Vikings, or Norse as they are often called, had a vibrant and advanced culture in the medieval period of history. Their raiding activity—"Viking" means raiding in the Norse language, hence the misconception—earned them this misnomer. Part of the Viking culture was advanced grooming, contrary to popular notions of medieval living. Numerous hairstyles exist that are distinctly Norse in origin. There were also a host of grooming tools available to affluent men and women of the Viking clans.
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Men's Viking Hairstyles
Men's Viking hairstyles varied largely upon the social standing and profession of the man in question. Slaves, called thralls, wore their hair short as a sign of their class. Free men of average standing tended to wear their hair shoulder-length and clean. Cleric John of Wallingford noted in his study of the Danish men of a particular Viking group that “the Danes, thanks to their habit of combing their hair every day, of bathing every Saturday and regularly changing their clothes, were able to undermine the virtue of married women and even seduce the daughters of nobles to be their mistresses."
Professional soldiers often made choices regarding their hairstyles related to combat, in that shorter and tied-back hair was less likely to be grabbed in battle. Ibn Fadlan, an Arab observer of the age, reported that Viking men often bleached their beards a golden yellow. The hair bleaching practice was more common in men than women.
Women’s Viking Hairstyles
As with the thrall class of men, the women were also required to wear their hair short. The free women would wear their hair loose or braided during day-to-day activities. On particularly special occasions women often wore circlets and other jewelery to restrain their hair. Being a very trade-oriented culture, goods from many other lands found their way to Viking homes. Later in life, married women would favour wearing modest and practical buns or coiled braids. The Vikings, as a matter of practicality and good business sense, adopted Christianity, and some of the women's styles included head coverings. This kind of head wear was not prevalent, however, in non-Christian communities.
Viking Grooming Tools
Vikings had many of the same grooming devices that exist today, albeit in less refined, rudimentary forms. Devices included tweezers, razors and assorted nail and skin grooming picks. Ear scoops were considered status items, and were highly ornate and worn as jewellery when hung from a brooch. Like many modern women, Viking women of the age used tweezers to pluck their eyebrows. Grooming tools could be made from many materials, dependent on cost. Bone and metal items are the most common items found by archeologists, however it is likely that inexpensive wooden versions were also sold for lower-class consumers and simply lost to time. A notable grooming tool in the Viking kit is the chemically base soap used to bleach hair, an item that was popularly used.
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