Wherein the Vikings know a chic hairdo is essential for fun and productive violence and rapine.
The television series Vikings is popular for its sensational plots, exciting action and, most importantly, the incredible hairstyles of its characters. Whether it’s “luscious hair extensions and a little salt and pepper,” a “battle pompadour and sides decked with chain mail,” or a “bunch of not-so-friendly beards,” these Vikings sport a “killer haircut to rule them all.”
But did the Vikings really look like this? It’s common knowledge they didn’t wear helmets with horns—sorry, Minnesota Vikings fans—but did they weave chain mail into their hair extensions? (Short answer: nope and nope.) In reality, Viking women were conspicuously lacking in “battle pompadours,” but men sported one of the great hairstyles of medieval fashion: the reverse mullet.
Almost Cut My Hair
The thralls or slaves of Vikings uniformly wore short-cut hairstyles providing immediate visual evidence of their status. Viking men, in contrast, wore their hair in a variety of styles (depending on their locale) but frequently in what has been dubbed the “reverse mullet:” long—even collar-length—in the front, but shaved short in the back (an Anglo-Saxon described this as “the Danish fashion with a shaved neck and blinded eyes”). Men also wore beards of varying lengths.
Women wore their hair long, but styled in different ways: Scandinavian women tended to wear their hair knotted or braided in the back, whereas an archaeological find from Cumbria depicts Anglo-Viking women wearing braided pigtails. Viking women have commonly been thought to have worn cloth headcoverings, although it has been argued that this was more common in Christianized areas than elsewhere.
Give a Home for the Fleas in My Hair
While the hippies of the musical Hair bragged about fleas and birds nesting in their hair, this wasn’t the case for the Vikings (or even other medieval peoples). In fact, the Vikings were meticulous enough about their grooming that the 12-century Anglo-Saxon monk John of Wallingford complained this made them particularly successful with the ladies:
(The Danes) 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.
Or, as Erik Wade restated it, “We had to kill the Vikings, bc (sic) they bathed and brushed their hair and our wives couldn’t resist such sophistication.”
Haircare was so important to the Vikings that they carried combs with them on their journeys, and even were buried with these cherished objects. Viking combs frequently had two sets of teeth: larger teeth for styling hair, and finer teeth for removing nits and lice. Vikings also used soap to clean and color their hair (this practice preceded the Vikings: Pliny the Elder tells us first-century Gauls used soap for these purposes).
Don’t Tell My Achy Breaky Haircut
While the reverse mullet has yet to catch on with the 21st-century fashion forward, the “business in the front, party in the back” mullet of the late 80s–early 90s is making a comeback: as I write the UK is in a lather over former PM Tony Blair’s glorious silver mane. For guys who want to skew closer to the Viking ideal of swanky, however, I recommend the skullet—tell the world that you may be a hedge fund manager, but in your heart you’re laying siege to Paris.
Image: Thor’s Fight with the Giants by Mårten Winge (1872) (Source).