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Vikings Did Not Dress the Way We Thought

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Eureka Alert, February 25, 2008

Public release date: 25-Feb-2008
Contact: Johanna Blomqvist
Uppsala University

Vivid colors, flowing silk ribbons, and glittering bits of mirrors — the Vikings dressed with considerably more panache than we previously thought. The men were especially vain, and the women dressed provocatively, but with the advent of Christianity, fashions changed, according to Swedish archeologist Annika Larsson.

“They combined oriental features with Nordic styles. Their clothing was designed to be shown off indoors around the fire,” says textile researcher Annika Larsson, whose research at Uppsala University presents a new picture of the Viking Age.

She has studied textile finds from the Lake Mälaren Valley, the area that includes Stockholm and Uppsala and was one of the central regions in Scandinavia during the Viking Age. The findings, some of which were presented in her dissertation last year, show that what we call the Viking Age, the years from 750-1050 A.D., was not a uniform period. Through changes in the style of clothing we can see that medieval Christian fashions hit Sweden as early as the late 900s and that new trade routes came into use then as well. The oriental features in clothing disappeared when Christianity came and they started to trade with the Christian Byzantine and Western Europe.

“Textile research can tell us more about the state of society than research into traditions. Old rituals can live on long after society has changed, but when trade routes are cut off, there’s an immediate impact on clothing fashions,” says Annika Larsson.

She maintains that Swedish Viking women in the pre-Christian period probably dressed much more provocatively than we previously believed. She bases her theory on a new find uncovered in Russian Pskov, close to Novgorod and the eastward trade routes then plied from Sweden. The find consists of extensive remnants of a woman’s attire, which Annika Larsson claims does not square with the traditional picture of how Viking women dressed.

Previously it was thought that Viking women wore a long suspender (brace) skirt, with both the front and back pieces consisting of square sections, held together by a belt. Clasps, often regarded as typical of the Viking Age, were attached to the suspenders roughly at the collar bone. Under this dress they wore a linen shift, and on top of it a woolen shawl or sweater.

“The grave plans from excavations at Birka outside Stockholm in the 19th century show that this is incorrect. The clasps were probably worn in the middle of each breast. Traditionally this has been explained by the clasps having fallen down as the corpse rotted. That sounds like a prudish interpretation,” says Annika Larsson.

She maintains instead that the Birka women’s skirts consisted of a single piece of fabric and were open in front. The suspenders held up the train and functioned as a harness that was fastened to the breasts with the clasps. Annika Larsson’s theory is strengthened by that fact that a number of female figures have been preserved whose outfits both have trains and are open in front. But if we are to believe the archeological finds, this style of clothing disappeared with the advent of Christianity.

“It’s easy to imagine that the Christian church had certain reservations about clothing that accentuated the breasts in this way and, what’s more, exposed the under shift in front. It’s also possible that this clothing was associated with pre-Christian rituals and was therefore forbidden,” she believes.

viking female dress viking male dress
Left. Viking women’s clothing consisted of a single piece of fabric with a train, an opening in front, and clasps that accentuated the breasts. The apparel in the picture is on display at Museum Gustavianum, Uppsala University. The outfit is worn by Anna Lavgren, who also sewed it.
Right. Swedish viking men’s fashions were modeled on styles in Russia to the east. Archeological finds from the 900s uncovered in Lake Mälaren Valley accord with contemporary depictions of clothing the Vikings wore on their travels along eastern trade routes to the Silk Road. The outfit in the picture is on display at Museum Gustavianum, Uppsala University.

Photo credits: Annika Larsson

Original article

(Posted on February 27, 2008)

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Listen, I’ve been telling people all along that blonds dressing in little or nothing connects me to my roots. Viva la miniskirt!

Posted by Suburban Refugee at 7:17 PM on February 27

Just watched “Beowulf” the other day and the Danes were wearing clothing similar to the clothing in the picture. Angelina Jolie’s character wasn’t wearing anything like that in the picture above. In fact, she wasn’t wearing anything at all.

Posted by Howard in Las Vegas at 7:24 PM on February 27

Now if ony the modern day Nordics could get as excited about saving their countries, people, and culture from non-white destruction as their ancestors were about fashion, we could possibly get something going. I can see future Nordic fashions if things keep going the way they are; Islamic and sub-saharan wear will be all the rage.

Posted by Baron at 8:26 PM on February 27

Lovely clothes….lovely people….and they are all WHITE….WONDERFUL too bad they let other races come into their countries…they won’t be white long….

Posted by lydia at 8:39 PM on February 27

And here we thought they wore ball caps sideways, gigantic t-shirts, overly expensive gym shoes, underwear showing, and their pants hanging down their asses.

“Textile research can tell us more about the state of society than research into traditions,” says Annika Larsson.

What will historians of the future say of the gangsta giddyup favored by so many of America’s bottom-feeders? Perhaps many of us have already made the declarative statement.

Posted by Annoyed In Illinois at 9:15 PM on February 27

A while back on either A&E; or Discovery, after the Roman empire had split into the East and West empires, they portrayed them as wearing trousers and boots . More like Medieval garb, drab colors, chain mail with very plain iron helmets . It surprised me, it just didn’t fit my stereo-type of a Roman trooper . As to the accuracy of what I was watching, I wouldn’t know .But it is a very interesting subject . How did the Huns dress ? What did they look like ? On another show they portrayed the Scythians ?, who had somehow bucked the Romans and brought their wrath upon them, as wearing plaid trousers . Which really surprised me . How would we even come close to knowing except of course by Roman records ? It’s very interesting to me, the possibilities would be endless . The Goths,the Vandals, the Celts, the Alans, the ancient Jews, Syrians, Philistines and on and on .

Posted by at 9:28 PM on February 27

9:28 wrote: “How did the Huns dress?”
Yes, what do illegal aliens wear these days?

Posted by at 11:06 PM on February 27

According to the Hagar the horrible comic strip, all Vikings wore horned helmuts. I hope that hasn’t changed.

Posted by flyingtiger at 12:10 AM on February 28

I was in Norway last year. They said that Vikings with the horned caps is a complete myth made up in America. I guess it’s the same thing like the myth of intelligent civilizations coming out of black Africa.

Posted by SG at 9:09 AM on February 28

” if things keep going the way they are; Islamic and sub-saharan wear will be all the rage.”

I think it’s a little too cold in Oslo for ‘sub-saharan wear’.

Posted by at 11:12 AM on February 28

11:06 pm, are you saying the Huns dressed as did the Romans ? A possibility I guess . Another interesting point here many of you may already be aware of, Aetius of Rome had to live with the Huns as an adolescent .He grew up right along side of Atilla . This was a Roman custom . Can you imagine being told as a 10 year old you were going to have to live with the Huns ? Later it would be Aetius’ army who would fight Atilla to what most historians consider to be a draw but undoubtedly very much speeded the collapse of the Hunnic empire . Despite their innovative calvary tactics and their invention of the short, bone reinforced, laminate, recurve bow this multicult empire was nothing more than a flash in the pan . But who were they ? Do we even know ? Mongol or mongrel, or white ? The one surviving image of Atilla on a Roman medallion shows him with a schnozolla that would make Jimmy Durante blush .

Posted by at 2:23 PM on February 28

Regarding horned helmets: I understand that a single horned helmet was found in a Viking grave decades ago. I suppose that it was accepted by the public, if not the professional archeologists, as typical because it’s so cool. As a piece of defensive headgear, it’s a bad idea. Some Briton might swing an axe at your head and miss by six inches, but with those horns sticking up, he still might break your neck. Think of the horns as the Viking equivalent of fuzzy dice hanging from your rear view mirror.

Posted by Schoolteacher at 2:52 PM on February 28

The basic function of these garments was not overwhelmed by ostentatiousness. Imagine yourself in that period; no phone, no lights, no motor car - not a single luxury! More primitive cultures would embellish themselves with ornate and garish garments - because that was the totality of their focus! The Europeans, even though they enjoyed a moderate amount of “bling” focused their attention on more important things like wheels, boats, and government!
As I walk down the street today and see the total abandonment of functionality in garments - brims of hats intended to protect the eyes from the sun turned away, pants worn so low that they restrict movement - I wonder to myself “How are we becoming the conquered”?

Posted by Dave at 6:38 PM on February 28

Look sort of like Norwegian or Swedish folk clothes from a hundred years ago.

Posted by Brendan at 7:39 PM on February 28

I’m very leery about this article and its conclusions. Viking women dressed “provocatively”? Oh please! You tell me what’s provocative about that dress! In fact, you show me ANY traditional society, ANYWHERE, that dressed “provocatively”. Such clothing — even such a notion — is a hallmark of modern western societies — beginning about the time of the Renaissance.

This article is written from the contemporary, sex-obsessed view of the modern sex-sodden West. This silly female academic has sex on her brain. I strongly suspect that if you could resurrect an ancient Swede and explain to him or her the present interpretation of what their clothing was all about, they would find it uproriously funny.

Well, that’s my two cents.

Posted by browser at 6:39 PM on March 1

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