Anglo-Saxon Dress

       Anglo-Saxon Clothing

Tchipakkan aka Virginia Fair Richards-Taylor              ©2009 

The first thing I want to stress for the SCA audience is that despite the fact that throughout the period the men wore tunics and trousers, and the women wore long gowns (and veils after the 7th century), and both wore cloaks, the Anglo-Saxons didn’t “wear basically the same thing” for seven centuries. Neither was their clothing rough and boring, although it was homespun. Indeed, the Anglo-Saxons were famous across the continent for the quality of their fabric.   When making garb, choose tabby or twill, they were especially fond of chevron and diamond twills.. No knits, although there were some nalbinding socs in the Danelaw. No cotton, (although it seems odd that if they could get silk from china they couldn’t get cotton from Egypt) sorry. Use linen for undergarments, fine wool for outer garments, and silk for trim (unless you are rich as a royalty or a bishop). In the later Anglo-Saxon ages, silk became more available.

Available dyes would have included madder (imported in the migration period), woad, weld, ladies bedstraw, and oak galls giving reds, blues, greens, yellows, browns, blacks and purples. and by the 10th c. red clothing from dyers madder was common.

The “Migration period”

Women’s clothing in this stage was characterized by the “peplos” style gown, an over-gown which was pinned at the shoulder by two pins.

Kentish women often wore their brooches one above the other on the chest- indicating that rather than a peplos type gown, they were using them to hold an open fronted garment closed which was a Frankish style. Another typically Kentish fashion was that among the tools hung from their belts were crystal spheres, and perforated silver spoons.

Forms of bow brooches include Great Square Headed), Cruciform, Radiate headed, equal armed, and “small long”. Disc brooches include saucer, button, applied, composite,  Ring brooches include Quoit, annular, Penannular and perforated.

To the north, in Anglia, women were wearing cruciform brooches, and distinctively wrist clasps.. About a third of the wrist clasps also have a third piece- a triangular plate rising from the wrist,

Down in Wessex, Sussex, and other areas where the Saxons are supposed to have settled, either the saucer or applied brooches were worn. These were often worn with festoons of amber or glass beads between them. 56% of the beads were amber, 43% glass, and only 1% everything else. Of the glass some were solid others polychrome. They also wore button brooches which were an inch or less in diameter and typically were decorated with a stylized man’s face.

“Which way up do the brooches go?” On the shoulders, the pins usually were point up, and when center front -pin pointing down. Also, sometimes they were worn sideways. Most brooches and buckles were probably cast from bronze, and silver, gold was for the rich.

Saxon women also wore ring purses, and chatelaines with snips, keys and other tools on their belts as well as girdle hangers- which may have been symbolic of keys.

Aside from the fashions varying from area to area, they also changed with time. The Quoit brooches were typical of the earliest settlers, and at the beginning of the 6th century, the round swastika brooches were popular, along with other annular (circular), and penannular brooches (part of a circle) brooches. The annular and penannular pins remained popular in Ireland and made a comeback in popularity in the 11th century. Other earlier pins were equal armed brooches-, which were bow brooches, but did not have the face or “head”.

Men wore wool tunics over linen shirts,  trousers or leg-wraps, and ankle length shoes. They wore very little jewelry, but expressed wealth and status in their weapons and armor. Like women they carried many hand items on their belts, including knives, purse, fire-making tools and toiletry items.  Cloaks were mostly wool, and there were also coats with diagonal closings. Hats are little known and hair was worn long, with beards.

7th – 9th centuries

In the men’s graves, far less weapons are buried with the body, although the Seax (the short sword or long knife with one sharpened side) appears. Short cloaks are seen and we read of “freedom caps”- hats that are given to freed slave on manumission. The mark of slavery was cutting the hair (sometimes in a Mohawk) and this covered it until it grew out. When hats are depicted (not just for ex-slaves), the style is the Phrygian cap- with a curled over point on top of the head.

In the 600s we begin to see women wear a variety of necklaces, with other pendants in metal, amethyst, garnet, crystal, shell and glass. They stop wearing amber. Some wore necklaces of wire rings with a bead in the center of each. Another new fashion item came in- small metal boxes probably reliquaries.

Although women did start wearing veils in the 7th century, they did not give up their earrings, the typical earring during the middle period was a simple wire loop with one or more beads on it.

They wore a single large silver brooch in the center of their chest, and sometimes pin “suites”, sets of ornamental pins chained together, two or sometimes three. These may have been used to pin the edge of the veil to the gown.

Our best literary description of clothing in this period comes from a sermon by Aldhelm:         “The ostentatious dress of both sexes consists of a shirt of the finest linen, a scarlet or blue (or purple) tunic, top and sleeves trimmed with silk, their “galliculae” (shoes? A Gaulish garment?) are trimmed with red fur (or leather); the hair at forehead and temples is curled with irons. Rather than dark grey veils, they wear bright and colored veils, which hand down to their feet and are held on by ribbons. “

The seem to have used fur for trim, lining, and sometimes fur coats (which they exported). Other furs mentioned include fox, marten, ermine, gray (squirrel?), beaver, and sable.

Women may still have worn open fronted gowns over pleated linen under-dresses, and pleating is seen on mens shirts as well. One can occasionally see belts, but fashion continued to differ from area to area- in Kent, the open work belts became fashionable, while in the rest of England, belts, or at least the buckles, no longer appeared in women’s graves. Cloth (card woven?) belts probably replaced them.

Foot wear shows up in shoelace tags and occasionally buckles and fastenings for leg wrappings.            At the end of the ninth century, the first “Viking” settlers come into the Danelaw, and once again we see the paired Tortoise brooches (with a trefoil brooch in the center of the shawl), but they were fairly quickly integrated into the Saxon culture. Under the gown, their under gowns also appear to be pleated linen, some with trains, and they wore their hair up, uncovered, in a knotted ponytail. They also wore gold filets,

10th century

In women’s clothing we begin to see some very large sleeves (as well as long thin ones as well). Under sleeves are form fitting and show a great deal of wrinkling- they are cut exceptionally long, and pushed up over the arm in small wrinkles. There are still the wide embroidered borders on the wrists and hems, and often bands down or across the gowns.

Women’s cloaks are often held on with a large round silver brooch in the center of the chest. A new poncho variety of cloak is seen with no opening at all. Sometimes the veils appear to be in two layers- or this may be a veil worn over a cap, like the silk caps the women of the Danelaw wore. Sometimes veils and scarves were ornamented- with fringe, sometimes with beads, sometimes with braid or embroidery across the top of the head. A “band” is worn in conjunction with the veil, with long decorated straps coming from behind. Many depictions of gowns seem to be quite sheer, this may be the silk which had become more common among the wealthy.

Embroidery stitches include counted stem stitch (similar to soutache brocading),

Men’s clothing shows the same gathered up tight sleeves, and pants were worn equally tight.Tunics seem to have been worn with a hip belt that was concealed under the blousing of the fabric. Capes were fastened at the right shoulder- sometimes they seem to have been stuffed through a decorative tube or ring, leaving a bunch of fabric sticking up on the shoulder.            Royalty are shown with something that looks like cross gartering, although most men seem to have continued wearing the spiral leg wraps. Shes were foot shaped- to the ankle.  The shoes of royalty did show ornamentation. The tradition of long robes for kings and old men seems to have developed during this period. Noble Saxons in the mid 11th century wore a beard, but no mustache- at other times, mustaches were worn.


Backhouse, Janet, Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon Art, the 966-1066, Indiana University Press, 1984

Brown, David, Anglo-Saxon England, The Bodley Head, 1978

Brugmann, Birte, Glass Beads from Early Anglo-Saxon Graves, Oxbow, 2004

Dodwell, C.R., Anglo-Saxon Art, A New Perspective, Cornell U Press, 1982

Hall, Alaric, Elves in Anglo-Saxon England: Matters of Belief, Health, Gender and Identity, Boydell, 2007

Meaney, Audrey, Anglo-Saxon Amulets and Curing Stones BAR 1981

Owen-Crocker, Gale, Dress in Anglo-Saxon England, Revised and Enlarged, Boydell, 2004

Ostergard, Else, Woven into the Earth, Aarhus D Press, 2004

Page, RI , Life in Anglo-Saxon England, Putnam, 1972

Rogers, Penelope Walton, Cloth and Clothing in Early Anglo-Saxon England AD 450-700,  CBA Research Report,2007. jewelry tablet weaving supplies and bands and other woven items. carved horns blown glass

Feel free to contact me with questions, comments and corrections:

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