The Overdress (O.E. Cyrtel, Tunece)
The woman's overdress was generally ankle length with full length sleeves. Until the eleventh century the sleeves are depicted as tight, or straight, or only slightly flared at the wrist and sometimes turned back to form a cuff. Wider sleeves started coming into fashion at the beginning of the 11th century. By the 1050's the continental fashion was for very wide sleeves, but this was only worn by the upper ranks of the nobility. The body of the dress was untailored and similar in shape and construction to the male tunic. It may have been belted at the waist and sometimes pouched over exposing the hem of the underdress. It is difficult to be sure from manuscript illustrations, but it is possible that it was worn loose, or pulled tight at the waist instead of being belted. The neck opening was always covered by the head-dress, and could have been similar to the openings on men's tunics. It was usually made from woollen or linen fabric and could also have decoration at the sleeve, although with the neckline covered there is little to show this at the neck.
The hangeroc was the traditional Scandinavian over garment. There are several reconstructions of this garment. It could have been a tube of cloth, either woven as such or formed by sewing a rectangle of cloth up the back. The lower hem (circumference of tube or length of rectangle) was wide enough to walk comfortably in and accommodate the train of an underdress. In order to achieve a good fit around the upper chest, tucks were inserted in the top hem under the arms and/or at the back, but not at the front. The two piece hangeroc consisted of a rectangle going from the front strap location, under the arm, around the back (where the tucks would be inserted in the upper hem) and round to the other strap location. A second panel hung across the front and was also fastened to the brooches by straps. There have also been finds of more tailored types of hangeroc with gores, tucks and sometimes front pleats.
Several fastening methods were used: the hangeroc could be pinned directly to the underdress by two pins or brooches at the front, or have loops sewn into the upper hem, front and back, to which the brooches were attached. Some appear to have had straps sewn in from the front to the back - this occurs in the early period on hangerocs of those who could not afford brooches, and in the later period in those cases when the hangeroc was not seen and the richer functional jewellery was used on the coat or shawl. The top edge of the hangeroc takes all the strain and was frequently reinforced by the addition of a decorative woven band. Wealthier women would further decorate their hangerocs with additional bands and maybe panels of embroidery at the upper hem.
The hangeroc could be tied at the waist for ease when working, and in the later period, to suspend the knife and keys. The only evidence for leather belts in association with hangerocs comes from the extreme north of the Isle of Lewis, and may have been influenced by local dress.
Underdress (O.E. Cyrtel, Smoc)
The underdress was usually made of linen or fine wool, ankle length with long sleeves and tight on the forearm. The sleeves often have a wrinkled appearance perhaps because they were long and pushed back, or maybe they were deliberately pleated for a decorative effect.
Viking Kyrtil or Pleated Underdress
This is a rectangle of pleated fabric, folded in half with the neckhole cut on the centre fold, the extra width of cloth forming integral sleeves. The neck edge may have been bound and the neck slit may have been fastened with a small brooch or tie. A second underdress may be worn under the hangeroc very like the Saxon underdress, but with wrist length sleeves. This garment was sometimes heavily decorated.
There is little evidence of leg coverings for women, although illustrations of women riding show what seems to be a strip of cloth wound from ankle to mid calf in parallel bands with the pendant ends of the leg bindings hanging over the foot. These would seem to be similar to the puttee bindings for men.
Grave finds of small brooches over the upper thighs suggest that women may also have worn hose and braies.
The most commonly illustrated woman's over garment is the mantle. It is principally shown on nuns or royalty and may be a version of the casulla – a late Roman clerical garment that became the chasuble worn by senior clerics. It appears to be an oval shape with a hole in it for the head to pass through. It was sometimes worn over the wimple, sometimes under it. In illustrations it hangs to about the knees and appear to hand down to cover then arms when they are held at the side. It could be decorated at the neck and round the edge with embroidery or band and was sometimes lined. When seated it often gives the impression of a very full sleeved garment. This garment was probably worn mainly by wealthier women, since it requires a lot of cloth to make.
Cloaks and Shawls (O.E. Hacele, Hwitel, Lotha, Mentel, Rift, Sciccels, Wæfels)
Some Saxon women seem to have worn a cloak over their mantle for travelling, although there is little pictorial evidence of them wearing the cloak alone. However, cloaks are mentioned in many women′s wills and may have been worn in place of a mantle by poorer women. Cloaks were worn later by Norman Ladies. Women's cloaks seem to have been identical to those worn by men.
Viking women also wore a triangular or rectangular shawl or cape, fastened at the neck with a brooch.
Viking women wore coats similar to men′s coats although the women′s versions did not button. Instead they were secured at the neck by a circular brooch, which passed through a silk loop sewn onto each side of the opening. There is no evidence for Saxon or Norman women wearing this type of coat.
There is little evidence for women′s undergarments although a loin cloth may have been necessary from time to time. The only known undergarment is the Viking skyrta, a type of petticoat made of linen or silk which was worn next to the skin. It partly covered the breast with the line of the kyrtil sitting above it, thus concealing it. It is also likely that some women would have worn naalbinding socks.
Belts and Girdles
Women′s belts/girdles are rarely shown with pendant ends, but this may be because they were fastened at the back, or not worn at all. Some illustrations suggest the girdle may have been wrapped around twice with a twist in it. It is interesting to note that strap ends but no buckles have been found in Viking women′s graves, suggesting that waist ties rather than belts were worn. Tools and personal ornaments are rarely shown hanging from women's girdles, but as the girdles are usually covered by the mantle we cannot be sure how widespread this practice was. It is possible that dresses were pulled tight across the waist, and the excess sewn down, as this achieves the complex fold pattern shown in manuscript illustrations of dresses that are unbelted.
Women always covered their heads in tenth and eleventh century England . It was considered positively indecent for a woman to show her hair. The most common type of head covering illustrated was the wimple (O.E. heafod-gewæde, wimpel, wrigels), a length of fabric, possibly slightly shaped, which was wound round the head in one of a number of styles and was secured with pins (O.E. feax-preon, thrawing-spinel), fillets (O.E. bænde, wræd) or, if the woman was married, a length of band (O.E. binde ). It seems there were as many ways for a woman to tie her wimple as there are hair-styles today! Some wealthier women also seem to have worn a hood (O.E. cuffie, cuffia, hod, hufe) over their wimple.
As for other types of head covering;
A simple cap with strings which could be tied under the chin or at the nape of the neck - similar to those found at Coppergate, Lincoln and Dublin - was worn, probably under another head covering. A fringed rectangular scarf, such as those found in Dublin could also be draped over the head and secured by a band or fillet or pinned to the cap beneath. Hair-nets, made using the sprang technique, were also worn, again under another head covering.
Members of the society have also interpreted some of these images as a triangular head scarf (O.E. feax-clath) knotted at the nape of the neck.
For illustrations see section 5b.