Clothing, dress and personal accessories

Öland Silver 'Valkyrie' Pendant from the Statens historiska museum

(c) Gabriel Hildebrand SHMM, CC-BY-SA

How we know what women wore

Pendants like the Öland 'valkyrie' pendant give a hint about what form women's clothing took, as does the Tjørnehøj Valkyrie. This is supplemented by the results of excavations, such as at Birka in Sweden where 180 inhumations of women were excavated and analysed. Fragments of cloth adhering to oval brooches showed how the brooches were attached and indicate how the dress was worn, as is shown in the example below.

Reconstructed Viking dress on display in Trelleborg Museum

(c) Sheila Dooley

Reconstructed women's clothing

These two reconstructed dresses at Trelleborg Museum show how women's clothing in Scandinavia probably looked. The dress on the left consists of a linen shift with an overdress fastened with oval brooches. This is the typical form of a Viking dress, although Flemming Bau has argued that the overdress would have been worn open at the front.

That on the right is an alternative style of dress, showing more elements of medieval style. It appears richer with the addition of the fur cape, and may be what is represented by the woman shown on an ear-spoon from Birka.

Valkyrie ear scoop


Silk headscarves have been found in Dublin, Lincoln and York. These appear to be simple folded items that would have been worn like a headscarf and fastened under the chin. Other types of headdress are known from the sagas, but their exact form is unknown. It is likely that they were cloths that were twisted around the head and tied at the back.

Oval brooches

Oval brooches were both stylish and functional. They held the overdress up, while also providing visual ornament. However, they are not ubiquitous, and it would appear, based on archaeological evidence, that only about half of all women wore them. The Eddic poem Rígsþula describes them as characteristic of the free woman, suggesting that other types of brooches would have been worn by wealthier women, while poorer women might not have worn any at all.

Photograph of the Lilleberge Brooch

*Unknown copyright on this image* Item is held at and copyright of the British Museum

Other types of brooch

While oval brooches are the single most common type of brooch, other types of brooch are known, such as this round brooch from Lilleberge. This brooch and the trefoil brooch would have been worn centrally, rather than on either side, and could be worn with oval brooches as part of a whole outfit.

Viking Beads in the National Museum of Ireland

(c) RDale

Beads and necklaces

Bead necklaces would have been worn, hanging between the oval brooches. Some burials feature a central brooch with the beads linking all three brooches, while others only have beads linking the oval brooches.

Keys and Locks in the National Museum of Ireland

(c) RDale

Keys and other items

Women would have worn keys and other items hanging from their brooches. it is usually stated that, while keys had a practical function, they were also symbolic of chief woman in the house. This is based on the presence of keys in women's graves. However, more recent research by Pernille Pantmann suggests that the presence of keys in the grave is an indicator of high status, rather than an indicator that women controlled the keys and thus access to the house and its goods.

Chair and Shoes from the Oseberg Burial

(c) RDale


Shoes from the Oseberg burial show what footwear women would have worn. The fact that the shoes from that burial have been made to take account of one of the club foot one of the women had, also shows that shoes would have been tailored, a fact that is reinforced by the injunction in Hávamál to make sure your shoes fit well. Men and women would have worn shoes of similar design, although it is likely that some, such as slaves, might not have had shoes at all.

Clothing, dress and personal accessories