Saturday, 1 October 2011

Costume -Overview

The dress of Germanic people in the Migration-Age into the so-called 'Viking' period was the basis of later styles, but also had a number of aspects greatly influenced by earlier civilisations, or contemporary societies elsewhere in Europe and beyond. In particular, many styles were carried through from the Roman period.
Although fashions varied throughout the period, the general trend is the integration of older, conventional styles with new ideas arriving through extensive trade networks, or through natural progress on a more local level.


Tablet Weaving
The tunic (serc, tunece) was the basic garment. This was wool or, for the wealthy, of linen or nettle-fibre. It was belted at the waist, raising the hem to the knees and had long sleeves. The hem, sleeves and neck-opening would often be decorated by tablet-woven braiding (Borda).
On the legs, trousers (brec) of wool or linen would have been worn, wrapped at the bottom by leg bindings (winingas) to prevent them trailing.
After the 8th century, breeches (brec) became more common, reaching the knees. These were sometimes made of leather (lederhosu). These were combined with hose (hosa) over the lower legs which, later would be held not by leg bindings but by cross-gartering (hosebend).

Authentic Turn-Shoes
Shoes (sceon/gescy) or boots of leather, well greased, would be worn. These would be of the simple "turn shoe" style with no heels or hob-nails, but constructed by sewing alone. Woolen socks (socc) seem to have been used, with evidence pointing to their production by the unusual process of naalbinding. Alternatively, closed sandals (staeppersceon) of soft leather might be worn in good weather, which harken back to earlier Roman styles (though again, constructed by sewing not with hob-nails or tacks).

A woolen cloak (hakele) might also be worn, pinned at the right shoulder, thus being able to be thrown back to free the sword arm. Sometimes the cloak would be hemmed with fur, or may have sometimes been made entirely from animal skin (wolf-skin in particular likely to have been popular amongst the warrior class). In bad weather a hood (hod) could be attached to the cloak. It is also likely that a woolen "forage cap" (feaxclath) or hat (haet) could also be worn.

Women's base costume at its most basic was not too different to mens, although longer. The female tunic was known as the Cyrtel and the Rocc in Anglian areas, and was often merely pinned together at the shoulders. An apron (bearmclath) would be worn when working. Later in the period, a thin linen veil (heafothclath) was commonly worn. Female warriors (of which there is much evidence for) would have probably worn clothes largely identical to men.

3-Pronged Swastika (raven-heads) Pendant
Elaborate metal jewellery was favoured as a sign of status and wealth. Women, in particular, would have routinely worn elaborate brooches as part of their dress, further supplemented on occasion by elaborate pendants, bracteates and clothing-clasps. Large swags of beads, typically hung between brooches on the shoulders, were a particularly widespread expression of status and wealth, exclusive to women.  The materials and design varied not only in time, but region and the wealth and status of the individual.   In all cases such jewellery follows regional and chronological trends, therefore serving as useful dating evidence.

A key part of mens dress would be the utility belt, which often featured elaborate metal fittings. Rich men would have the metalwork on their belts richly decorated with silver and niello work or gold. Into the Christian period beautifully worked buckles (Oferfenges) were sometimes made hollow and were thus able to hold small relics etc.
The utility belt (nytt-gyrdel) would provide attachment for a range of tools such as knives or firesteel, keys or purses. Belts could also be used to attach hand-seaxes, or even long-seaxes and swords.
                 Decorative Belt Buckle             
Later in the period belts (belt / fetels) became more narrow, often only an inch wide. In addition to the small belt purse (pursa) a warrior might carry a leather shoulder-bag (sceattcod) which would hold provisions.

Any colouration on fabric in the period could only be achieved by natural dyes, and repeated soaking. Greater colour intensity or darker colours required greater work to achieve, with exposure to a strong (costly) mordant and, importantly, greater quantities of expensive fresh dye. For this reason, it is believed that dark fabrics would indicate high status or wealth, and that poorer or lower status individuals would tend to wear pale or neutral coloured garments. However, linens and nettle-fibre cloth takes dye less well than natural wool, and as a result, these high status cloths may have been paler than might be expected.

Dyes varied in their value, such that colour of clothing might also be an important indicator of status.
Whilst the cheapest option would be to leave garments undyed, pale earthy colours including pale greens, tan colours and yellows were likely the least expensive, achievable using readily available (often waste) pigment-yeilding materials such as onion-skins. Bright yellows, through to light oranges could also be achieved using the (probably more costly) plant dye Weld.

A particularly high status colour, red (along with darker oranges, ruddy brownish hues, and pinkish hues on linen) could be achieved using the dye-plant Madder root. This plant would've been a sought-after and relatively valuable commodity, likely cultivated at fairly large scale in regions with soil conditions conducive to its growth and then traded. It is likely, also, that the Anglo-Saxons would have made use of overdying, soaking cloth previously dyed with a paler colour with a weak Madder wash to produce colours such as orange (Madder x Weld).
The highest status dye routinely available would likely have been woad. Generally a plant preferring conditions prevalent in Southern Europe, woad was grown in early Medieval England, despite generally sub-optimal conditions, yeilding leaves that when processed produce a relatively strong blue dye that is also, by medieval standards, relatively stable. Woad could be used to achieve hues ranging from sky blue on wool and particularly on linen, through to deeper blue shades. As with other dyes, overdying of woad may have been used, to achieve purples or strong greens, as evidenced in the high Medieval period.

Beyond dyes, it is worth noting that wool can naturally come in many colours, and this fact would certainly have been used to best advantage by our ancestors, particularly by separating colours of fibres before spinning and weaving, to produce vibrant patterned cloth without the need for dyeing.

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