Vikings wearing braids and other hair facts about the Viking grooming culture.
We have all heard the tales about the rough man that came from the north, that discovered American first, the man that brought to us the tales of Odin and Thor. The Vikings. Many investigations have been made in the field of anthropology to determine how they behaved and what their customs where. One of the greatest characteristics we see in Viking representations is the hair. You either have very long and wild hair characters, like Thor. However, it is the other stereotype of the correct one. The Vikings took care of their hairs, and yes, they indeed braided it often. Anyhow, while Vikings did wear their hair long and often groomed it and combed it, braids where by far not the most popular hairstyle.
Why did Viking braid their hair?
To the Vikings, braiding their hair was the same that it is to us, a hairstyle. Short hair was associated with servitude, which is why those who belonged to higher social classes tend to wear it long to mark the difference, not only in women but in men as well. Braiding the hair is a way in which they manage the hairstyles, and make it more comfortable.
When it comes to men, braiding the hair was a way to remain comfortable during the battle or the hard jobs they tended to perform. When fighting a tight braid is harder to be used against you (by pulling for example) than a lot of flying hair. Similarly, the braid avoids hair from coming into your face. However, more common hairstyles include what is known as the “reverse mullet” in which they left their hair long in the front and short in the back.
For women, we have to divide into two categories. As we know, through history the value of a woman has often depended on whether she is married or not, and women often had to manage their appearance according to their status. The Viking culture, although it was a little more liberal towards women than most ancient cultures, still had this separation between the married and unmarried woman. Single young girls were often expected to wear their hair long and down, and usually only braided it for a special occasion or out of boredom.
Married women, on the other hand, were likely to carry their hair braided, but not because of a fashion choice, but rather because it was more comfortable. The reason why braided hair was a preferred option by married women is that they often covered their head with a cap. Because of this accessory, the common hairstyles among married women are tight, low buns, or two tight braids. However, this was probably not an established social norm, and married women just did it out of comfort since there are portraits of women wearing their hair down with a cap over.
It is a fact that Vikings had strong social conventions regarding cleanness and stylized hair. Usually, Vikings were required to have clean, well-groomed beards and hair. There are a bunch of sources that support this idea. One is a poem about the death of Odin’s son, in which they state that the only reason why Odin is not well-groomed and washed that day is that he is mourning, giving to our understanding that it was only allowed under those circumstances.
Why do we think Vikings braided their hair more religiously than they did?
Now we are asking the right questions. There are a lot of theories as to why we have the stereotypes of the Vikings that we do. On one hand, the one that better explains the wild-haired, dirty stereotype is the attempt of the Romans and the Anglo-Saxons to portray the Vikings as barbaric tribes, who had no hygiene over themselves whatsoever. The reality is, the Vikings have been found to have had very rigorous hygiene, the only reason not to wash your hair was mourning and they developed tools like tweezers, ear scrapers, and nail cutters.
The other believed stereotype, concerning the braids, is a little harder to explain but relies on a similar basis. The braiding stereotype comes from way before the Vikings existed and have been mixed up in a modern-day culture. It was first recorded by the Romans concerning the Celts and Britons, who did, actually braided their hair more as a ritual and according to social convictions. Anglo-Saxons later adopted some Briton styles. The stereotype became mixed up when they were all categorized into the section of “barbaric tribes” leaving the conception that the Vikings styled their hairs like the Celts and Britons once had.
Can we be sure Vikings didn’t wear braids often?
No, not really. All of the things that were mentioned above are based on the most believed archaeological statements. However, consider that there are figurines of the Viking goddesses and Valkyries wearing braided hair and that they are quite a few, we could come to believe that the braiding culture was more strongly adopted than we think it was.
Also important is that the Vikings were an existing and changing civilization for quite a lot of time. This essentially means that, while most of the time they probably didn’t have strict social conventions regarding braids, nothing tells us that there was a time in which braids were. There is proof of fashion tendencies changing among the Vikings through the years.
But, most anthropological records show us that they just wore their hair however they wanted.
So, what this article wants to reflect is how distorted stereotypes are, and how they can change how we think about a whole culture. We don’t know what Vikings looked like, but we do know it isn’t like they are portrayed in the media. Also, Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets, keep that in mind too.