Viking Women Dressed Colorful and Daring

Female Viking Dress Sweden

Anna Lövgren wearing the female Viking Age costume which she has reconstructed. (Photo: Museum Gustanavium)

If you have been watching the History Channel Vikings series and movies from the time period you may get the impression that the Vikings dressed in colorless wadmal and worn leather rags. The excavation of the Oseberg grave (834 AD) and other Scandinavian burial mounds reveal a different truth: Women dressed in bright colors with silk ribbons and mirror fragments and used brooches and jewelry as decoration.

Viking trade routes stretched from Ireland in the west to Persia in the east, and inside the Oseberg grave over hundred small pieces of colorful Persian silk with beautiful patterns were found. In the Gokstad burial mound archaeologists found thin strips of hammered gold, probably of Chinese origin.

In the Viking Age women dressed more daring than we have thought, at least before Christianity made ​​its appearance. Oriental details were combined with Nordic style. The clothes were designed to be worn indoors, around the fireplace.

Daring Dresses

In a modern perspective, the dress hardly looks daring, but it is still much more daring than the dresses we have assumed that Viking women wore.

Based on archaeological findings in Swedish Viking graves, the underdress was visible while the dress had a train. The brooches probably were placed over each breast. This dress style disappeared when the new religion arrived. It appears that the medieval Christian fashion came to Scandinavia as early as the late 900s.

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Persian Silk Oseberg Ship Viking Age

Pieces of silk fabrics from Persia were found in the Oseberg grave (Photo: Museum of Cultural History).

New trade routes were established, and the Oriental influence disappeared. But it was not only the details from the east that disappeared.

The Church had certain objections to clothes that showed breasts and visible underwear, and daring placement of brooches and visible underdresses were not tolerated. It is also possible that this type of clothing was associated with pre-Christian rituals, and was therefore banned.

Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews


Categories: Culture, Vikings

12 replies

  1. The Television series is on the History Channel, not HBO. There are many things that we think of wrong when we look at history, colors are all around us, it was a matter of dying the wool and weaving it as needed. With today’s technology, we forget that Before the 1800 everything was hand made. Everything had to be acquired through gathering, farming, hunting or out right theft. In any of these examples, it was not easy, it was not something to be done lightly. Items were made to last because if they did not, they would have to be remade, which meant that it was a waste of time and resources. The fact that trade routes stretched so far is a sign that these people realized that they had to trade for the other items that they needed.

    Very nice article, thank you for the time you put into it.

  2. The particular recreation you have selected for your image is about as historically accurate as the show unfortunately. I have yet to meet anyone who agrees with this interpretation of the grave finds. It would be impractical, uncomfortable, and is not supported by most of the evidence.

    • Hi Bree Flowers!

      Thank you for your opinion. The source is the Museum Gustavianum (Uppsala University) and the reconstruction is based upon Viking grave findings.


      “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 (..)

      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.

      “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”.


      • After doing viking re enactment for over 8 years I tend to agree with Bree,.No doubt about the fabrics used, I believe the outer apron dress just needs to come up off the ground,and closer under the arm,if the garment was meant to last you wouldn’t be dragging it all over the ground unless it was a ceremonial/burial gown of some sort, I’ve tried wearing my brooches low,again very uncomfortable and cumbersome and cause nipple chaffing, and a train near fire is a no no, and not meant for the hard working viking woman. I believe the decomposition of the corpse did cause the brooches to settle down further. I very much agree with the open apron concept though ,it’s very practical especially for nursing mothers. I do spend over 30 days every year living in a medieval encampment. . This is still a very beautiful interpretation of the hard working and brave viking women based of actual finds. Stunning.

  3. The series are on History Channel in the US, but in Europe it is HBO who holds the rights.

  4. You may wish to do some more research about this particular reconstruction and the paper it comes from. It is being widely panned by archeologists (one of which is a friend of mine from Sweden and we’ve discussed this THING and the paper it is based off of often) and other experts, not to mention living history re-enactors…. and has pretty much been debunked (for lack of a better term) a few years ago (as this is not actually a NEW article)… The paper and its research is dubious speculation at best.

    • Thank you for your opinion! There are as you probably have noticed different opinions about how Viking women dressed.

      Hopefully new research and future archaeological discoveries will give us all the facts.


  5. It should perhaps be noted that on Vikings the entire image is reduced in saturation. Human skin and hair isn’t that colorless either. It’s a visual effect put on the whole show.

    But yes, it does suppress the colors, which matches a frequent impression of history as less colorful, as though clothing and art were as faded when they were created as they are when we look at the same objects howevermany years later.

    The recreationists I know use very bright colors in their clothes.


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