Friday, 27 March 2009

Viking Men - in detail

So, you want to be a Viking. Let's dive into the details.

The trousers: I can't see enough of them to know how accurate they are, but they definitely shouldn't be black. A brown/black dye with walnut shells and iron was possible but not common. A bright colour, with red as the most popular, would be more accurate. There should also be leg-wrappings, a strip of cloth wrapped around the leg from below the knee to ankle.

The smock, or undershirt: I don't see one but I hope it's there - because it should be.

The tunic: There should be gores cut on either side to make the bottom of the tunic fuller. I can't tell whether this is the case, but if so they're rather stingy. The colour is fine, the material is good. There should either be bands of plain silk in a bright colour at all edges of the tunic, or tablet-woven bands at the neck and arms (or trim that imitates tablet weaving). Long strips of tablet weaving from shoulders to hem, or down the arms, or parallel bands sewn somewhere at the chest, are also possible. The location of the trim isn't too far off, and I can't see it well enough in this image to see whether it looks much like tablet weaving.

The jacket: The jacket should overlap rather like a bathrobe, and should be hip-length. It also seems to have shrunk in the wash - the sleeves ought to go right to the wrist. I think the colour in the photo is a dark woad/indigo blue; if so, that's fine.

The cloak: there should be one to complete the costume, even over the jacket. You go to northern Sweden in mid-winter and tell me you wouldn't like another layer.

The helmet: obviously an imitation of Sutton Hoo. Sutton Hoo is in East Anglia. Green and blue dyes were most popular in Sweden. Think harder about those bright reds. A note, I suggest wearing full armour if you're going to fight, and taking off the helmet if you aren't. A tablet-woven headband is the alternative headgear.

The belt: With an overtunic, a cloth or tablet-woven belt is much more likely. The closest historical belt to the one in the photo would be a leather belt with wide, flat metal plaques, an oval buckle, and hanging ends weighed down with metal strap-ends. Not very close.

Ornaments: To add a bit of authenticity, definitely go for a pendant - a Thor's hammer between two beads would be a common choice. Consider a large twisted torc if you're showing off your importance. There are also many finds of gold rings.

Gear: The shield is fine, although you'll want to get that painted. The little knife/sword/thingy, though, is hysterical. What's that going to be when it grows up?

Overall, if you're renting a costume for a day or getting started, this isn't bad at all and it can be improved further with the right belt, jewelry, leg-wrappings, cloak, etc. If you're making a movie, showing up to a museum, or accuracy is important, though, then also go for brighter colours, silk-strip edgings (easier than tablet weaving), a tunic with a fuller lower part, and a jacket that wraps.


  1. Thanks for the Viking garb lesson. This post is great!

  2. that little sword thingie is a Saxon Scramseax but does look ridiculous in the pictures context. It's the lame sheath that bothers me. Scramseax sheaths were hung horizontal and heavily decorated and presumed to be a status symbol of a free man. the more wealthy the man, the more decorated the sheath.
    The helm is not a sutton hoo imitation it is a Gjermundbu helm imitation with added cheek flaps which were not at all common for the Viking age.
    I dissagree with the torc suggestion since they are not found in Viking age digs but rather Iron age bog deposits and would encourage a silver or gold neckring for a wealthy individual.
    I disagree with your belt suggestion as well, Belt finds during the VA are very narrow and leather seems to be the rule.
    His shield should be a whole lot thinner and have some sort of facing over the wood and then painted.
    He's trying hard but I still wouldn't allow him on my living history display.