I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!

Archive for October, 2012



Use Black

Bright colors for the most part as well, at least if you’re not doing a posh impression. However, the term for “black” was identical to that for “blue,” indicating that many translations of black must be regarded with a bit of skepticism. There are some people who insist that with massive over-dyeing, black is possible with period natural dyes, but it is unlikely that anyone would want so much to have black garments that they would commit to the time and the expense necessary. See Þor Ewing’s essay on colored clothing.

Display Tattoos and Piercings

There is no doubt that the Norse had tattoos since ibn Fadlan tells us in the narrative of his travels among the Viking Rus that “Each one of them has from the tip of nails to the neck figures, trees, and other things, tattooed in dark green.” There is a probability that the Anglo-Saxons did as well, though much of this comes from pro-tattoo sources who make a loose interpretation of a line in William of Poitiers’ account of the Battle of Hastings. In both cases, the exact design of the tattoos were not given, and modern tattoos are only supposition. Tattoos—especially of things like the Tasmanian Devil in a horned helmet—should not be seen by MoPs!

The same does not go for piercings. We have enough artifacts that are probably women’s earrings to know that some had a single set in their ears. However, men did not have any, and since other piercings have not been verified at all, piercings should not be seen by the MoPs.

In both cases, hiding the tattoos and piercings beneath clothing is recommended (my wife demanded her tattooist put her tattoo where it could not be seen in low-cut Italian Renaissance gowns). If that is impossible, a bandage or a similar cover is recommended.

Regarding scarification, if the design looks like something beyond a weapon wound, please keep it disguised!

Go Shirtless (if a man)

We are told that a man exposing his chest was effeminate and a reason for divorce, since only women should expose their chests (probably a reference to breast feeding, though modern minds usually leap to a more prurient interpretation). Despite appearances in films, comics and pulp fiction of bare-chested Vikings. This is most probably fantasy (the exception are Saturday night bathing, which was completely nude and allegedly a popular time for attack by Anglo-Saxons since they knew the men would be separated from their weapons). Looking at the Julius and Tiberius work calendars, the common man in the field does not take off his shirt. What they would do, if the illustrations are true, they would remove their pants to keep cool!

Wear a Leather Belt (if a woman)

If we go by the size of buckles, most belt of the Norse during the Viking Age are half an inch in size, and most societies restrict them to an inch at the largest.  The modern concept of World Wrestling Federation sized belts is a reenactorism at best and farby trash at worst!

In addition, women might not have worn belts, or worn them only while performing specific tasks. Fittings were found in Britain with tortoise brooches, indicating that accouterments were hung at the breast. In Scandinavia, in the words of Shelagh Lewins, they “have not found graves with female accoutrements and metal belt fittings.” It is suggested that women reenactors do not regularly wear belts. When they do, they should eschew leather belts and restrict themselves to fabric belts, such as card-woven wool. Regia recommends that belts for women, if the have to be worn, be the same color as the gown it holds so that they are immediately so noticeable.

Carry a Plastic or Paper Bag from a Vendor

Often times at events, there are modern vendors who will stuff purchases in plastic bags (or the purchases themselves are obviously modern), and a person in kit carrying around a plastic bag is tantamount to wearing a sign around you neck that says “FARB.” Rather, while shopping, carry with you a bag or basket that shields the contents from view (not a net bag unless you are carrying things that you don’t mind might be seen by the MoPs).

In addition, such a bag or basket should be period. A cloth Spider-Man bag is no better than a plastic bag! For an indication of what is period and accurate, look at period illustrations, which must be carefully inspected and interpreted since it contains objects that are, not strictly speaking, from our period.

Wear Mugs or Horns on Your Belt

There is no example of this done in period. After all, they were not wandering from party to party in search of alcohol. They were at home (where drinking vessels were readily accessible), in military camps (where drinking vessels, if used, would certainly not be carried on the belt into combat) and at parties (where they were probably provided by the hosts). The use of vessels hanging from the belt seems to be a Scadian and Renn Faire interpretation!

Canteens were in common use to transport potations. They were undoubtedly out of leather, though we do have the sample of a ceramic canteen that is made to look like a leather one!


“What we permit, we promote.”


Wear Horns on Your Helmet

We shouldn’t have to say this. Not only do we know when the idea of horned helmets for “Vikings” started, but we know who started the idea. However, it has taken root, has finagled its way into popular culture and has become o accepted that horned helmets are even seen on signs in Scandinavia because the tourists expect them. At show, thankfully, more and more MoPs come up ad thank us for not continuing the myth, but at each event a few will come up and demand, indignantly, why there are no horns on the helmet.

While we have illustrations of priests wearing helmets with metal horns, not only were these apparently during rituals and were metal “horns” to boot. For an overview on the growth of the myth, see The Straight Dope’s article on the subject, and never put horns on your helmet no matter what the temptation or encouragement!

Combine Visible Period and Modern Clothing

As I have said before, any reenactor represents the whole reenacting community. Any person who thinks so highly of convenience that he feels justified in combining period and modern clothing is npt treating his historical clothing with the respect that it requires. And contrary to what he might think, the public and the media delight in finding such anachronisms and presenting them to show how foolish reenactors are! It has happened before and, given any opportunity, will happen again.

When wearing historical clothing, modern clothing that is unseen —underwear is the prime example—is irrelevant as long the weaer makes certain that ut stays unseen.

Smoke Tobacco in Public

Rudyard Kipling said, “a good cigar is a smoke,” but in our time it could just as easily be, “A good cigar—or even a bad cigar, in fact anything with tobacco–is just a farb.” There is no indication that tobacco was brought back from the New World by any of the Norse expeditions, and pipes and cigarettes were even later innovations. If you suffer a nicotine fit, have an isolated farb area where MoPs will not see you smoking while in kit!).

While this admonition is mostly against smoking tobacco, it refers to other smoking as well. Marijuana was used, no doubt and especially in religious ritual, but it was probably chewed. After all, the story—attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh and others of his generation—that “his servant doused him with a bucket of water after seeing clouds of smoke coming from Raleigh’s pipe, in the belief he had been set alight” indicated that personal smoking was not done. If anything, the use of incense indicates that setting substances afire was a communal rather than a personal proposition!

Wear Spex of Any kind

Eyeglasses were not invented until the late thirteenth century. The frames we are familiar with today not until the eighteenth century. It should go without saying that a Viking wearing spex is something out of a Wheeler and Woolsey film and just as hilarious! This same goes for sunglasses.

Keep in mind that contacts are not generally observable and recommended for people with poor eyesight. Recent technological advances have rendered many of the complaints about contacts from fifty years ago invalid!

Wear Modern Footwear

Just as hilarious as that Viking in sneakers or Harley boots. All Footwear should be period and, because we have so many samples, documentable. They should all be turn-soled, and no higher than the ankle. For examples, see the Footwear section and the diagram of extant samples from YAT’s book on Leatherworking.

Wear Fur Clothing

While fur was used in the clothing of earlier times for warmth–though generally with the fur toward the body for greater warmth—technology of the Viking Age had largely superseded the use of fur except for minor trimming and blankets. Fur clothing is the province of comics, cinema and pulp novels!

Use Cotton or Synthetics

This should go without saying. Cotton was known in the Middle East and probably familiar at least to those Norse who ventured that far. But cotton was apparently never used for any clothing by the Norse; it was less advantageous than wool and linen and certainly harder to obtain. And apparently, it was more expensive than silk!

The first synthetic fabric was rayon, which was invented in the middle of the nineteenth century. Synthetic fabrics did not become commercially feasible until the first half of the next century. Even though there is debate about when the Viking Age ended, hardly anyone extends it to the nineteenth century! Making viking era clothes of synthetics is like ridiculing all parts of serious reenacting!  Even if it looks like natural fabric, it is not and does not act like it! In addition, synthetic fabrics are dangerous around fires, since they do not merely combust but melt!

The only exceptions are when no true wools are available and the addition of synthetics has the appearance of actual wool!

Use Silk for Full Garments

Although cotton and, of course, man-made fabrics were unknown during the period, silk was known and used. However, it was expensive. Unless they are portraying royalty, silk should only be used as trim and then only for people with very posh impressions!

Use Anything but Linen and Wool for Most Garments

Having told everything you should not use, perhaps a few words on what you should use are in order. It is actually very simple. The most common fabric was wool. Wool comes in a wide variety of weights and coarseness; the so-called wool allergy is fairly rare, but people often respond to the chemicals.  Be certain to wash wool before using it; this will not only soften it but will make certain that it will not shrink on you after use. Keep in mind that drying the fabric will shrink it further but also most likely full it! If there is areal allergy–where contact with wool causes red and irritated skin–do not be too proud to wear linen beneath the wool!

Now when we refer to linen, we are referring to fabric made from the bast—the plant fiber collected from the inner bark or surrounding the stem—of certain plants. Although linen is, today, generally used to refer to fabric made from flax, it also refers to fabric from hemp and nettle. The exact type of linen used during the time is controversial since age has decayed the bast and often has rendered it undecipherable. For an excellent article on textiles of the time, see Ann Stine’s article on things that the Oseberg burial tells us about fabric.


A few days ago, while getting ready to make a right turn, I was interrupted by someone in the left turn lane who peeled out and made a right-hand turn in front of me. The car had a big sticker on it, proclaiming the driver’s political views, and it occurred to me that I was tempted to be unfair and ascribe such selfish, illegal motives to all his fellow believers.

Then, as I made the turn safely, I mused that anyone with a sticker on his car was setting himself up as a representative of his cause and was almost honor bound to behave in a responsible manner. They are the representatives, whether they like it or not, of all people who share these beliefs. Then I expanded it to t-shirt slogans and logos, and before I reached home, I had expanded it as I do so many things to living history.

Let me step back for a moment. When someone is wearing a uniform of any sort, I consider him a representative of everyone wearing such a uniform, and I often hold him to a higher standard than others. For example, if I see someone in a police uniform, I hold that person to a higher expectation than I do someone in civvies. I expect him to help, of course, but I always expect him to be friendly and not to use that uniform as an effort to receive perks. If he behaves in a privileged, jack-boot manner, it leads to my wanting to avoid all persons wearing police uniforms because they are loose cannon.

But uniforms, in my mind are not just police or military or the such. For me, the costume that a reenactor wears is a uniform. I see someone in historical clothing–no matter what era–and I expect them to behave in a certain manner, to have certain standards and to represent, for better or worse, all reenactors. Not merely in their actions but in the quality of their interpretation. If he is wearing sneakers or sunglasses or the like—unless, of course, that such is appropriate for his impression—it is tarring how folk see all reenactors. If he is either unwittingly or knowingly farby, he is telling every onlooker, I’m doing this for cosplay or a lark, and I really don’t care whether it’s right as long as I’m having fun!

There are those who say, of course, that a society or subculture should be judged by the best representative. I can’t agree. If the reenactor is gracious and kind, helping a non-reenactor, making certain that kit is exemplary and accurate…all that is forgotten by one rude, inaccurate reenactor. If a person thinking about getting into reenacting sees a lousy impression, he might think, “So that’s all I have to do!” I love the saying that an AWI reenacting veteran said: “What is permitted is promoted.”

How stringent are you about your actions and demeanor when you’re in your reenacting kit? How stringent are you in creating appropriate kit? I know that when I wear or make a bit of reenacting kit, how it will be received and perceived by others is always in my mind!