The social history of people from Viking societies is an area that has, until recent decades, been largely overlooked.
The Viking Age has traditionally been told through the lens of rulers, battles, and political events. However, the social aspects of almost three centuries of European history are often an untapped (and unstudied) resource.
Yes, certain males went away from their villages and towns to raid, pillage, and plunder, but this was only temporary.
When they weren't raiding, trading, or colonizing, Viking peoples still had lives full of interpersonal complexities and relationships.
One social aspect that, unless this author is mistaken (and please, dear reader, bring any literature on this to our attention), remains widely understudied is the cultural legacy of Viking hairstyles.
Vikings might not be the first people that come to mind when considering modern hairstyle trends and fashions, but their impact on the world of hair is undeniable.
In fact, many of the uber-cool hairstyles you see today – often sported by hipsters worldwide – are directly influenced by people from Viking societies. Yes, you read that correctly.
What better way to ruin a hipster's day than to tell them that the topknot they're wearing isn't original, edgy, or cool – they're just emulating fashion trends from a millennium ago.
Let's now explore some of these millennia-old hairstyles.
Throughout Viking history, braids were more than just hair management tools; they symbolized societal status, and distinct designs emerged for both genders. Illustration: The Viking Herald
Braids: Form, functionality, and fashion
Braids were one of the most ubiquitous elements in Viking hairstyles.
From a purely practical point of view, they aided in keeping long and unkempt hair out of one's face during important daily tasks or even battles.
Nothing could end your life quicker on a battlefield than a blurred or interrupted visual field, not being able to see where an enemy axe or sword might strike next.
When you were not on the battlefield, nothing could annoy you more than constantly having to pull your hair out of your eyes when plowing a field or preparing food. This fashion trend had its origins in functionality and practicality.
Beyond the mere functionality of braids, they also served an important cultural purpose.
Long and well-kept hair was a symbol of health and prosperity in Viking societies, and it could also signify social status.
Braids often transcended rigid gender boundaries, as both men and women wore them.
However, women's braids were often more elaborate and could be adorned with beads or even clasps, creating the perfect blend of fashion and function.
Men, on the other hand, typically wore their braids in a simpler, utilitarian style.
Drawing from Viking traditions, the Shield Maiden Braid is a reflection of the resilience attributed to shield-maidens, featuring a defining braided crown. Illustration: The Viking Herald
Knots, serpents, and shield-maidens
Another essential component of Viking fashion was hair knots. Vikings created intricate knot patterns, which were colloquially referred to as a "serpent's knot" - perhaps a nod to the great world serpent, Jörmungandr.
A serpent knot was not only limited to one's hair but could also be incorporated into one's clothing as well as jewelry.
They held deep symbolism in Viking culture as they were believed to represent protection, eternity, and the interconnectedness of life. Again, these knots combined form and function, ensuring hair stayed out of one's eyes whether at home, toiling in the fields, or on the battlefield.
One of the most iconic hairstyles, however, was what has been dubbed the "shield-maiden" braid.
There is much ongoing speculation about whether shield-maidens existed and, if they did, to what extent they were hacking and stabbing on the battlefield.
However, whether mythical or real, they endowed their name to a style that featured a tightly braided crown designed to emphasize both strength and determination.
This helped to exemplify the Viking spirit of resilience so evident in shield-maidens and other warriors.
The "man bun," a popular modern hairstyle, traces its origins back to Viking warriors who styled their hair in a similar manner. Illustration: The Viking Herald
Their influence today?
The legacy of Viking hairstyles remains very much evident in modern times.
One of the most loved – or hated (depending on your perspective) – fashion trends of the past decade has been the emergence of some men wearing their hair in a "top knot," sometimes referred to as a "man bun."
This hearkens back to the era when certain Viking warriors styled their hair in this manner.
Now, we're not suggesting that hipsters are modern-day Viking warriors, but their fashion sense bears more than a striking resemblance to some of those early medieval raiders.
The adoption of this hairstyle underscores the timelessness and durability of these styles, which were first fashioned more than a millennium ago.
Partly fueling the uptick in the adoption of Viking-era braids and knots has been their depiction on both the big and small screens.
The widely popular Netflix series Vikings and Vikings: Valhalla, as well as recent movies like last year's The Northman, have popularized these hairstyles among younger generations.
Even shows with little direct connection to the Viking Age and which are purely fictional and fantastical, such as HBO's smash success Game of Thrones, have seen characters embrace Viking fashions and hairstyles (when they weren't being killed off) — much to the chagrin of many historians.
For many living in the successor countries where the Vikings once thrived, these hairstyles represent more than just fashion statements.
They often symbolize a modern desire to reconnect with Viking ancestors, regardless of whether one lives in Scandinavia.
Viking culture, with its deep-rooted tradition, symbolism, and profound bond with nature, has captivated countless generations, cultures, and civilizations through the ages.
Enduring in modern fashion and popular culture, Viking hairstyles, like knots and braids, stand as a testament to a rich cultural heritage that persists long after the last Viking ship set sail.
For more insights into Viking fashion trends, visit Science Norway here.
This deep-dive article was written thanks to the support of subscribers to The Viking Herald's Facebook page. Do you enjoy our work? You can SUBSCRIBE here or via our Facebook page. You'll get access to exclusive content and behind-the-scenes access.
Feel free to reach out to discuss potential stories that may be in the public interest. You can reach us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the understanding that the information you provide might be used in our reporting and stories.