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Authentic Viking Reenactment clothes - A guide for beginners

Crafting historically accurate Viking Age clothing for reenactment can be a challenging yet rewarding endeavor for beginners. This guide explores the materials, styles, and techniques used to create authentic Viking garments based on archaeological evidence and historical research.

Fabric Selection for viking clothes: Linen and Wool

When selecting fabrics for Viking Age reenactment clothing, linen and wool are the most historically accurate choices. Linen was commonly used for underdresses and lighter garments, while wool was preferred for outer layers and colder climates. Both materials have been found in Viking grave textiles, though linen was likely more prevalent among the wealthy due to its higher production costs. For authenticity, look for natural, undyed fabrics or those colored with plant-based dyes. Diamond twill and herringbone twill weaves are particularly appropriate for wool garments. Consider factors such as climate, season, and the social status you wish to portray when choosing between linen and wool for your reenactment attire.

Leather and Fur Usage During the Viking Age

Leather and fur played a more limited role in Viking Age clothing than is often portrayed in popular media. Contrary to stereotypical depictions, fur was not commonly used in everyday garments but rather for cold-weather gear, blankets, and rugs. Leather, while not prevalent in most clothing, was primarily utilized for practical items such as shoes, belts, pouches, saddles, bridles, and scabbards. Shoes were predominantly made of leather, and there is some evidence suggesting leather may have been used for trousers. The leather used during this period was typically brain-tanned, alum-tanned, or vegetable-tanned, resulting in brownish or light tan colors. While there is some controversy regarding the use of dyes on leather, it is generally safer for reenactors to avoid colored leather, especially black. For authentic Viking Age reenactment, it is important to use appropriate leather types and limit their application to historically accurate items, avoiding the use of leather in ways that would be considered anachronistic.

Specialty Fibers and Imports During The Viking Age

While wool and linen were the most common fabrics, Vikings also utilized other materials like hemp and silk for clothing. Hemp was used for sturdy work clothing due to its strength and durability. Silk, though more exclusive and expensive, was employed for tunics, dresses, and embellishments, particularly among the wealthy. Archaeological evidence from rich Viking graves has revealed silk fragments, indicating its use as a luxury fabric. The Vikings obtained silk through trade routes, often sourcing it from distant regions like Byzantium. When recreating Viking attire, hemp can be considered for practical items, while small amounts of silk may be appropriate for high-status portrayals or decorative elements. However, it's important to note that these materials were less common than wool and linen in everyday Viking clothing.

Natural Dyes and Hues For Viking Age Clothing

Viking Age textiles were colored using a variety of natural dyes derived from plants and insects. The most common colors included blue from woad, red from madder root, and yellow from plants like weld, birch leaves, and onion skins. Archaeological evidence suggests that blue was widespread and popular in Scandinavia during this period. Other colors like green were achieved by combining yellow dyes with indigo from Woad. Purple dyes were derived from lichens, while brown shades came from walnut shells. Imported silks sometimes contained more exotic dyes like kermes, an insect-based red dye. The choice of mordants, such as iron or alum, could significantly affect the final color. While the wealthy had access to a broader range of colors, even common people likely used some dyes to enhance their appearance, contrary to the often depicted drab image of Viking clothing.

Undergarments: The Importance of the Serk

The serk, or underdress, was a crucial component of Viking Age clothing for both men and women. Typically made of linen or lightweight wool, the serk served as the base layer of the Viking wardrobe. Archaeological evidence and historical research suggest that serks were often simple in design, with a T-shaped or rectangular construction. They were usually ankle-length for women and knee-length for men, providing comfort and a foundation for outer garments. When crafting a serk for reenactment, focus on using natural fibers and simple construction techniques to achieve historical accuracy. Remember that while linen was common, it was likely more prevalent among wealthier individuals due to its higher production costs.

Outer Layers: Kirtles and Aprons

The kirtle, also known as a tunic, was a versatile and essential outer garment in Viking Age clothing. It was worn by both men and women and varied in style and length. For women, kirtles were typically ankle-length, while men's versions often reached the knee. These garments were commonly made of wool, which provided warmth and protection against harsh weather conditions. Apron dresses, worn over the kirtle by women, were another significant element of Viking attire. When recreating these outer layers for reenactment, consider using wool in appropriate weaves such as diamond or herringbone twill. It's important to note that our understanding of Viking clothing is based on limited archaeological evidence, primarily from wealthy burials, so interpretations may vary. To enhance authenticity, focus on simple designs and natural colors, keeping in mind the social status and regional variations you wish to portray in your reenactment attire. 

Men's Viking Clothing and Attire Essentials

Viking men's clothing was practical, functional, and varied based on social status and regional influences. Here's an overview of key elements in men's Viking attire:


  • Typically knee-length when belted, with long sleeves
  • Made from wool or linen, often with a loose fit and full skirt
  • Sometimes featured extra triangular panels at the sides for fullness
  • Usually had a closed round neck with an opening, closed by a tie, hook, pin, or brooch
  • Shorter tunics were less common, mostly worn by Vikings and Anglo-Norse


  • Worn under tunics, often in a different color
  • The most common type was single-leg hose (O.E. hosa, strapul), similar to woolen stockings

Cloaks and outerwear:

  • Cloaks were used for additional warmth and protection
  • Often secured with brooches or pins


  • Belts are worn over tunics for a better fit and to hang pouches, jewelry, and other items
  • Pouches used to carry personal belongings
  • Footwear is typically made of leather

Viking men's clothing evolved, with more decorative elements and finer fabrics appearing as society became wealthier and trade expanded. Colors were often earth-toned, such as brown, ochre, or dark green, though richer Vikings could afford brighter hues like blue.

Women's Viking Clothing and Attire Essentials

Viking women's clothing was both practical and stylish, reflecting their social status and daily activities. Here's an overview of key elements in women's Viking attire:

Underdresses (serk):

  • Made primarily of linen
  • Often pleated, with two possible styles: Dacian-Slavic (pleats gathered towards the neck) or Faltenkleid (pleats running towards the shoulders)
  • Typically ankle-length with long sleeves
  • Cut in a single piece without shoulder seams, widened with gores and gussets

Overdresses and apron-dresses:

  • Woolen dresses or aprons worn over the underdress for warmth and protection
  • Apron-dresses were a distinctive feature of Viking women's attire

Cloaks and shawls:

  • Used for additional warmth and protection against harsh Nordic climates
  • Often made of wool

Jewelry and brooches:

  • Intricate metalwork on necklaces, arm rings, and brooches
  • Oval brooches used to fasten clothing and display wealth
  • Jewelry often featured Norse designs like knotwork

Viking women's clothing balanced practicality with aesthetic elegance, adapting to both rugged Scandinavian landscapes and their active roles in society. The ensemble could be modified for various activities, including combat for women engaged in warfare. 

Authenticity and Historical Evidence for Viking Clothes

Archaeological evidence and textile finds form the foundation of our understanding of Viking Age clothing, providing tangible insights into materials, construction techniques, and styles. Excavations have yielded fabric fragments, accessories, and tools that offer valuable clues about garment construction and decoration. However, it's important to note that most archaeological textile finds come from wealthy burials, potentially skewing our perception of everyday Viking attire.

Written sources, including sagas and contemporary accounts, complement archaeological evidence but must be interpreted cautiously due to potential biases and literary embellishments. These sources can provide context for clothing's social and cultural significance, but may not always accurately reflect historical reality.

Regional variations and cultural influences played a significant role in Viking clothing, with styles differing across Scandinavia and evolving through contact with other cultures. Reenactors should consider these variations when crafting their attire, acknowledging that "Viking" clothing was not uniform across time and space.

Balancing authenticity with practicality is a key challenge for reenactors. While striving for historical accuracy, it's important to consider modern safety requirements, comfort, and durability. Reenactors must often make informed compromises, using historically appropriate materials and techniques where possible, while adapting to contemporary needs and constraints. This balance ensures that Viking Age reenactment remains both educational and enjoyable for participants and audiences alike.

Viking Sewing and Crafting Techniques

Viking Age sewing techniques were simple yet effective, relying on hand-sewing methods to create durable and functional garments. Here's an overview of key sewing and construction techniques used in Viking clothing:

Hand-sewing methods and tools:

  • Running stitch: The simplest and oldest form of stitching, used for long seams and basic construction
  • Backstitch: Stronger than running stitch, used for seams that need extra durability
  • Whip stitch (hemming stitch): Used to secure edges, attach trim, and join seams
  • Linen thread (35/2) was commonly used for both linen and wool garments
  • The wool yarn was sometimes used for sewing wool fabrics
  • Needles were typically made of bone or metal

Pattern-making and draping:

  • Simple geometric shapes were used for most garments
  • T-shaped or rectangular construction was common for underdresses (serks)
  • Gores and gussets were added to widen garments and improve fit
  • Paper patterns can be helpful for modern recreation

Embellishments and decorative elements:

  • Tablet-woven bands were used to decorate hems and necklines
  • Embroidery was used sparingly, often for high-status garments
  • Decorative stitching could be used to create patterns or reinforce seams

Caring for and maintaining Viking clothing:

  • Wool garments were likely cleaned using fuller's earth or urine
  • Linen items could be washed in hot water and beaten to soften the fibers
  • Mending and patching were common practices to extend the life of garments

When recreating Viking clothing, it's important to use historically appropriate materials and techniques while considering modern safety and comfort requirements. Hand-sewing, while time-consuming, provides the most authentic results for reenactment purposes.

Conclusion: Embracing Viking Reenactment Authenticity

Viking Age reenactment clothing offers a fascinating glimpse into the past, blending historical accuracy with practical considerations for modern enthusiasts. While archaeological evidence and historical sources provide valuable insights, reenactors must often make informed decisions to balance authenticity with functionality. 

Key elements of Viking attire include the use of natural fabrics like wool and linen, simple yet effective construction techniques, and the incorporation of accessories and embellishments to reflect social status. 

As reenactors strive to recreate Viking clothing, it's important to remember that styles varied across regions and evolved, reflecting the dynamic nature of Viking culture. By carefully researching and crafting their attire, reenactors can create a compelling and educational representation of Viking Age fashion, bringing history to life for themselves and their audiences.

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