is seen on the Lindisfarne reliefs.

There are two kinds of pants on the Oseberg tapestry, either long and tight, or wide and puffy, almost like plus-fours or golf-pants. They are also seen at the Gotland picture-stones. The Arab Ibn Rosta once mentioned in the 10th century these Rus-merchants with their excessive fabric-rich trousers, which were fastened at the knees. At a stone from Gotland two Vikings wear wide trousers , which look as they are supported by an inner "construction" like in a crinoline. Trousers like that were probably made for rich, aristocratic people. The fashion was and is still dictated not only by vanity, but also by a desire to display one's riches.

A third piece of cloth belonging to the male Viking dress was a long cape, which ended in 2 ends, almost reaching the ground and worn in various ways, the ends stood either outh to both sides or front and back. This cape is also known from Gotland. Canute the Great is pictured elegantly dressed in an English manuscript , which shows the king and his queen below hovering angels, placing a large golden cross upon the altar in New Minster in Winchester.

The woman's dress is also shown in the Oseberg tapestry. Furthermore a textile expert Agnes Geijer has studied cloth-rests from the graves at Birka (in Sweden) and has given a valuable contribution to our knowledge about the aristocratic or more wealthy woman's dress in the Viking period. Next to the skin the woman wore a fine pleated shift or shirt, above this the gown, sleeveless and in two parts and hanging in straps in two oval bronze-buckles upon the chest. The gown was foot-long with a train. Above the gown a shorter or longer sleeveless cape. The Viking-lady probably looked impressive with train and an abundance of fabrics, with pearl-necklaces and oval breast-jewelry, from where hang fine chains with scissors, needle-case, knife and keys.

Her hair was tied in a heavy chignon, gathered in a hairnet or under a head-cloth. Young girls might have dressed less conventional, like the girl upon the Oseberg-waggon, who whore a short skirt and long boots. The male Viking was often pictured with a pointed or round-crowned cap in fabric or coat/ leather. The woman also wore a cap or a cap-like head-wear. From the Oseberg-finding were women-shoes in tanned leather.

The Vikings loved luxury.There have been found exquisite dress-finery in their graves, mainly in Birka. Chinese silk, Byzantic and oriental gold-thread embroidery made in the most complicated technique, there are passementeries, heavy gold-brocade and braidings in the best quality. The silk is of course imported, and several other things, but the brocade-work has often an unmistakeable Nordic style.

A Nordic warrior's luxury equipment is seen in a grave from Mammen in Mid Jutland, where the dead was lying with his silver-inlaid war axe and with an eiderdown pillow under his head. Only small pieces of his cape were left with an embroidery in a free pattern. Most well-preserved were his two bracelets in woolen-pad silk, interwoven with gold-thread, and two extremely finely made streamer-shaped silken bands, where the mid fields were sewn with gold thread in a very artificial winding-pattern. Probably were these two bands the warrior's headband, the diadem-like headband, which in the Sagas is known as the "hlad". Even the toughest Viking liked to smarten himself up. According to the Saga the most ferocious of the Njal-sons, Skarphedin, wore his fine silken-hlad on his forehead, when he went to the Thing.

Source: Johannes Brøndsted, "Vikingerne", Gyldendal, 1960.

sketch: gb

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