Why haven’t we done Vikings yet?

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The bottom line is that the out of the three of us, I’m the one with the most “medieval” costuming knowledge, and I freely admit I know approximately nothing about the so-called Viking age. Well, ok, that’s not entirely true … I know just enough to be dangerous — which is to say, nowhere near enough to speak with any authority on the historical accuracy of the costumes in this show. I do know, however, that Michael Hirst, the guy who gave us The Tudors is behind The History Channel’s Vikings (2013-), so that automatically puts historical accuracy at a distinct disadvantage over sex and violence and seriously questionable costume choices.

michael-hirst

“I especially had to take liberties with ‘Vikings’ because no one knows for sure what happened in the Dark Ages.” — Michael “Research Is for Losers” Hirst.

Academics have gone on the record decrying the appalling lack of historical accuracy depicted in the show. Which is kind of sad because the show’s historical consultant, Justin Pollard, is a Cambridge-educated historian with, as the kids say these days, “legit cred.” And yet, he waves aside any notion that he’s obligated to get the history right because, “Our job is not to try to forensically recreate the past, but rather to understand as much about it as we can before we start telling our story.”

I dunno … I don’t think people are asking for much. Just, you know, getting the basic facts right. Like that the Vikings depicted in this show would totally have known that England existed, because there was established cross-cultural communication between the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse during the period that Vikings allegedly focuses on.

Historian Eve Siebert says it better than I can:

Creative license and minor linguistic flubs are to be expected, but in his depiction of the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons, Hirst veers into pseudohistory: the Vikings are savage morons who don’t know how the ocean works, don’t believe in England, and have never heard of Christians. Meanwhile, the Anglo-Saxons are effete incompetents who can’t find the pointy end of a spear until they’re impaled on it. It’s as if the two groups are in no way culturally or linguistically similar.

At least series costumer, Joan Bergin (again, from The Tudors), apparently did some amount of research in preparation for the show, visiting Scandinavian museums to study the fragments and reconstructions of clothing displayed there. Good on her. I’m still not totally convinced about some of her conclusions, though…

Lagertha1

What Viking find documents the use of motorcycle boots in 7th-century Scandinavia?

I can look at the costumes and armor in Vikings and know that something ain’t right, because these guys don’t look a thing like the Norse geeks I hang out with on the weekends, and I’ve heard plenty of complaints from said Norse geeks about how blatantly bad the costumes and armor are in the show. But despite approaching a number of these friends of mine to write a piece for Frock Flicks on the myriad of ways that the TV show Vikings gets it totally and completely wrong, no one has taken me up on my offer.

rollo2

I’mma go out on a limb here and presume that leather pants were probably not a Viking thing in the real world.

I also know that the so-called Vikings were an extremely diverse diaspora of people that spanned thousands of miles across Europe and can’t really be condensed into one overarching culture. Beyond that, I have really nothing of value to add to the discussion of whether or not the show Vikings is in any way historically accurate.

vikings-31

Ok, I lied. I know that this is definitely not historically accurate. Also, the Norse culture believed in bathing.

So, that, in a nutshell, is why we haven’t covered Vikings yet. This also stands for many other movies and shows, particularly ones with a heavy emphasis on the military … None of us at Frock Flicks know Thing One about military history and to even venture a guess would be contributing to the problem rather than discussing the finer points of military braid arrangements.

As we’ve said before, it’s a good bet that if we aren’t talking about it on the blog or in a podcast, it’s not because we don’t acknowledge it exists, but because the topic isn’t our bag and/or we really have no knowledge about that particular branch of costume history. And any good academic knows that you don’t open your big mouth unless you know what you’re talking about — otherwise you’re going to get bum-rushed by the masses gleefully telling you what a dumbass you are.

 

Are you an expert in clothing and armor of the Viking age? Want to write an article for us? Drop us a line. We can’t pay you in money, but we can give you our undying appreciation.

 

 

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Website

Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

67 Responses

  1. AshleyOlivia

    Feel free to skip The Vikings, as long as you cover Outlander Season 2 at some point… I loved your excellent breakdown of the Season 2 trailer, but I’m dying to hear what you guys think about “THE red dress,” which was revealed on the new promotional posters. I understand if you want to wait until, you know, the actual season airs. I get it. I can be patient, as long as I know it’s in the future!

    (Also, I really respect that you acknowledge the limits of your own expertise. That doesn’t seem to be the thing to do these days. I love Wikipedia, but so many people think “read a Wikipedia article” equals expertise.)

    Reply
  2. Stephani

    Questionable costuming and levels of personal hygiene aside, I’ve been enjoying watching Vikings as pure entertainment for a few weeks now (yeah, I’m slow to jump on bandwagons–I haven’t even watched series 1 of Outlander yet, probably because it’s what all the cool kids are watching). It is hilariously non-HA, outstandingly violent, and actually kind of stupid in some ways, but I still find myself clicking Next to see what happens. Also, the lead (what’s the actor’s name??) is a stunner. I think they give him filth-face just so his steel blue eyes pop even more.

    Reply
    • AshleyOlivia

      I know everyone hates Reign, but I loved the first season for very similar reasons. Ridiculously inaccurate? Of course. And I understood that the actresses dressed like they were on their way to Coachella, not in anything remotely resembling actual period costumes. But, for example, there’s a scene where Henri II is having sex with a woman against a window and his thrusting forces the window open and she plummets to her death. Are you telling me you could watch that and not laugh for 15 minutes straight? (Also, if I remember correctly from promotional materials, originally Mary was going to be psychic or something. So really they toned it down…)

      You get five gold stars for “filth-face.” I can’t wait to use that one in real life.

      Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Also, the lead (what’s the actor’s name??) is a stunner. I think they give him filth-face just so his steel blue eyes pop even more.

      You mean Travis Fimmel, the guy who plays Ragnar? He looks eerily like an ex-boyfriend of mine. Not that that would put me off of watching the show, but it’s just worth mentioning.

      Reply
      • Stephani

        Yes indeedy, him. I wouldn’t say he’s “handsome”, and he’s not weird-looking–but he’s very attractive. That’s enough reason to keep me watching, at least for now. What can I say, I’m shallow.

        Reply
        • Sonya Heaney

          You might want to check him out from back when he was just known as “that Australian underwear model”. When I lived in London there was a gigantic near-nude billboard of him as the – erm – “face” of Calvin Klein on Oxford Street.

          Definitely considered a stunner back then.

          Reply
  3. layingarrondi

    Sadly, I am not an expert, though this is an area of growing interest/knowledge for me. If I was. I would probably have to turn this into a drinking game and/or MSTK3000 bit to get through all the cringing.

    Reply
  4. Charity

    I have a friend who would rant unceasingly for 2 hours on the historical inaccuracies and costume shenanigans of this series — and all she has seen of it are the trailers and promotional pictures. Needless to say, she has Viking ancestry, has studied Vikings in depth, attends authentic Viking Cosplays on weekends, and has a lot of pent-up rage.

    Kinda… like me and “The Tudors” come to think of it. :P

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      That’s the problem I’m having… I have dozens of highly knowledgeable friends whose sole focus is on Norse culture and clothing, and I have sat through many a night over cocktails at my kitchen table with these friends listening to the myriad of ways that “Vikings” gets everything wrong, but despite pleading with them to write me something for the website, NO ONE HAS FOLLOWED THROUGH.

      Seriously, people! We exist to air your pain and suffering from historical inaccuracy in film and television! Write me 350 words on the topic, stick in a few images, and sit back and enjoy the comments! It’s not hard!

      Reply
      • Ingrid Magnusson

        For a start, turtle brooches were a must. Any Viking woman worth her salt would have a pair of turtle or box brooches to hold up her apron. They ALL wore aprons. They suspended valuable beads between their brooches and the more keys a woman had, the higher her status was. There is so much wrong in the series, it’s almost funny. Their hair, particularly the women, was very neat and groomed fastidiously. The married women wore their hair braided and covered with a headscarf, and they NEVER wore trousers. Only the men wore trousers.

        http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/clothing.htm

        Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Here’s what it’s like sitting down over cocktails with my Viking friends:

      Viking Friend: “Vikings” gets it all wrong! It’s horrible! It’s an offence to Norse history! (proceeds to list 73 different things that are wrong with everything about the show, from the hairstyles to the embroidery to the type of link pattern in the chain maille) How can people watch this shit? Don’t they know that Norse history is way more interesting in reality than the horse shit they call a plot in this show? Why does Hollywood hate us?

      Me: Welcome to my world.

      Reply
  5. tp

    do we need every entertainment show to be historically accurate? asks a sometimes costumer who works with a group that has no money and so we do plays from around 1400 using a lot of ‘ye olde polyester’.

    vikings, very much like reign, offers a respite from life where everyone has an endless supply of tooled leather, chain mail, intricate hair and no moral compass about axing down anyone in the way.

    we readily accept modern characters in nonstop designer clothes who never repeat an outfit, why can’t we apply the same to so called historical shows and just enjoy what the costumer gives us?

    Reply
    • AshleyOlivia

      Speaking personally, I don’t need every entertainment show to be historically accurate, as indicated by my confessed appreciation of Reign above. However, I think the problem is that there is a dearth of historically accurate shows. TV series and movies that are wildly inaccurate far outweigh those that actually do their homework, and–what’s worse–I suspect this is because TV/Movie execs think their viewers are too stupid to appreciate historically correct entertainment. I’m not stupid, and while I’ll happily sit down to an evening of Reign or other craziness, I’d appreciate it if I had more selection in historically accurate options, too. (I could go on a side tangent on how accurate history is often entertaining enough without needing to resort to inaccuracies…)

      As for “readily accepting modern characters in nonstop designer clothes,” not everyone does. Terry Dresbach, the costume designer for Outlander (yes, I”m a little obsessed), has said that she actually quit the business for a period because “costume designer” was morphing into “stylist”: the production stopped thinking of costumes as a method of telling the story and explaining a character and instead treated every character like he or she was on a red carpet. Costumes are supposed to please aesthetically, but if you veer too much from what is realistic for a character it becomes distracting or just plain illogical. Further, sometimes the story is better served by a costume that isn’t beautiful.

      I don’t think anyone should criticize you for using “ye olde polyester,” and likewise there are times when shows work with a shoestring budget and they just have to do their best. However, sometimes they have the money and simply choose to ignore historical accuracy because they think the audience can’t handle it–and then we get an atrocity like Dangerous Beauty.

      Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      You may want to familiarize yourself with our FAQ, but just in case, here’s an excerpt that deals specifically with what you just asked:

      Don’t you realize that you’re just talking about entertainment?

      Yes.

      There’s a reason we use words like movies, cinema, television, media, and entertainment repeatedly. Because this whole shebang — blog, podcast, FacebookTwitter, etc. — is about Historical. Costume. In. The. MOVIES. (and TV). So, thanks for pointing out that what we are discussing here is JUST entertainment. And here we thought we were discussing the finer points of cricket. Damn. We totally screwed that one up.
      Read more: It’s Just Entertainment

       

      So, there you go.

      Reply
      • tp

        i am new, and apparently what i meant to be a lightly toned comment wasn’t received that way as evidenced by the FAQ response. after reading a post about lacking an expert in the particular period, of which i am not, in any way, shape or form, i posited that we might just enjoy the show. but point taken.

        Reply
        • Trystan L. Bass

          We’re down with enjoying things *in spite* of historical inaccuracies. But we don’t *excuse* the inaccuracies themselves. There’s a subtle difference. And if we come off as bitchy about it, well, we’ve had to make this point more than a few times. The reason we created this site is to look for historical accuracy in movies & TV, celebrate it where we find it, & mock it where we don’t.

          Reply
        • Sarah Lorraine

          I honestly wasn’t intending to come off sounding like an asshole… It’s just we get yelled at quite a lot for not just enjoying a film for its entertainment value. We *do* enjoy films for purely entertainment reasons, and I think the vast majority of our posts are actually pretty understanding and complementary of the costumer’s craft when it comes to film and television. But you know, put out a couple of posts that question someone’s taste level and suddenly we’re just bitches who can’t appreciate ART.

          I also freely admit I have a serious bone to pick with Michael Hirst. He’s been annoying me with his historical short-cuts since 1998 with Elizabeth, and then there was “The Tudors”. Basically anything with his name on it makes me automatically suspicious of the quality of the history. The storytelling, sure, he can tell a good story. But he butchers history in order to get there, when it really doesn’t need quite that level of “throwing the history baby out with the historical bathwater”, if you know what I mean.

          Reply
          • Kendra

            Re: enjoying for entertainment level — we critique, but absolutely we do watch for entertainment purposes! Otherwise we wouldn’t watch all these movies/TV shows!

            Reply
    • Kathleen Norvell

      My problem is that the program is shown on the History Channel. If it were on another channel, I wouldn’t have such heartburn. But if you are showing something on a channel that calls itself “History” and is supposed to be historical, I expect something better.

      Reply
    • Kathleen Norvell

      I would expect that a program on the HISTORY CHANNEL has some degree of historical research associated with it. But then, I’m an optimist.

      Reply
  6. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    Well, the issues with this show historically are too numerous to mention here. I’m not a costuming expert for this period but as a long time member of the SCA and the Pirating Community, it looks sketchy too me.
    Now for a better idea of how people lived in several historical periods, try the Farm Series of Shows on BBC. They are Tales from the Green Valley, Victorian Farm, Victorian Pharmacy, Edwardian Farm, Wartime Farm, A Tudor Feast, Tudor Monastary Farm, Secrets from the Castle, and 24 hours in the past. they are fun and educational and focus on average working class people not the super wealthy.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I’ve heard good things about “Secrets of the Castle” and “Tudor Monastery Farm”, but I’ve not managed to catch any episodes yet.

      I haven’t really thought about featuring the educational shows on Frock Flicks, but it might be a good idea to do so. Sort of a “if you want to know more about X time period but don’t want to invest in the time it takes to read a Wikipedia article, you can watch Y TV show” kind of thing.

      Reply
      • Alex

        Tudor Monastery Farm is pretty good, and well researched for the most part. There are definitely some things to pick apart though. Like the way they put the spinning wheel forward as the way that yarn was spun and they never mention spindles, which were the best tools for spinning high-quality yarn for weaving and sewing. The wheel was up and coming, but it really lacked both the mechanism and the reputation to be the primary method of yarn production, not to mention it wasn’t portable.

        Beyond that, the yarn that is being spun on the show is the equivalent of “I’ma hike up my skirts because I want my yoga pants” and they express amazement that the high-quality yarns could have been spun on the type of wheel they were using. Um, that’s because you’re using the wrong tool. There are plenty of images and woodcuts that show spindle spinning and what it looked like. It’s not that hard.

        Sigh. This is one of my soapboxes. I wrote a paper about it (for earlier centuries mostly) in an effort to improve the understanding of medieval European spinning. Link here if you’re interested: http://irishchronicler.blogspot.com/2017/02/hi-again-im-back-and-so-soon-since-i.html

        Reply
  7. allycat

    I am a historical movie/tv show junky (why else would I be reading this blog :p) and usually care whether the story and costumes are accurate, but for whatever reason, it does not bother me with this show. I can appreciate this show as a little bit of a pseudo history show, especially since several of its main characters, Ragnar, Lagertha and Aslaung, are more legends and probably not real historical people. I think several of the actors are awesome, and there are many bad ass female characters. Also, it is one of the few historical shows that I can get my husband to watch with me.

    Reply
  8. mmcquown

    “Secrets of the Castle” is a mixed bag; they don’t have much of a budget and sometimes draw conclusions out of thin air. The Norris books cover the era, but nothing specific to the Norse, although one could extrapolate somewhat from the Anglo-Saxons. By this time Ballantine’s Men-At-Arms series may have something. Whatever the Viking reenactors are using may be the only sources. I know that the HEMA people are trying to work out the weaponry techniques, but there’s simply no textual material known.

    Reply
  9. Kahtleen Norvell

    OK, I’m not a Viking expert, but I have friends who are (to the extent that the clothing one wore at Military Through the Ages at Jamestown) was hand- spun, hand-woven, hand dyed with natural dyes; the jewelry, footwear, hair style, etc.was thoroughly researched Believe me, hair in the trailers turned me off — mohawks, shaved sides??? Women did not wear chainmail (unless you’re doing the Ring Cycle and need a few shield maidens). They wore fairly loose-fitting apron dresses (underdress and an “apron” pinned with large round brooches). No boobage hanging out; veils or braids for women. The show might have some history attached, but the costumes and hair are strictly fantasy. I’ve seen much better in the SCA.

    Drives me crazy when I see “modern” hairstyles in so-called historical films and RV shows. Vikings did not look like bikers. I have never seen any depictions of male Vikings with tied-back hair (a modern conceit so you can see the faces of the “stars” I guess. Come to think of it, the women look like bikers too…

    Reply
    • K.

      Burial finds are increasingly being re-evaluated, though, archaeologists have tended to assume that anyone found buried with weapons is male and anyone found buried with jewelry is female, but on closer examination and actual osteological analysis, that is not always the case. There were women who were buried with armour and weapons in Scandinavia. How common it was and what it actually signified is far less certain, but that’s the latest, up-do-date science and applies to several pre-Christian eras.

      Which is not to say that the Vikings are accurate, of course.

      Reply
  10. Kathy Gustafson

    The Vikings has become a guilty pleasure. Originally I hoped for some “history” but now I just enjoy the strategy aspects. Like watching the Sopranos only with smart antagonists. That and I’m totally enraptured with Lagertha’s hair.

    Reply
  11. Kathy Gustafson

    Forgot to say, my biggest gripe is the anachronistic dialogue. “Do you have a boyfriend?” My eyes nearly roll out of my head every episode.

    Reply
  12. mmcquown

    Watched the first ep last night. Opens with Ragnar in WTF black leather outfit. Sure, the Vikings had lots of black garment leather. Faaaar more likely that it they wore leather, it would be a whole hide, not a garment split. And black? One of the hardest and most expensive colours to produce. Even today, most blacks are actually deepened shades of brown, red, or green.

    Reply
  13. Saint Cecilia

    The fact that you linked to Lars Walker suggests that you really need to check your sources. Walker isn’t a historian; he’s a writer of trashy “historical” novels that aren’t historically accurate, either. His article alone is full of errors: Viking was an occupation, not the name of a tribe; feudalism was not ‘centrally managed’; etc.

    He also claims that the Thing was democratic, but it was only democratic in the way that ancient Athens was. He doesn’t mention that part of old Norse society involved owning slaves, probably because that makes his ideas that conservatives love freedom seem a bit muddled.

    Reply
  14. Hillary

    I tried watching “Vikings”, but failed after the first episode. Nordic history isn’t my chief area of interest, but I have many, many friends with Norse personas (SCA for the win!), and have learned enough from them to know that the costumes/hair/etc. in “Vikings” are just wrong.

    Plus, the main character’s Jarl looks just like Al Pacino. I can’t take a Norse Al Pacino seriously.

    Reply
  15. Cregga

    As soon as I realised they were cribbing Saxo “History is dumb” Grammaticos, I knew I couldn’t watch the show.

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  16. Laura

    SO basically, you just go around bashing everything because you know better. Good for you. Thats why you have a blog and are not hired to be costume consultant for major shows. You seem like just another bully- know- it -all behind a computer. And yes, a lot of what you say is correct..eg: Gladiator. But who gives a shit. Its a movie for petes sake. She still looked beautiful. If you knew better than good for you Ms. Know it all. And I guarantee that if you were designing costumes and creating beautiful pieces for some of the best entertainment on TV..people would be criticizing you too…and YOUR lack of authenticity. Jeez.

    Reply
    • RPM

      Man. You have a lot of time on your hands, clearly, to be reading a blog that you obviously don’t like and bothering to then go insult the people who write it. This just in: NOT EVERYONE SHARES YOUR OPINION. If you don’t like snark, read some other blog. If you only don’t like snark about something you like, maybe skip that article. Not that hard.

      There is actually quite a bit of praise on this site, primarily when they are reviewing well executed historical costuming. Which, btw, they create themselves on a regular basis.

      Much luck in your future internet endeavors,
      Another Bully-Know-It-All behind a computer

      Reply
      • Laura

        I was reading with some interest until I came upon this portion. What a joke. Clearly you have too much time on your hands. SOme of this blog is OK. ENough to keep me clicking. Then,,,it just winds up like so many others. I don’t need your guidance on how to skip an article. Maybe you should take your own damn advice. If you dont like a comment skip it, its not that hard. Not everyone shares your opinion either so get over it.

        Reply
      • Laura

        I guess you’re all so smart you could do better. Well get to it. Better go tell Joan Bergin what she’s doing wrong, or Michael Hirst. Yep. Cause you’re all experts in what Vikings were wearing or looked like. Give me a break. Whoops they used a polyester cord to tie that corset–SHAME!! I mean I love how you’re all so judgmental about this stuff. Clearly they have done something right and that is put the fantasy and beauty and a master attempt to recreate something for our entertainment. Isn’t that what it is about? Were you not entertained by Gladiator even though those of us who even recognized that she was wearing a corset in the Ancient Roman arena was pretty much not accurate but who cares. Did your husband or best friend or coworker bash that? Everyone is so busy being a snarky smarty pants that you cant even appreciate that she looked like a goddess…. historically accurate or not. Presenting facts in a way to educate is one thing but just to bash shit to be an asshole…. just to show how much you know better is scumbag crap. I’m pretty sure Michael Hirst and his crew did something right. But you wouldn’t know that if you keep looking for the wrong. Good luck in your negative attitude. Go enjoy something

        Reply
        • RPM

          Oh, we’re talking about Gladiator? Definitely not Viking. Carry on… thanks for the laugh!

          PS – I’m not one of the authors, just a fan. Of said authors, not of you. Have a great weekend! I plan to enjoy THE HELL out of mine! :)

          Reply
        • Kendra

          1. We are kind of telling Joan Bergin and Michael Hirst how to do it right.

          2. Although we clearly state in the above post our lack of expertise in Viking clothing.

          3. You’ll find lots of posts here where we talk about being entertained by things irrespective of their accuracy. Entertainment value is it’s own thing, but also made up of components.

          4. Frock Flicks is made up of authors and readers who DO care whether something is historically accurate. If you read our FAQ and linked POV posts, you’ll see we acknowledge that we’re a tiny minority.

          5. So when is it ok to critique? Would this blog be better if it were just a bunch of pictures all captioned “oooo pretty”? What happens if something isn’t pretty tho? If we say that, are we bullies? Would it be ok if we were saying “this movie is boring” or “the clothes are ugly,” and if so, why would it be ok to pan that and not historical accuracy? I think I just fundamentally disagree that one can only praise, and that an informed analysis of art is bitchy.

          Reply
  17. mmcquown

    Just finished watching “Outlander” season 2. Found the last few eps very hard to watch. I grew up during the war, knew families whose sons, brothers, fathers, never came home. It was rough. Claire’s war was hard.
    Didn’t care for the Red Dress. I thought it was gauche and overly obvious, not particularly well designed. But more subtle than the one with the bare nipples.

    Reply
  18. mmcquown

    Just found a website called Hurstwic which shows some great basics on Viking clothing. If you want to know more about their fighting techniques, check out Asfolk on FB.

    Reply

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