Viking costume inspiration: SCA / Living History

Othala Craft semi-circle 'coat' (cloak)

Othala Craft semi-circle ‘coat’ (cloak)

 

So SCA stands for the Society for Creative Anachronism and participants do a lot of research in making their costumes, much like other living history renenactors. I thought that it would be useful to look at some websites of reenactors to be inspired as well.

Othala Craft

Othala Craft,  (above) from Poland, reconstructs garments and embroidery based on archaeological finds of medieval clothing and everyday objects from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. The dresses and other items she makes are simple, relying heavily on embroidery and trim for embellishments.

I think that the fur is what really makes her costume work, which I wouldn’t want to reproduce anyways. Other than that, breaking down the costume:

  • Dark grey long-sleeved dress with a light grey border and medium grey trim.
  • Semi-circle cloak of light brown wool (lined in black wool) with a border of brown linen with embroidery replicated from embroidery from England.
  • Belt with pouch
  • Necklaces & earrings
  • … and the fox (?) fur

JorgenCraft

Another website geared towards re-creationists is the JorgenCraft site. In particular, they have a few different styles of Apron dresses which I found interesting.

Hangerock/ apron dress in the style of Femming Bau

On the Jorgencraft website they discussed that the style is based on a theorist named Femming Bau – I did a bit of reading and it looks like a lot of early research done on Viking dress was based on either archaeological burial finds from high-born Viking women, or women wearing high-born-style clothing. Additionally since very little clothing survived, more attention was spent on the other surviving burial items.

The Hangerock apron style is basically a rectangle that wraps around the sides and back, with a second rectangular panel hanging in the front. There is only a slight overlap between the two panels, and in the JorgenCraft example, the front apron is slightly shorter than the main body panel. The whole thing could be belted, or just the side/back could be belted, leaving the front panel hanging loose.

JorgenCraft Hangerback apron dress

JorgenCraft Hangerock apron dress

Apron dress (one piece)

Like the Femming Bau style of apron-dress, the JorgenCraft site also shows other apron-dresses that aren’t made in a two-piece style. I learned more about these apron dresses on the following Hurstwick site.

Hurstwick

Hurstwick is a group with an interest in the societies and peoples who lived in Northern Europe during the Viking age. They have a fairly lengthy page discussing mens and women’s dress, although it omits sources unfortunately. The page also includes children’s apparel, the clothing of slaves, and cloth making. The majority of the page is devoted to menswear, however much of the material in that section applies to womenswear as well.

They describe women’s clothing consisting of:

  • An angle length linen underdress/shift, with the neck closed by a brooch.
  • Over the underdress, a shorter woolen dress suspended by shoulder straps and fastened by brooches.
  • For outwear, they mention ankle-length coats, cloaks and shawls.

As I mentioned earlier, there are different interpretations of the apron dress (apparently also called a hangerrock, traggerock or smokkr, or apron-skirt). This site explains that some people interpret the outer dress as two separate panels, while others describe it as a slightly flaring tube-shaped dress which is longer at the back than at the front. The site goes on to explain that there is also evidence for an overdress that completely covered the shoulders and didn’t require brooches to fasten it in place. (So basically an underdress and overdress made in a similar design.)

For accessories, the site discusses the turtle brooches mentioned earlier, the ‘half-necklaces’ discussed in the jewelry section, the trefoil brooches, and suggests that because buckles are rarely found in women’s graves, that women likely wore cloth belts rather than leather ones. The page also discusses head-coverings for all classes of women, however suggests that the headdress was used to distinguish married from unmarried women. Head-coverings could be as simple as a knotted triangle of fabric, or elaborate and woven with gold.

Shelagh Lewins

Costumer Shelagh Lewins imagined the apron-dress very differently. Rather than having the apron hang from the straps at both front and back, her version omits straps entirely, and rather the front and back are attached by only the pins, with the back riding up high in the back, and the hem of the garment cut off to make it hang evenly. She also uses extensive pleating across the front of her apron, and by the nature of how the dress hangs at the back shoulders, there is a fair amount of gathering there as well because of arm movement. She came up with this solution because she found once she added beads, tools, needlecases, etc to the brooches with the strap solution, the back of the dress would ride up with the weight.

While this looks good to me, there’s something about it that just doesn’t work for me. I think that trimming off a hem to make it even is wasteful, and although the apron-dresses are shown shorter than the underdress, I think that having a dress noticably longer in the front than the back (if it wasn’t trimmed) wouldn’t make sense either. I like the look, and appreciate how she arrived to her idea, but I don’t think it’s something I want to reproduce.

Eugenia Swingle

Another costumer, Eugenia, whose blog I read included photos of three different hangerock (apron-dress) styles, one, a mock wrap dress (all attached in place at the neckline, but not a closed “tube”, rather one panel that hangs over the one below it in the front), a ‘tube’ one-piece overdress (with gores to add width), and the two-piece hangerock with the back piece wrapping from the front-side around the back to the other front-side and a removeable and interchangable ‘apron’ to pin with the shoulder-pins to the front of the dress. This makes a lot of sense, but I don’t like the way it looks when the gap is seen. I think if there were a two-piece dress, it would make more sense to have the rectangular, loose hanging apron to just be attached to the front of the one-piece hangerock.

That being said, Eugenia had several links:

The first being a link to the wrap-dress style of hangerock, with the suggestion that with this wrap style, one could bend over a fire, and not have the apron hang in the fire (as it would, if unbelted, with the two-piece apron). This was based on archeological finds.

A very academic view on a number of different styles – each backed up with archeological evidence. I think this is what I find most useful, as it places all of the different designs side-by-side and gives a variety of options, all with potential credibility based on what is actually available (which, is very little of course!) It also shows some other options, with comments on their improbability and sources.

She also links to a good “getting started” guide created by an SCA barony on Viking women’s clothing – which is a great jumping off point.

Other bloggers

I also read blogs by Edith, which pointed to a PDF with some instructions.

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