ADVICE TO BEGINNING VIKING-AGE REENACTORS 1
“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.