VIKING AGE CLOTHING

Have you tuned into History Channel's series Vikings and questioned if Ragnar really wore studded black leather with complex patterns and fur trim and if Lagertha really wore leather battle vests adorned with decorative chainmail? Medieval Scandinavians are greatly misrepresented by pop culture media to appear as dirty and rebellious heathens. In reality, the Vikings placed an importance on their appearance, with grave finds of luxurious silks, precious metal jewelry and trims, and portable hygiene tools such as combs and ear picks. 

The clothing that Vikings wore was influenced by their class in society. General societal groups were compised of Jarls, which were of noble aristocratic blood, Karls, ranging from mid to low ranking freemen, and finally Thralls which were slaves and property of others.

We'll start from Thralls and work our way up to the nobility.
 

Issig's layout of their personal belongings.

Since Thralls were the lowest class and property of others, they were not privy to any embellishments or individuality in their appearance. They were clothed only for decency and basic protection of the elements. Since Thralls didn't own any belonging themselves, their clothing was provided by their owners and was usually as little linen or woolen fabric as possible and of basic or undyed colours (Campell, 2010). It is likely they only wore a knee length tunic tied at the waist by a basic leather belt or rope. This fabric had loose weaves and was patched together to endure their labourous work.

 

The majority of people during the Viking age were of average Karl status. These individuals were hard workers providing basic necessities for themselves. Karls were able to obtain and create more fabric and some freedom to dye their clothes in colours from local flora.

MEN'S TUNICS

The average individual wore two layers of tunics to provide comfort and protection during their practical days. The undertunic may have been made from linen, which was more expensive but generally more comfortable on the skin. Sleeves of the undertunic would often be extended beyond the length of the overtunic, adding a visual cue for others that the individual could afford enough fabric for undergarments (Short, 2022). 

 

It is believed that tunics lengthed to just above the knees, and most of this evidence is from written accounts since there is little evidence of complete tunics.. The Viborg shirt is the only complete tunic discovered from the Viking period in Scandinavia (Fentz, 1989) displaying a snug fitting torso with recognizable square seam structures and ties to open the neck area, with an open seamed bottom half to allow free movement of the hips and core.

VIBORG TUNIC

Reconstruction of the Viborg shirt found in 1984, dating circa 1100 AD (Fentz, 1989).

Closeup of seaming of Issig Hrútrdóttir's interpretation of the Viborg shirt.

Sons of Fenrir reenactor Viðnir Ragnvaldsson donning his interpretation of the Viborg tunic.

As reenactors, the tunic most commonly created uses a keyhole neckline, loose arms and inclusion of an armpit gores, and additional gores on the sides of the torso to allow a greater range of movement, all in linen. The pattern is referred to as the Birka tunic.


The harsh weather of the Nordic area meant that individuals needed additional layers to protect them from winds, precipitation, and intense temperatures. Men wore wool overtunics which were called kyrtill, which had complex patterning but wasted very little fabric. These generally also used the Birka tunic pattern, with a few additional patterns such as the Skjoldehamn tunics.

BIRKA TUNIC

Reconstruction of the Viborg shirt found in 1984, dating circa 1100 AD (Fentz, 1989).