Your average Viking was very conscious about his looks. Yes, we’re saying “Viking”, since this wouldn’t naturally have applied to every fisherman, farmer and craftsman in Viking Age Scandinavia. Was it vanity? Well, we like to think it was more so a conscious step taken to display success and status, as well as to establish a distance to all the poor farmers, fishermen and craftsmen who probably both smelled and were dirty due to their profession. In other words not very different from today’s world where one’s image projected upon others is a large part of the person’s identity. This resulted in a flamboyant level of showing-off, where the Vikings displayed their wealth and status through their looks, clothes, huge jewelry and overly decorated weapons.
Do you have what it takes when it comes to cleanliness and style in comparison to a Viking?
- Vikings carried hygiene sets. Most men carried a “hygiene set” consisting of an earspoon, fingernail pick and tweezers. How often do you clean your ears and nails with anything else besides your finger? How often do you use tweezers to pick unwanted, stray hairs from your face?
- Vikings bathed and changed clothes once a week. Saturday was called “washing day”. Washing and changing clothes once a week was unheard of among the other Europeans of the time.
- Vikings groomed their beard and combed their hair. Each man carried a comb and made sure to keep the hairs on his head and face in good order. They also carried and used razors to make sure that their beards didn’t connect with their chest hairs.
- Vikings filed their teeth. Some Vikings were known for filing horizontal lines into the enamel on their front teeth. The lines were painted with red resin. The reason behind this practice is not known, but one theory is that it was an identifying mark - similar to a group of people in today's world tattooing the same symbol. However, tattoos or gold-teeth of today can’t compare with the hardcore practice of filing your teeth.
- Not all Vikings were blondes. However, being blonde was considered beautiful. This made many brown haired Vikings use strong soap with a high lye content to bleach their hair and beards to get the blonde look that was considered an ideal.
- Vikings followed international fashion trends. Vikings didn’t hold fast to wool and fur, rather picking up fashion from where ever they went. Imported silken cloth was wanted by all who could afford it. Bright colors were preferred too, mainly red and blue seemed to be the thing. Add to that huge, often impractical jewelry and you’d be in style.
- Viking Ink. The 10th Century Arab traveler, Ahmad Ibn Fahlan, encountered Swedish Vikings along the Volga. He described each man as “tattooed from fingernails to neck with dark blueish-green tree like patterns (knotwork?) and other figures”. Even though regular Scandinavians of the time and age did not practice tattooing, it is possible that Vikings travelling eastward did - just like 18th Century sailors on their voyages to the South Pacific. Whether these Vikings tattooed themselves mainly for looks or for spiritual reasons isn’t known.
- Vikings used make up. What they used was an eyeliner known as Kohl, which is a dark powder. Ibrahim Al-Tartushi, an Arab traveler who visited the Viking trading hub of Hedeby in 950 AD wrote that: “there is also an artificial make-up for the eyes, when they use it beauty never fades, on the contrary it increases in men and women as well.”
‘…caused much trouble to the natives of the land; for they were wont, after the fashion of their country, to comb their hair every day, to bathe every Saturday, to change their garments often, and set off their persons by many frivolous devices. In this matter they laid siege to the virtue of the married woman, and persuaded the daughters even of the noble to be their concubines’.So ask yourself – can you compete in swag compared to a heavily tattoeed Viking with filed teeth, eyeliner and bleached hair and beard, dressed in bright red silk and huge, impractical jewelry?
Combs are one of the most common items found in Viking graves
Floki – a fashionable Viking