To the Vikings in Viking Age,
- Short hair was associated with servitude and lower class,
- Long hair belonged to the higher social classes in both women and men,
- Braiding is a way to manage the long hair of higher social classes.
Louise Kæmpe Henriksen, a curator at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde said that Vikings were clean and kempt,
- Several archaeological finds have revealed tweezers, combs, nail cleaners, ear cleaners, and toothpicks from the Viking Age. The men had long fringes and short hair on the back of the head. Further down on the neck, the skin was shaved.
- A three-dimensional carved male head on a wagon in the Oseberg ship burial mound in Norway showed the man's hair is well-groomed and he has an elegant long mustache and a chin beard that reaches up to his mustache, but apparently not out to the cheeks.
Source: The Oseberg Ship from the National Museum of Denmark
- ”They had also conquered, or planned to conquer, all the country’s best cities and caused many hardships for the country’s original citizens, for they were – according to their country’s customs – in the habit of combing their hair every day, to bathe every Saturday, to change their clothes frequently and to draw attention to themselves by means of many such frivolous whims.
- In this way, they sieged the married women’s virtue and persuaded the daughters of even noblemen to become their mistresses,”
- “The Arab ambassador IBN Fadlan, who met a group of Vikings on the Volga, described them as the filthiest of Allah’s creatures,”
- “The Arabs were Muslims and came from a culture where people were supposed to bathe before each of their five daily prayers, whereas the Vikings may only have bathed once a week.”
Viking Braids for Men
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 as social norms. 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.
Viking Braids for Women
Source: The National Museum of Denmark
For women, we have to divide into two categories, married or unmarried. Throughout history, the value of a woman in the Viking Age depended on whether she is married or not,
- 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 Old Norse 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.
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 of braids became mixed up with cultural appropriation 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.