This weekend my daughter, Jessica, and I attended the 13th Annual Viking Festival in Vista, California. This is organized by the Norwegian Fish Club Odin and the local Sons of Norway and is their biggest fundraiser of the year. Through the years we have attended large and small Renaissance faires, and this felt a lot like those. There was food, music and other entertainment along with vendors selling everything from jewelry to weapons. Jessica bought a horned Viking hat.
To get visitors into the spirit of the gathering, there were signs written in Old Norse and information sheets placed around the venue so you could learn more about the Vikings. It was great fun watching kids and adults learn how to throw spears and axes and to use a bow and arrow. I love when kids learn about history in such a fun way that they don’t realize they are learning.
Besides all the fun things to do (and to eat), the workers and many of the attendees dressed in period costume. After the festival, I did a little online research into Viking clothing and discovered that when you perform an internet search for “Viking clothing” you get a lot of sites either selling or discussing costumes used for faires, festivals, living history groups and history re-enactment. Also Minnesota Vikings branded clothing, which many in my family wear proudly. I know, being part of a Scandinavian family from Minnesota is such a cliché.
I’d never thought much about what the Vikings wore, except that I knew the Scandinavian countries are really cold and warmth was probably a primary concern. The Viking period is from the late 8th century through the late 11th century. Since that was about a thousand years ago, we don’t have any photos of what they wore, and no contemporary artwork that I could find. One of the pieces I read during this bit of research was “Clothing in the Viking Age” at the Hurstwic site, about Viking Combat Training and so much more. Take the time to read it if you are at all interested in the subject, or if you want to decide if the show Vikings on The History Channel gets it right.
Because fabric rots if buried in the ground for a thousand years, we have very few fabric remains from the time of the Vikings. The piece pictured below was found on a body buried in a bog, which preserved both the body and the cloth. There have also been a very few pieces which were preserved when the cloth was covered in pitch and used in building or repairing those famous Viking ships.
Much of our information about Viking clothing and culture comes from Norse literature, the sagas. Most clothing was made from linen, wool and animal skins. The style of clothing and amount of certain materials used were an indication of status and wealth. Time-intensive trim and other decorative elements were also a symbol of higher status. Basically, if you have time to create decoration, then you’re not spending all your time on basic survival and must be very wealthy indeed.
If you’ve never been to one of these history-based festivals or faires, I hope you consider finding one in your area and checking it out. The people wearing period costumes do so because they have a passion for that period of history and they try to be as historically accurate as possible. Because they are so passionate, they are usually willing to discuss their costumes with anyone who wants to learn. So go have some fun, eat some good food, maybe drink some mead (the raspberry hyacinth mead was especially good), and learn a little history.