Viking Women's Dress

Whenever the term Viking is used today, it usually refers to the population living in Northern and Central Europe, especially in the Scandinavian area, from the beginning of the 8th century to the middle of the 11th century. Originally, however, the term did not designate an ethnicity, but rather the profession of bellicose seafaring.

Although the dresses of female Vikings generally varied across regions, findings near Haithabu and Birka exhibit certain commonalities: they indicate that Viking women usually wore ankle-length garments under various kinds of woolen or linen dresses, aprons, skirts, and coats. Those combinations were designed to protect wearers from the cold Northern climate.

Even during this early part of the Middle Ages the people were already dying their garments with colorants extracted from nuts, berries, or leaves and bark of various trees. Clasps or brooches were also commonly worn, both to hold clothes together and as self-adornment. In this manner, for instance, Viking women often used ornate brooches to join the straps of their aprons to the fronts of their dresses.

Findings of Viking dresses

One of the largest and most famous excavation sites in Northern Germany, near present-day Schleswig, is the ancient Viking town of Haithabu, where the discovered textiles are relatively well preserved. Archeologists descried the vestiges of a Viking apron dress, for instance, which, while it might appear inconsequential at first, grants us invaluable insight into everyday Viking clothing.

Myths surrounding Viking dresses

Many of the old Viking sagas mention shield maidens—women who charged into battle alongside the men. It is, however, not entirely proven whether that was actually the case or whether such shield maidens actually existed. The myths also lack any information about the garments of these female warriors, so that the question still remains unanswered—did the shield maidens venture into battle in their dresses or rather in specifically fashioned clothes?

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