Women’s hairstyles seem to have been more limited during the Viking Age than men’s hairstyles, based on the surviving evidence. One scholar suggests that blonde hair was most prized, and the brunette women could bleach their hair, using the same method known to the Celts, in which a strongly basic soap was made and applied to the hair, with the bleaching action provided by the lye resulting in a red or red-gold hair color.
Thrall women, as with their male counterparts, were required to wear their hair cropped short as a sign of their servitude.
Unmarried girls would wear their hair long and loose, or they might confine their hair with a circlet or kransen, especially on formal occasions. At times they may have worn their hair in braids instead.
Married women usually wore their hair gathered up into a knot at the back of the head, or coiled atop their head in some arrangement and often covered their hair with a cap, veil (hustrulinet) or headdress. Several sources indicate that it was mandatory that Norse women who were married wear a headcovering, however the actual archaeology doesn’t seem to support this belief: “Many of the ninth and tenth century women’s burials at Birka reveal no headcoverings at all, let alone graves in some other locations, although finds of headwear are more common in Christianized areas like Dublin and Jorvík”.
There were several types of headwear worn by women during the Viking Age:
Types of Viking Headdresses from Coppergate and Lincoln (after Gail Owen-Crocker)
Anglo-Viking women apparently wore a variety of hairstyles. Two hogback stones from Lowther, Cumbria depict women with their hair worn in two braids, falling to either side of the head beside the cheeks. It is thought that early Anglo-Viking women probably did not wear a headdress, but by the end of the period were adopting fashions from the neighboring Christian Anglo-Saxon women, for instance, the tenth century silk hood with linen ties recovered at the Coppergate excavation (see Jorvik Hood below, as well as the two illustrations on the left, above, showing the same hood tied under the chin, or tied behind the neck under the hair). A slightly different style of cap or hood was recovered from Lincoln (see the illustration on the right, above)27.
The basic types of headdress worn by Viking women included:
Frankish Brocaded FilletFillet The fillet was a fabric band worn around the head, much like a coronet. This might be worn alone, or with a scarf or veil pinned to it. The fillet was often of metal-brocaded tablet-woven silk. Fillets of this type were worn by women of the Franks, Anglo-Saxons, Alamans, Bavaria, Lombardy, and Visigothic Spain (later 6th and 7th centuries), as well as by Swedish Vikings29.
Example of gold brocaded band using a pattern found at Birka
For additional examples of these brocaded bands, see Metallic Trims for Some Early Period Personae
Woman Wearing Fillet
(after Gail Owen-Crocker) Scarves Some small textiles have been recovered in the Viking excavations at Dublin which are thought to have been worn as scarves. The extant examples are dyed purple and have fringe. Jorvik Hood The Jorvik hood was a type of hood formed from a rectangle of cloth with a rounded upper, and which fell in the back to cover the head and neck. Examples of this type of hood have been recovered from the Viking finds at Jorvík (Viking York) This type of headgear was equipped with ties to secure it under the chin. Surviving examples are in silk, with linen ties. Dublin Hood The Dublin hood was similar to the Jorvik hood, but made of wool, more rectangular, and having a point at the back of the head.
When headcoverings were worn, whether to indicate the married status of a woman, as a decorative costume accent, or for warmth, the details of the headgear varied by place and date throughout the Viking Age, as shown in the table below:
(Norway, Iceland, British Isles)a fillet and possibly a veil pinned to the filletJorvik hoods or Dublin hoodsEastern Scandinavia
(Sweden and eastern colonies)brocaded filletbrocaded fillet
hood with brocaded trim