Most of the Norse clothing we know about seems to come from burials. However, in many cultures, bodies dressed for burial are wearing either "good" clothes, or special clothes for the dead. Is there any evidence to suggest that ordinary, everyday wear for Norsemen (or, indeed, Norse women) was different to that which we see in excavated graves?


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I passed the question to Cathy Raymond. Although she does not earn her living in either history or in textiles (due, I suspect, to her preference for a non-gruel based diet), I've read her research for a couple of years, and I've come to trust her opinion. One of the reasons I place faith in her opinion is that after answering the question, she offered the responsible academic caveat that "just about all of what we 'know' about Viking clothing is deduction from slender evidence."

It would probably depend on the weather. IMO:

In warm weather: A linen shirt and linen trousers, probably linen underpants shaped like knee-length boxer shorts, probably with a leather belt and leather shoes.

In cold weather: same as above, but with a wool tunic and wool trousers being worn over the linen ones (or instead, depending on an individual's level of wealth). Some kind of wool footwrapping or stocking (this part is pretty speculative but there is support for it, and it makes a lot of sense given the climate), a wool, fur, or wool-and-fur hat, and a wool cloak for traveling or other prolonged presence outdoors where one wouldn't be working. The style of the wool tunic probably varied by culture; the farther east you went, the more likely a wrapped jacket (shaped kind of like a modern Japanese gi) would have been used instead of a closed tunic.

A very rich Viking man might have a silk tunic for special occasions, or at least a fine quality wool one trimmed with silk or silver-or-gold-brocaded ribbon, but you asked about daily clothing. :-)

Hurstwic's article is pretty good but it concentrates heavily on western Vikings (Norwegians and Danes, mostly, including the ones that stole...er settled land in the British Isles) instead of the eastern ones (Swedes, including the ones that stole, er... settled land in what's now Russia).

In short, the general profile of menswear among the 11th century Vikings/Norsemen is pretty similar to what you'd put on in the morning--i.e., pants and a shirt. But the details--shape, fiber, modes of fastening, how shoes were made and worn--have changed a lot in 1,000 years.

  • Let me note here that heavy wool is a very effective material for extreme cold - it insulates even when wet, and wicks moisture away from the wearer. Garment company "Filson's" sells wool clothing meant for winter activities outdoors that's popular with outdoorsmen in the Upper Midwest and Canada, every bit as cold as Scandinavia. Wool in this context does not equate to a wool sweater or suit jacket. Aug 29, 2013 at 15:45
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    Added a link into the quotation. Modifying a direct quotation is a bit icky, so revert if you have an issue with it.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 29, 2013 at 16:15

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