The Vikings were Scandinavians who thrived and ruled the seas from around 800 to about 1066 CE. Noted ship builders and warriors, the Vikings are better known for their fierceness than their style. However, they’ve found a modern role as style icons thanks to the History Channel series, “Vikings.” Whether you’re looking for a costume or better idea of historical fact, Viking hairstyles are one part of the picture.
Art and Archaeology
Art and archaeological artifacts are a key source of information for students of Viking clothing and hairstyles. One of the most common artifacts found at various Viking excavations is the hair comb, which is used for hair and beards. Combs were most often made of metal and were often double-sided. Viking art, including gold work, wood and stone carving, illustrates portions of hairstyles for men and women. Some of the images may be damaged and men are often shown wearing armor, including headgear. Evidence from Viking graves includes combs, hair pins, and, in rare cases, surviving textiles, like hair scarves.
A number of literary references to Viking appearance and customs shed some light on their hairstyles and hair care. English clerics were worried about the virtue of English women around the Vikings, who bathed, combed their hair and changed their clothes regularly. Norse epic poetry suggests that Vikings washed frequently, typically washing their hair and beard with a basin in the morning. Some sources suggest that both men and women may have bleached their hair to a reddish-blond color using an alkaline soap as earlier Celtic peoples did.
The archaeological evidence suggests that men typically wore their hair between collar and shoulder length, perhaps with bangs. Images illustrate both straight and curly hair. The television show “Vikings” shows elaborately braided and twisted ponytails, typically with the sides and back of the head shaved. Vikings did have razors, as illustrated by carefully groomed facial hair, but there is no evidence of these complex artistic styles.
Women’s hairstyles were dependent on their age and marital status. Young women are often shown with loose and flowing hair, but likely wore it up or braided for practical reasons. Married women are shown with knotted or braided hair, sometimes with a headscarf or hair covering. “Vikings” depicts women a bit differently — namely with dramatically braided styles or embellished looks with leather and chains. It also shows more subdued loose styles for both married and unmarried women.
References and ResourcesIB Times: Vikings' Stylist Dee Corcoran Talks
BBC History: Vikings
Viking Answer Lady: Viking Age Hairstyles