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Vikings Dressed Flamboyantly

December 2008 - Research by Uppsala University archeologist Annika Larsson has found that pre-Christian Vikings dressed more flamboyantly than previously thought with the use of vivid colours, silk ribbons, and bits of mirrors. The study identifies men as especially vain, and women as provocative dressers.

Annika Larsson explained:

"They combined oriental features with Nordic styles. Their clothing was designed to be shown off indoors around the fire."

The study analysed textile finds from the Lake Mälaren Valley, the area including Stockholm and Uppsala that was one of the central Scandinavian regions during the Viking Age between 750-1050 A.D. Changes in clothing style demonstrate that medieval Christian fashions arrived as early as the late 900s along with establishment of new trade routes. Oriental features disappeared with the arrival of Christianity and trade with the Christian Byzantine and Western Europe.

Annika Larsson commented:

"Textile research can tell us more about the state of society than research into traditions. Old rituals can live on long after society has changed, but when trade routes are cut off, there's an immediate impact on clothing fashions."

The suggestion of more provocative female dress is supported by analysis of extensive remnants of a woman's clothing recently found in Pskov, near Novgorod in Russia and eastward trade routes from Sweden. The researcher explains that Viking women were thought to have worn a long suspender (brace) skirt with front and back square sections held together by a belt. Clasps, often regarded as typical of the Viking Age, were attached to the suspenders at approximately collar bone level. Under this they wore a linen shift and on top a woollen shawl or sweater.

Annika Larsson said:

"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."

The researcher argues 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. A number of female figures have been preserved with these characteristics but the style appears not to have survived the arrival of Christianity.

Annika Larsson concluded:

"It's easy to imagine that the Christian church had certain reservations about clothing that accentuated the breasts in this way and, what's more, exposed the under shift in front. It's also possible that this clothing was associated with pre-Christian rituals and was therefore forbidden."

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